American comedian and writer Robert Benchley once said, “The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” How much should a freelance writer charge is one of the biggest questions asked even among writers. A freelance can charge whatever he or she wants as long as it makes sense for him or her, for the client, and for the market. As long as the freelance writer feels that it’s fair, there is nothing to worry about. However, there are people who charge way too much and get those high rates because they’ve built their reputation and their business up and have earned it. On the other end of the scale are the other writers who charge way below what they should, unknowingly or deliberately, thus affecting other freelance writers and the market in general. So how much is fair?
In the course of my freelance writing career, I’ve tried weighing 4 ways on how to charge a writing project: per word, per page, per project, and per hour. There are pros and cons for each but let me give you an idea how it works for me.
1. Per word
When I got hold of my first copy of Writer’s Digest back in the mid-’80s, I read from the ads that writers charge between $0.05 USD to $0.25 USD per word. Recently, the rate had changed to $0.30 USD and it stays relatively constant these days. Converting that to Philippine peso (PHP), that would be around Php 13.90. That was way too low from what we’ve been debating on Freelance Writers Guild of the Philippines‘ Facebook group page years ago.
When charging a writing project per word, better ask the client for the required word count, for example, an article 1,200 words long. I usually use Arial font, 12 pt. size, and type single space, so a page of text for me is around 470 to 510 words more or less. If the client couldn’t tell the word count, I could set an approximate word count range with the client. For example, a 4-page report would mean an approximate of 1,880 to 2,040 words since I already have an idea of how many words a page could be. The trick here is for me to stick to the word count and let the client know what to expect and not to expect when charging on a per word basis.
However, if the client specified a project long enough that charging per word maybe too much, I go for the second option: per page.
2. Per page
Recently, I’ve checked around and saw that $15.00 USD per page is still the common rate. That is around Php 695.00. However, because of images, charts, diagrams, etc., the text would have to move along adding more pages which could be both an advantage or disadvantage. The more pages I have, the more money I’ll get. However, the not so good thing about it is when I compute for the per word rate, chances are it would go way below than my usual per word rate. Realizing that would make me think twice, my next option is to charge it per project.
3. Per project
This is something easy for the client because it’s a flat fee regardless of the project’s length. Also, I have an advantage to figure out how much I would like to get paid without the limitations of word or page count. I just have to factor in the hours and resources spent, in a way that it makes sense to both parties, and still have enough gain at the end.
The disadvantage of this method is if the project is more in-depth than I anticipated and I end up as the loser. Most freelance writers suffer this kind of trauma — working on a project, being told to revise this, hoping to get paid but ends up not being paid due to some unfortunate circumstances.
So if I can’t figure how much is the project, then I try charging it per hour instead.
4. Per hour
This method is tricky at the same time fair. I’ve scouted around and saw varied rates from $5.00 USD to $40.00 USD. If you try to convert that to Philippine pesos you’ll exclaim, “Wow!”. I use a timer and an invoicing tool so I could easily charge the client and show him or her how my time was spent in the project. So that includes research, Skype calls, writing, and editing. I just have to be conscious of the time and motion and be honest in charging.
I bid for $11.00 USD per hour for two writing projects and the British client said, “I guess you’ll just be writing for thirty minutes per item, how’s that?” An Australian client said, “The US dollar rate is too much.” So I said, “How about if it’s in Australian dollars?” In short, I sealed the deals on both clients some time last year.
The advantage of being a Filipino is having this kind of opportunity to work with foreign clients and still get comfortable with the rates even if it’s below expectation. Both $5.50 USD and $11.00 AUD were fine with me because I was comfortable with that. It was more than the starting rate I had in freelance writing years ago.
I have set a lowest rate where I could still be comfortable and resolve that I should not go lower than that. Also, I factored in other fees like the kill fee, time for research, meetings, and revisions. I check with the client what the project entails then decide which method to use. To help me decide, I weigh in the pros and cons of each rate in relation to that project. I start proposing for the hourly rate, then go for the per project rate. For small projects, it’s simpler that I start proposing for a per project or per per page rate. Then I sent my Statement of Work (SOW) which could also be my contract with the client once it’s signed. The rate will now be sealed.
How you’re going to charge the client depends on you. As long as it’s fair for both parties, as long as you’re comfortable with the cost, then it’s fine to charge per hour, per project, per page, or per word. But please, freelance writers, not perhaps.