You might have read the quote above by American comedian and writer Robert Benchley. How much should a freelance writer charge is one of the frequent questions asked among writers. A freelance writer 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 four ways on how to charge a writing project: per word, per page, per project or per piece, 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. At that time, the conversion rate was Php 35.00=$1.00 USD. I was in high school then and all I could say was, “Wow!”
When I joined the Freelance Writers Guild of the Philippines (FWGP) in 2012, we had agreed that no Filipino writer should charge below Php 2.00 per word. And yet, some writers accept projects that pay below Php 2.00 per word.
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 point size, and type single space. Therefore, so a page of text for me is around 475 to 550 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 1,800 to 2,000 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.
Another way is to set a price per 100 words. This is much easier and acceptable to both client and to myself. According to an article in Entrepreneur magazine dated October 2013, writers may charge from $2.00 USD per 100 words for academic writing, $3.00 USD per 100 words for special reports, $5.00 USD per 250-399 words, and $10.00 USD for 400-500 words for article and content writing. That was almost five years ago. The rates have changed now.
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 finished an e-book project that paid me by the page. I’ve checked around and saw that prices per page vary from one writer to another. One source said, it’s $15.00 USD per page. That is around Php 780.00 if converted. The client may say it’s over his or her budget, so be ready with a counter-proposal to meet halfway.
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 or per piece
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 on the losing end. Most freelance writers suffer this kind of trauma — working on a project, being told to revise this and that, hoping to get paid but ends up not being paid due to some unfortunate circumstances.
One way to prevent this is to ask for a down payment to finance the project, and ask for the balance once the project is done. This is stated in my Statement of Work (SOW) along with the project’s details.
If ever the client decides not to continue the project, I usually state in my SOW that the down payment will or may serve as the “kill fee”. This way, I’m paid for the services rendered during the first days of the project.
If I can’t figure how much the whole project would cost me, 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. (And I also found a few who charge much higher.) If you try to convert that into 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. That includes research, Skype calls, writing, and editing. I just have to be conscious of my time and motion and be honest in charging.
I bid for $11.00 USD per hour for two writing projects. The British client said, “I guess you’ll just be writing for thirty minutes per item, how’s that?” The Australian client said, “The US dollar rate is too much. How about if it’s in Australian dollars?” In short, I sealed both deals on 2015.
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 much more than the starting rate I had in freelance writing six 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 piece, 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.