Pricing your work as a freelance writer
One of the biggest problems I see among freelance writers is pricing. More specifically, clients haggling for lower rates.
“Can you give me a better rate?”
I’ve been a writer for ten years now and to this day, it erks me when clients still try to bargain for the value of my work. It’s surprising because we don’t do that to a product we buy. We don’t walk into Arpico, see a chair we need for Rs 10,000, and ask the salesperson to reduce the price for us because we don’t have a budget for it. We either don’t buy it because it’s beyond our budget OR we get some capital / get a loan and then buy it. The same should go for any service we buy.
Strangely, it’s large corporations that ask this from freelancers. Individual clients rarely, in fact, have never asked me to lower my price. And recently, I hear the covid excuse being thrown around a lot, but we are all in the middle of the same pandemic, so using it to ask me to lower my service is not fair, since I still have the same bills to pay.
As a freelancer, it is very demeaning and demotivating when clients insist on reducing prices. But I also feel that clients sometimes don’t see or understand the work that goes into writing and therefore doesn’t value it enough.
So I’m writing this article to help writers price their work better, and for clients to understand the reasoning and the process behind the way we writers price ourselves. It is centred around writers’ experience as I’m a writer but it may be applicable to designers and other freelancers too.
Writing is unique – so is pricing
Our pricing is unique to us. Yes, there can be a starting industry rate for example in the journalism industry, where you’re paid roughly 3-5 rupees per word if you’re not permanent staff.
When you’re working with writers, similar to lawyers and interior designers, pricing will vary from one creative to another and will depend on the creative’s experience, expertise, skill, the amount of work that goes into it and so on.
No two creatives are the same because we bring in different expertise into the project.
As a client, you may have several writers to choose from and you will be very tempted to select the “cheapest” writer. But you will also notice that the cheaper the work is, the less quality it is. We have a nice term in Sinhala “ලාබ බඩුවෙ හිලක් ඇතෙ” which translates to “There’s a hole in the cheap chair”,
So, rather than price;
- Focus on the writer and their work.
- Assess their portfolio of previous work and see if they’re able to give you what you want.
Generally, writers are able to adapt their writing style to many areas (I have written in education, medicine, HR & management, tourism, IT and apps, etc and this adaptability comes with years of experience)
This same principle circles back for us writers too – if you undervalue yourself:
- You end up lowering the market price and undercutting everyone in the industry
- You give clients a false perception that “writing” is so cheap, so it must surely be easy.
I’ve seen really experienced writers charge as low as 3000 LKR per blog post and I’m horrified. If you take into account inflation and the cost of living today, what can you do with 3000 LKR? Even a simple paneer curry and naan for dinner on Uber Eats is about 2000 LKR.
How many 3000 LKR blogs do you have to write to earn your monthly income?
Price the work, not the words
Any writing project is not only the 500 words that appear on the paper. It is the time, expertise, research, interviews, travelling, meetings/brainstorming effort that goes into the 500 “words”. The more experienced a writer becomes, we spend less time on a particular project, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be valued for the years of hardship that we underwent to do that.
This is why I don’t recommend writers charging per word when writing because it then becomes a matter of quantity over quality. It’s also a disadvantage to clients because a writer may be compelled to write more based on “The more words I write, the more I get paid,” More writing doesn’t mean better communication. In fact, it is the exact opposite because people don’t read much. Look at the Nike tagline “Just do it” It’s only three words, but someone made millions when they came up with it.
A writer is most efficient when we say what we want to say in as few words as we can.
Instead, charge per project. Here the responsibility is with us writers to encourage the client during the initial meeting to dive deep into the project and understand what it requires and then present the quote.
Have a rate card
It is natural for any client to jump to the price question so can keep a rate card such as the one below ready. Let them know that this is only an estimate because without understanding their problem fully, you don’t know how much time, research and effort will go into this project.
It’s not always just about the money for both of you. You are invested in doing a good job and helping them solve their content problem and the client in return would like the best work from you.
Get a 50% advance
As a rule of thumb, I only start working once I get the advance. But it is also our duty to show the client that we’re working on it. I keep the client on the loop by sharing the Google document that I’m working on and being available for their questions during work hours. It’s in real-time, so they can see the progress you make and they know that you’re genuine and will not run off with their money.
Build the client’s confidence in your work
Clients often struggle with knowing good work from great work. They may also have gone through some bad experiences with freelancers before you. So there is a tendency to naturally be suspicious of any new writer’s work. Our job is to show that we’re not only capable of doing the job, but doing it well and on time.
Whenever I quote a price, I go the extra mile for the project.
When I’m asked to send a quote, I take 15 – 30 mins to research the topic online, create a simple plan and outline the article with several main topics.
For example, for an article about Port City, I would suggest an outline of the content, some more suggestions on what the article can contain along with some related links and references.
If a client wants a website done for their travel company, I would do some research, find competitors, learn from their work, find out what’s missing from the brand and suggest those, put myself in their customer’s shoes and provide feedback on what I see. I’d also ask them questions about what they want to achieve from it (convert visitors, share knowledge about their product, make a sale on the site, and so on).
Take the opportunity to not only quote for the writing work but suggest more possibilities and ways of improving their brand. This shows the client that you’re serious, proactive and invested in the project.
LinkedIn recomendation and a diverse portfolio helps build trust.
Know when to be open to negotiating. Building relationships as a freelancer is something we learn over time when we deal with different clients. Your work transactions are not only monetary based. Assess what you gain aside from your payment.
For example, an opportunity to write for the national newspaper on an opinion piece with your “byline” that will give exposure to your work. My first writing job ten years ago was actually for the newspaper, where I earned only Rs 750 for every article I wrote. I did not complain one bit – that exposure can be compounded even to this day, so I did gain more than just the money. However, some clients approach you with “we have more work for you in the future so can price this less” where they ask you to reduce the price of this project based on the prospect of having more work.
While we can appreciate the confidence, we can’t wait for an unforeseeable day in the future to pay our bills and feed ourselves.
If you’re going for steady work:
- Place a retainer where you and the client agree on the scope
- This may include monthly fee and the amount of work (number of articles, posts etc)
- You both stick to it.
When you’re negotiating, if you have to, my recommendation is to couple several projects into one and offer bulk pricing.
Example 1: A client wants web content – You can charge 100k for the whole project and include a company brochure also.
Example 2: A client wants x number of blog articles per month. You can say, my charge for one blog article is 10,000 LKR but if you need four done per month, every month, I can do all of it at 35,000 LKR.
Trust your gut
Sometimes, no matter what you do, the client will ask you to reduce your price. Then you have a crucial decision to make. There was a time when I undertook projects for lesser rates out of sheer desperation but I no longer do that. I’d rather sleep or read a book or do something useful for myself than work for slave rates. One of my writer friends is actually under some financial hardships but even they said “Machan, I’d rather eat one meal a day than do work for less than what I deserve,”
I noticed that whenever I reject clients who disrespect my efforts, I made room for clients who actually value my contributions and are fun to work with. That is where you have to trust your gut instincts, and let some things go because you value yourself more (much like any relationship in life)
Remember, dear writers. without your words, your creativity and your ability to communicate beautifully… we would be living in a melancholic world without books, music, advertisements, movies, and any sort of entertainment.
Without writers and creatives, the world would be a dreary place to be in. So never undervalue yourself!
I’m Nadeesha Paulis, and I’ve been in the writing industry for a decade.
I host a writing workshop once a month to help writers with challenges they face.
Happy writing! 🙂