Deciding on a freelance rate that reflects your worth is probably one of the biggest headaches you’ll face as a professional writer. With the diverse nature of writing jobs comes a strange fluctuation in pay rates.

If you want some consistency in this department, spending a little time on admin goes a long way.


 Set your own standards

There is no global standard for freelance writing rates. Publications differ, and each country has its own range of rates. For instance, a standard magazine article in New Zealand, Australia or the US may bring in anything from 20c to 60c per word. But an online publisher may pay as little as 1c per word!

So what do you do with such vastly differing rates?

For starters, you can decide on your own set of standards, taking into account what you need to cover basic costs and what your ideal profit margin is. Other things to consider are your goals as a writer, whether you want to work full-time or part-time and your level of expertise. Naturally, experienced writers get paid more – up to double the beginner rate.

Contact publications that appeal to you as a potential writing market and ask what rate they pay their writers (a phone call is best, as this is an industry notorious for unanswered emails).

Get hold of other freelancers in your country. Established full-timers might list their rates on their website. If not, contact them directly; tell them who you are and what you need. They should be happy to disclose their rates because it helps to bring consistency to the market. You’ll be surprised how many professionals are willing to share information to promote healthy competition.

Know yourself

Once you have an idea of what other freelancers are being paid, consider your own experience. Pick a seasoned writer with high rates and use them as a yardstick to determine your approximate worth. Measure your professional experience against this yardstick and adjust your rates accordingly. But be honest. It doesn’t help to inflate your ego if you fail to deliver the goods in the end; nor does it help to sell yourself short. This is the perpetual paradox of freelancing: ask for too much, and the client will hire a more affordable writer; charge too little, and they may perceive you as inexperienced.

Be sure about your status as a writer. If you claim to be a niche writer, ask yourself if you really can be seen as an expert in that particular field. Can you discuss the subject matter off-the-cuff, or do you need to do extensive research first? Determining these factors will give you enough backing to be able to justify your rates.

Also, know your market. It’s common knowledge that certain sectors make more money than others. Business and PR writing, for instance, will probably pay better than writing for an NGO. So be realistic about your client’s budget and consider their limitations.

When approaching potential clients, always send your CV and a portfolio – previous work will speak for itself. If you don’t have a lot of experience but feel confident you can do the job, then say so. But if you can’t do it, don’t be afraid to decline. People will respect you for your decision and will trust your judgement in the future.

Billing Methods

There are three main ways to bill your client: per word, per hour or per project (where you receive a flat rate for work done). Choose the one that suits both you and each individual client best:

  • Per word:       Many feature writers opt for this billing method. You know what you’ll get paid before you start (assuming word count is included in your brief), and you’ll be able to work at your own pace as long as you stick to the deadline.
  • Per hour:        While many employers prefer this method, it becomes problematic when dealing with freelancers. Since you’ll likely be working in your own time and space, how can your client know you’re being completely honest about your hours? Also, an article could take you more or less time to write for a variety of different reasons. Unless you’re physically in the client’s office space on a contractual basis, this billing method is probably not ideal.
  • Per project:    If you make the most of your writing time, this could be quite a lucrative option. The faster you write, the more articles you can bill for. What you charge will depend on the difficulty of the project.

Remember to state your rates and terms of payment up front. It’s no use going back later to demand a down payment if that wasn’t discussed at the time of the briefing. Provide all the necessary information in the form of a quote – or at least via email so that there’s a paper trail.

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*Make Money Writing For The Web
*How You Can Make Money Writing Articles For Magazines – 10 Tips For Beginner Journalists

Working out an exact rate or salary

If you’ve been a full-time employee in the past, call-up the human resources department at your old company to find out what your cost to company (CTC) was. As a freelancer, you become responsible for your medical aid, retirement plan and insurance, which are normally part of your CTC or total compensation. Use this number to determine the gross annual income you need to earn to cover all your costs and earn a profit. It’s entirely doable with a bit of planning.

Once you know what you need to earn, use a freelance rate calculator, like the one at All Freelance Writing, to get an approximate hourly rate.

Knowing exactly what you need to get by should give you the confidence to stick to your guns when it comes to your rate.

Consistency is important. Don’t lower your price just to get work – you’ll sell yourself out and lower the integrity of the writing profession as a whole.

If you remain positive, patient and persistent, you’ll start getting work that pays what you’re worth.

About the Author

Samantha Moolman is a freelance writer and editor who is currently responsible for the Family Life articles in Your Baby magazine.

Samantha also works as an assistant lecturer for the University of Pretoria’s Department of Journalism.