3 Methods For Setting Freelance Writing Rates

Let's be real, freelancers: setting freelance writing rates can be one of the most difficult and stressful parts of the job.

What if my rate's considered 'too high', and I don't land the gig? What if my rate's too low, and I end up earning less than I should? What if my initial quote ends up being inaccurate?

3 Methods For Setting Freelance Writing Rates

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These are questions every freelancer has asked themselves at one stage or another, particularly when they're new to the freelance writing life. So if you're stressing about setting your rates, don't worry; we're here to help.

Let's delve into the three main methods for setting freelance writing rates, looking at the pros, cons and best-suited types of projects for each method.

Method 1: Hourly rate

Perhaps the most common method of setting freelance writing rates is stipulating an hourly rate.

Even if you don't choose to charge via this matrix, we do recommend having a general idea of what your hourly rate would be. This can help you determine whether a flat project fee matches up with the amount of time you're spending on it.

What types of projects is this method best suited to?

Charging by the hour is usually the best option when:

  • The scope of a project isn't entirely clear, or has potential to expand.
  • You have ongoing or long-term work for a client.
  • You have the type of client who needs a lot of meetings/phone calls/emails. (See 'pros' section below for more on this.)
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Pros of hourly rates

  • Setting a solid hourly rate means that you're guaranteed to be paid what you believe you are worth. You can set the minimum hourly rate you know you deserve (and need to get by), and stick with it. Even if the original scope of the project increases, you'll still be paid the same amount for each hour of your time.
  • Charging by the hour will reinforce the value of your time to clients, and will help you ensure you are paid for the time you spend communicating with the client outside actually working on the project.
  • There are often recommended rate guides available online as to what freelance writers should charge as a minimum hourly rate. This can be helpful for newbies who are struggling with setting freelance writing rates. Try here or here for some ballpark figures.

Cons of hourly rates

  • The better you get at particular types of freelance writing, the faster you will work – and, effectively, the less you will earn for that work if you're charging an hourly rate. You might end up earning half of what a less experienced writer does for the same job, simply because you're able to complete it in half the time! On the flipside, though, businesses are likely to see your speed as an advantage, and will be more likely to come to you with repeat work – which you'll have more hours in the day to complete than that less experienced writer would.
  • Clients are likely to be uncomfortable with an open-ended hourly rate quote. Many will request at least a basic estimate of the total hours the project will take you (and therefore the total cost of the project). This can be tricky to guess correctly, and if you underestimate the hours, your client might become irate, or refuse to pay more than your original estimate.
  • Raising your prices can be harder when you charge an hourly rate. Clients are more likely to be apprehensive about an increase in hourly rate than they would if you were quoting by project. If you make the mistake of starting out at a too-low hourly rate and need to increase it later, you'll be pushed to really justify it to your clients, and you might risk losing them.
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Method 2: Per-word rate

Charging by the word is another common method of setting freelance writing rates. Depending on the type of job, the effort required and the level of experience a writer has, per-word rates can range from anywhere between $0.05 to $1 a word.

What types of projects is this method best suited to?

Charging by the word is usually the best option when:

  • Working with publications such as magazines or newspapers. When pitching freelance articles, you'll actually find you won't often have a choice in this case – many publications stipulate a set per-word rate that all their contributors are paid.
  • Working with clients who may be 'scared off' by an hourly rate. (See the 'pros' section below for more on this.)
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Pros of per-word rates

  • A per-word rate can often seem less intimidating to clients who don't really understand the value of a freelance writer's time. If it takes you an hour to write a 600-word article, and you charge $0.20 per word, quoting your per-word cost is likely to sound like 'better value' to them than a rate of $120 per hour.
  • If you know roughly how quickly you're able to write (words per hour), it's fairly easy to determine what an acceptable per-word rate is if you have a base hourly rate figure to go by.
  • Per-word rates can be particularly lucrative if you have a freelance writing niche – an area in which you're basically an expert. Many publications pay very well by-the-word for expert articles, so the better you know your stuff, the better earning potential you have!

Cons of per-word rates

  • Unlike hourly rates, per-word pricing isn't a case of one-size-fits-all. You'll be doing yourself a disservice if you charge the same per-word rate for a simple blog post and an in-depth article requiring a lot of research. This means you can't rely on a standard quote for all clients – you have to work out different per-word rates for different types of work.
  • It's sometimes hard to estimate how many words a project will end up being, so it can be hard to get an idea of how much you'll be earning. Agreeing on a rough final word count with the client beforehand is essential – if they're budgeting for a 500 word piece, and you turn in 1500 words, things might get a little tricky.
  • Unfortunately, the rise of content mills has meant that many freelance writers' per-word rates can be undercut by people charging ridiculously low rates. Your very reasonable rate of $0.20 per word could be dismissed by a not-particularly-savvy client who chooses to outsource the work to a content mill at a measly $0.02/word rate.
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Method 3: Project fee

The third and equally popular method of setting freelance writing rates is stipulating a flat project fee. This means providing a final quote for the entire cost before starting the job.

What types of projects is this method best suited to?

Charging a flat project fee is usually the best option when:

  • The scope and boundaries of the project have been clearly defined.
  • You have a lot of different clients, for whom you do different types of work. A standard hourly rate might not work out best for you across all clients, but charging per project means you can ensure you're being paid what you're worth.
  • You can complete a project faster than usual, meaning you wouldn't really be paid what your work is worth if you charged your usual hourly rate.
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Pros of project fees

  • As we mentioned above, many clients might not understand the value of a freelancer's time, believing that your hourly rate is 'too high'. They often think of it in terms of a regular job's hourly rate, but a freelancer has to factor many more overheads and considerations into that rate, so the two aren't really comparable. However, if you quote a project fee instead, they will be focused on the value of the project rather than the time it takes to do it. It's a strange psychological factor, but trust us – many clients who baulk at paying a rate of $60/hour for a ten-hour job would have no objection to a flat quote for $600 project!
  • In the same client-focused vein, charging a flat project fee is a good way of managing freelance client expectations. Setting the project fee and clearly establishing what work is involved in that quote can help both parties go into a job with clear expectations and less potential for disagreement.
  • No matter how long a project takes you, you will receive the total price you quoted at the outset. While this can be a con as well (as we outline below), if you work quickly and efficiently, you can achieve a very lucrative rate for your work!

Cons of project fees

  • The biggest potential downside of charging a flat project cost is the potential for the time spent on the project to exceed your original estimate. This means that the base hourly rate you had in mind is diluted, and you effectively end up earning less than what you're worth for a project.
  • It can be hard to estimate a reasonable project fee, especially when you're first starting out with setting freelance writing rates, or when you're working with a brand-new client. It might take a few jobs before you feel confident quoting the right amount for a project.
  • You have to learn to face occasional conflict when charging by the project. Clients might want to come back with several revisions after you've completed a job, which, as we discussed above, leads to more time spent than planned and effectively dilutes your rate. In these cases, you need to be firm about either charging more for the additional work, or finishing the job where you originally agreed you would.
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Once you've decided how you're going to charge, you'll need to decide how to invoice – so be sure to check out our roundup of simple invoicing tools for freelance writers next!

How do you go about setting freelance writing rates? Do you have a set method, or do you vary on a project-by-project basis? Let us know in the comments!

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