Why Freelance Writers Need to Make $100 an Hour

I am on vacation. Please enjoy this classic post from my old caroltice.com blog.

Several writers have commented to me that they make $30-$40 an hour writing four articles an hour for content mills, and that they consider it a great pay rate.

But is it? What is a good rate to shoot for in freelance writing?

My answer, in case you couldn’t tell from the title of this piece, is $100 an hour. That should be your goal.

Let’s do the math to learn why it’s important that your hourly rate be so high.

If you work 35 hours a week, $30 an hour means you’d make $52,500 a year allowing for 2 weeks’ vacation. Sounds good on the face of it, right?

But at $100 an hour, you make $175,000 a year. Wow! Big difference, huh?

I sense that you’re freaking out. Think it’s impossible? Yesterday’s pay rate? Hardly. That’s my own rate goal for my business.

If you’re saying, “I don’t need to make $175,000 a year, so $30 an hour will be OK,” I’d like you to consider these three things:

Your expenses.Costs include paying your own health insurance, which is more costly every year. Paying state, local and federal taxes, and self-employment tax. Paying for equipment, marketing, Web-site development, advertising, heat, light, paper and other supplies. Making $40 an hour at a full-time job where they pay the benefits might pencil out – but the equation changes when you’re on your own. After expenses, that really doesn’t leave much net profit.

Unbillable hours. Then there’s the downtime. You wait for interview calls to start, bill accounts, market the business, tally up your monthly accounts, have a slow week where you aren’t fully booked, and on and on. Not every hour is a billable hour. Track your time for a month to get a sense of how many real, billable hours you’ve got – it’ll probably be eye-opening.

Work/life balance. Didn’t you start freelancing so you could spend more time with family? Many freelancers get into it for the “freedom,” but end up working 12-hour days to keep it going…not that freeing in my view. A lot of us with children find we’ve got only 30-32 real, available work hours in the week unless we want to stick our kids in many hours of child care.

Put these three factors together and you’ll quickly see why your average hourly rate needs to be high in order for you to earn a decent living.

Don’t know what your average hourly rate is now?

Track your billable hours for a month to get a sense of your current rate. Then, set a goal of improving your hourly rate in 2010. You won’t bill $100 an hour overnight if you’re at $20 an hour now. It’ll take time to gradually replace lower-paying accounts with higher ones – but it’ll be worth the effort.

There’s one final reason to aim high, for $100 an hour. We often don’t achieve our goals in life. Maybe one client’s at $100 an hour, but you have another situation where it works out to less, but there’s still a good reason to do the gig — a great editor connection you want to keep, for instance, or great exposure that helps your marketing. So when we shoot for $100, we may end up with $75 overall and still do quite well. Shoot for $30 and you may end up with not enough to buy groceries.

Whatever your rate now, make a plan to increase your hourly rate in the coming year – because better-paying gigs are what truly put the “free” in freelance.



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16 comments on “Why Freelance Writers Need to Make $100 an Hour
  1. I would call it a thought-provoking post. We all know that we have these expenses but we, or at least I, don’t have the courage to raise the hourly rate as we are scared the client might choose another freelancer. I am also one of those freelancers who quit their full time job to spend more time with family (and get rid of a cranky boss). Bidding sites are doing a big harm to the freelancers’ hourly rate as you have to bid for as low as $5 per hour to keep up with the competition.
    Ali’s writer blog recently posted..How To Be A Writer – A 6 Step Process (Without #5 You’ll Be Nothing But An Undiscovered Planet)

  2. Karen says:

    It’s certainly something to shoot for. I guess a lot depends on your individual circumstances. Because I focus on travel writing and location independent living, I know lots of writers (including myself) who run their businesses from countries where the cost of living is less than in the US. Even within the US, some freelancers choose to live in more remote regions where the cost of living may be much lower than in a big city.

    Freelancing certainly gives you a flexibility to make some pretty drastic decisions regarding how to achieve financial freedom and strike a work/life balance, which is one of the best things about it.

    As an aside, who can write four (quality) articles an hour? Even when I was working for content mills I still spent an hour on each article. Am I overly perfectionist or something? (NOT something I’m generally accused of, I promise you!)
    Karen recently posted..Ten Freelance Writing Tools for $10 or Less

  3. Jeanne says:

    Thanks for this post Carol. When I first began to research making a living doing commercial freelance writing, I was acutely aware at not only the potential freedom of such work, but also the loss of benefits that would go along with it. Not only will I be responsible for my own taxes and insurance, but I will be losing my employer’s retirement contribution as well. But then again, I’ll be saving on gas for my commute and paying for a parking pass, not that it evens out, but I’ll take that weeny victory anyhow.

  4. Karen Lange says:

    Thanks for the breakdown, Carol. Very much appreciated!
    Karen Lange recently posted..Do Your Elements Have Style?

  5. Thanks Carol! This is exactly the problem I have been running into with my web design business, which has been cutting into my writing time, and the transition to writing more in general. Big eye-opener! Time to do some calculations. :)
    Krissy Brady, Writer recently posted..Freelance Writing 101: Introduce Yourself to… Yourself

  6. Ruth Zive says:

    My hourly rate is $125, but I work in a niche industry that supports that standard. I’ve also found that if I charge based on the project (case study, or white paper), rather than by the hour, I actually make more money. That said, my challenge is budgeting my time between prospecting (for which I don’t get paid), marketing and social media (for which I don’t get paid) and actual ‘roll up your sleeves’ writing (for pay). It’s hard to come out every week with 35 ‘paid’ hours.
    Ruth Zive recently posted..How to Create Buzz for Content Marketing

  7. Rebecca says:

    Amen to this! The break down is insightful. Freelance writers need to believe in themselves and the value they bring to clients. They need to find the courage to walk away when a client/project doesn’t ‘feel’ right or doesn’t want to pay the writing fee. Look for warning signs such as ‘low budget’ and others. I learned the hard way.

  8. Hank says:

    You bring up a great point about the expenses of the self-employed. There are a lot of things that chip away at that top line revenue that many freelance writers and inexperienced website publishers do not consider.
    Hank recently posted..I Refinanced My Car Loan, Dropped 1%, And Still Pay $4 More A Month!

  9. pravakar says:

    Is it true! a freelance writer can earn $100 per hour, I am also freelance writer but i am getting only $8 per hour. Can you tell my what are steps I will follow to earn $100 per hour on writing.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Absolutely — I’ve set up e-courses on Freelance Writers Den that provide a TON of information on how to move up and earn more. There’s even one course called “How to Move Up and Earn More.”

      In general, the difference is that high earners actively market their business and seek out higher-paying clients, whether magazines or companies.

  10. I don’t know, but after several months of just looking literally everywhere online for freelance writing jobs, it doesn’t seem like $100 an hour is at all reachable. Even $30 an hour is a dream income. I’d love to do it, and it would be great if someone would tell me what would make that at all possible, but I’m totally convinced that the road is difficult and I can’t expect more than $20 an hour. Things are just going to get worse in every aspect as the economy continues to collapse, and that’s about it.

    About offline work, I’m sure that it’s possible to earn more than $30 an hour, but I moved to Romania, so wish me luck with that. :D

    Anyway, it’s a nice read and covers everything I would have liked to cover about writing and how much one *should* earn. What one should earn and what jobs one comes across are two totally different things. For me, the list looks like this:

    a) Client greed – Clients will almost always want to pay less and expect more work. They mostly outsource and hate hiring domestically.

    b) Economic failure – The global economy will not float much longer. Before long, I fully expect more than half of the developed world to be relying on wild vegetation for food instead of groceries. Here’s where I sincerely hope, from the bottom of my heart, that I’m wrong. The embarrassment of making a statement that turned out to be nothing more than a sensational claim is much more relieving for me than what I think the future holds.

    c) Insufficient knowledge of resources – I’ve never received a leg-up and consider myself very lucky to be where I am financially. The thing is that I’m kind of new to this freelance writing thing. I’ve only worked a bit over 5 years with this and most of the time was spent working for $1-5 an article. You know those kinds of gigs. I’ve been told later on by another writer that I’m really undervaluing my writing, which goes above and beyond what one should pay $1 for. OK. I kind of knew that, but didn’t know how to get off that train.

    I later found Demand Media, and thought that it’s the pinnacle of my writing career. Well, anyone who has written for them before knows that it shouldn’t stop there and it should be a temporary gig more than anything. Anyone relying completely on DMS isn’t going to get anywhere. I shortly realized that I didn’t want my name associated with anything written there, so I switched my display name to a pseudonym and started looking for more clients on Craigslist.

    I shortly got hired for a rate of $20-30 per 400-500 words, but the clients ask for very little work every month. That’s a little better, as far as the rate is concerned. I was later told that it’s a shame, and that the kind of writing I do deserves way more than that. In my mind, I said, “Wait, what?!” I’m not sure what these people are on, but I don’t find anyone who wants to pay more than $4 for 500 words, and the rare clients I actually have were one in 95 different people I ever spoke to. Maybe I’m missing something? Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places? Why doesn’t anyone tell me this?

    I hope I made it clear that I have worked above capacity for several hours trying to find leads. I’m not a lazy person who wants a handout, but I have a family and several responsibilities. I’m also a man with a plan to develop things that will help other people. In the past, I’ve helped several others excel in other aspects (I wasn’t always a freelance writer). It seems as if though there’s something that isn’t complete here. I’m still wondering what I’m doing wrong that doesn’t get me where I’m supposed to be, according to others. Or maybe they were just trying to be polite and not hurt my feelings when, in reality, I’m just a mediocre writer who should try something else. I’m not sure.
    Miguel Leiva-Gomez recently posted..How Computers Work – Part 7 – RAM [Mega Series]

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Miguel –

      Your instinct is correct — you ARE missing something. You are looking in the wrong places. All I can say is — join Freelance Writers Den! We’re taking people like you, who can’t even imagine where the good pay is, and showing them how to get $1 a word gigs, every day.

      I can tell you professional pay is still going on, much as it always did. Big companies and magazines still hire pros and pay them well. I’ve had one corporate client at $2 a word this year.

      But you’ll have to first believe great pay is out there in order to find it.

      Sorry you’re not taking the bootcamp we’re doing right now, How to Make Good Money Writing Online…but all the videos and handouts will be available in January to new members…maybe earlier to people who get on the waiting list.

  11. Guadalupe Gates says:

    It’s hard to come out every week with 35 ‘paid’ hours. You bring up a great point about the expenses of the self-employed. Freelancing certainly gives you a flexibility to make some pretty drastic decisions regarding how to achieve financial freedom and strike a work/life balance, which is one of the best things about it.
    Guadalupe Gates recently posted..Cancer Tips

  12. Holly says:

    I see what you are saying, aim high and don’t sell yourself short. But I think one also has to consider experience and qualifications which play into how much you are worth and therefore can charge. It’s not reasonable for someone just out of college to think they can charge $100/hour starting out.

    On the flip side, why would one top out at $100/hour? Shouldn’t one aim to give themselves a raise annually? Maybe that’s another post.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, I’m definitely not saying stop at $100! Just saying that’s a level I like to aim for when I take on new clients. Don’t always get there right off…but it’s a goal to shoot for.

      From there, if you’ve bid it properly on a per-project basis rather than an hourly basis, your hourly rate should go UP from there as you get to know the client’s work and become more efficient.

      To your question about experience levels, I’ve known brand-new freelancers to start asking for $50-60 an hour and not have any problem with that. You really don’t want to be below there much…you’re better off doing more marketing.

      I actually just had a Den member discussing a client she took for $10 an hour because they had steady work…now of course the client has turned out to be a pain, and she realizes it’s sucking up all her marketing time and paying too little.

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