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Per Word or Per Hour — Which Earns Writers the Most?

Time is Money for Freelance WritersThere’s a lot of discussion online about writers’ rates. What’s the best way to bid a project — by the word? By the hour? By the project?

They all have their uses, especially since some publications and businesses are kind of in the habit of using one or the other of these methods for deciding what they’ll pay.

But which is the best way to price jobs? To my mind, it’s by the hour.

Time is your most precious resource. You only have so many work hours in the year, so you need to make as much per hour as you can. Which leads me to my one important rule of pricing jobs:

No matter how you price the job, track your hours and figure out your hourly rate. Because if you don’t know your hourly rate, how can you work on raising it? How can you compare clients and know which to keep and which to drop?

Now, if you’re working for an ongoing copywriting client, I personally believe bidding by the project is best. Your client is happy because they know exactly what they’re going to pay, and you can budget for the amount you will earn.

The trick is creating a flat fee for that project that will give you the hourly rate you want.

You can only do that by getting some experience with how long it takes you to do things. Obviously, this setup rewards efficiency. If you’re unusually fast, you can bid on a par with other writers, but end up with a better hourly rate, and earn more over the course of the year.

Before the downturn, I thought high per-article fees were the answer to maximizing earnings. But I’ve learned that’s not always true. When I was scrambling around for a few new clients in late ’08/early ’09, I got an offer from an old editor friend to write some quick articles for $100 apiece, just based on my knowledge of business topics, supplemented with a little online research. (Hey, it’s above my $50 an assignment limit, people!)

At first I was appalled. Prior to this time period, about the very lowest article rate I took was $300. Then I thought what the heck, and gave them a try.

I found I could write them in an hour to 90 minutes. A little quick math and hmmm…that’s $70-$100 an hour. Not too shabby. I’ve kept this work as good occasional filler projects — a quick scan of my bills for this year shows I picked up $1,700 this way so far in ’10, in maybe 20-22 hours. So the lesson is: Any work that earns a high hourly rate is good writing work.

Of course, getting a client where they’ll let you simply bill for however many hours you’re spending on their projects each month is the ideal. Then you know you’re getting paid for every hour you work. I had a client like that at $95 an hour for more than a year, sending me work every month. I think right now, those gigs are harder to come by.

But billing hourly protects you against the evil that is scope creep — the situation where you bid a flat project fee, but then the parameters of the project keep growing, as does your time spent. Been lots of discussion of how to handle this sticky problem on LinkedIn recently.

Most publications tend to assign a price per word or give a flat article price. In which case, you may need to work on your efficiency to make sure your rate stays as good as possible.

But you can always ask for more money — I’ve gotten companies to add $50-$200 to an article assignment or more if they ended up wanting sidebars, or a longer length, or I knew they were a slow payer. More about screwing up your courage to ask for more pay over at my latest post on WM Freelance Writers Community.

What do you prefer — billing by the project, the hour or the word? Leave a comment and let me know. Also, have you asked for more pay lately? If so share your strategy!

Photo via Flickr user zoutedrop

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The Very Best Place Online for Freelance Writers

Freelance Writers Marketing LensEarlier this week, I wrote about the many ways being fully booked helps your writing business. Obviously, I had a decent stable of clients…but I wasn’t at capacity. Finding a few new clients put me there.

Several readers asked if I could discuss the marketing strategies I used to help fill up my schedule. I’m happy to do so. I think many writers are wondering what the best marketing methods are, particularly what Web sites and online strategies are really useful.

So I will now reveal the single best place online for freelance writers.

First, the raw data: Below is a look at how I got each of the new clients I’ve landed over the past six months or so, which led to my being fully booked.

1.  Major TV network’s business blog — I found this gig through my weekly Gorkana alert, which offers job listings for a few specific areas in business, including finance and healthcare.

2.  Agency through which I blog and develop Web content for lawyers — I answered a Craigslist ad… I don’t exactly recall where, but I must have either seen it on About Freelance Writing (thanks Anne!) or on Writer’s Weekly (thanks Angela!).

3. Two small-business blog clients, both in business finance niches — These both found me through reading my blog for Entrepreneur magazine.

4. Fortune 500 company — They found me on a Google search for “Seattle freelance writer.”

There you have it. Have you guessed what the best place is to be for freelance writers? That’s right — it’s everywhere. As many places as you can be. Each place you are, each strategy you use, increases your odds of success.

Niche job lists are good sources of leads for specialized writing jobs.

Craigslist is full of junk, but if you keep scanning those ads, every once in a while you can find a very solid client.

Your great bylined work online is out there, marketing your business, 24/7.

Companies are finding writers through natural search on Google.

If I hadn’t had a broad-spectrum approach to marketing online — checking a lot of places, and really making the effort to make all my current online clients’ work shine — I wouldn’t have found all these clients. Just one important caveat: Be a skimmer, and don’t spend all day poking around the Internet looking for leads. I try not to spend more than 2-3 hours a week looking for job leads online.

I’d also make the observation that four out of five of these clients are on the copywriting side. My observation is that while publications are still tough to break into right now, copywriting is booming…so it’s not just where you’re looking online, but what you’re looking for, that’s important. Keep an open mind. Try new types of clients — you may find whole new areas of writing you discover you really like. That’s definitely my story.

Where are you finding good writing-job leads? Leave a comment and let me know. I’m sure I haven’t found all the great ways to market online yet!

Photo via Flickr user jared

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Here’s Exactly How Writers Move Up and Get Paid More Money

Earn More from Freelance Writing

Even though I’ve put up a lot of blog posts about how writers can earn more, I find there’s still a missing link for many writers. They hear about $800 articles, $125 blogs, $20,000-a-year copywriting clients, and their jaws drop. And they cannot figure out how to get from $20 articles to there.

So today, I’m going to teach you how.

One reader wrote me after reading my post on business blogging that talks about how my minimum contract for small-business clients is $1,000 for 8 blog posts. She wrote:
How do you do this? I just had a conversation with a new client and quoted him $75 per blog post. I really want to charge $100 per blog post. This client wants to try two blog posts per week. I know I’m a great blogger and have the experience to back it up. I really want to charge my rate and deserve it.

Plus, he wants web content writing. The content writing is for eight pages and the words will be from 60-100. I charged him $10 per page last time. I have a feeling I under charged and undercut myself. Any advice?

Oh, certainly I have advice. And my advice is simple: Stop offering to work for $10 a page.

Here is the secret of earning more. Look at your rate now, and raise it. Start saying your rate is $20 a page. Next month, say it’s $40 a page. Then, say it’s $80 a page. Repeat until you find you are earning at least $75 an hour.

So this is the part that terrifies writers. You think if you raise your rate, you won’t have any clients. That is simply not true. You may have fewer clients at first — but that’ll be OK, because you are getting paid twice as much, or soon, eight times as much. So you’ll need fewer clients.

How will you get new, better-paying clients? You’ll have to get out of your comfort zone, and find better-quality prospects.

Who’s a better prospect? A company or publication with something difficult they need solved, that not every writer on earth can do.

They need to explain insurance annuities to an audience of actuaries, or they want articles about technological advances in refrigeration units. Figure out what you know about that not everyone knows, and you’ve zeroed in on your target market for better pay.

Then, when you get in a negotiation, ask for real rates. It’s just that simple. There’s no magic. You’ll actually have to screw up the gumption to ask for good pay.

If they say $300 for this article, take a deep breath and say, “I usually get $500.” And see what happens. Maybe they’ll tell you they can’t go higher. But you’ll be surprised how often you can get more, especially now with the economy improving.

If your client balks, you may have to educate them about why you’re worth it. Maybe they’ll walk away. That means they’re not the right client for you — they’re too cheap.

But this is how writers earn more. They find clients with tough problems, and show they can solve them.

It really works. The writer who asked that question above? After talking to me, she went back and asked for $20 a page, and got it.

It’s a start. That’s how better income happens — one notch up the ladder at a time. All it takes is a commitment to move up from where you are, to begin the climb. The universe will not likely hand you more money out of the blue. You will have to ask for it.

Have you raised your rates lately? Leave a comment and let us know how you found better-paying gigs.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user borman818

Three Magical Words That Help Writers Earn More

Freelance Writing MagicIt’s been a long time coming…nearly two years. But last week, it happened.

A prospect called to see if I could do some writing work for them. I took a deep breath, and then I uttered three magical words that unlock the key to making more money as a freelance writer.

Do you know what those words are?

“I’m fully booked.”

That’s right. At the moment, I am not spending time sifting through online job ads, obsessively trying to make new LinkedIn connections, or beating the street at networking events. I only had time to blog once for MALW last week, because I’m so busy. I have all the work I can handle, nearly all of it at very nice rates. I’m really overbooked, but I’m  hoping I can somehow figure out how to make the workload manageable again in July, once a couple of big new clients ramp up and get going.

It took a heck of a lot of marketing to get to this point, and later this week, I’ll tell you about what worked for me in marketing my freelance writing business. But for now, let’s return to the three magical words, and why they’re so important and magical.

What happens to your business when you’re fully booked?

You relax. The anxiety of starting each month with open time still on the planner is gone. I’m now starting each month with enough work booked to be confident I can pay my bills, and even take my family out for an occasional meal. Being more relaxed makes you more effective and creative, so your work gets done faster, allowing you to make more.

You gain confidence. It’s an ego-booster to realize you are in demand.

You get picky. In the depths of the recession, I took a lot of crazy assignments. One-off projects. Small-business clients with not much money. Quickie articles that paid $100. Stuff I never would have considered in 2007. Now, that’s over. If someone doesn’t fit my image of an ideal client, I can pass.

You start dropping clients. Now you can look at your client list and identify your biggest problem child — you know, the client that pays in over 90 days, is a whiner, never satisfied, wants a committee to edit your work, won’t return your emails for two days, or simply doesn’t pay enough. The next good client that comes down the pike, it’s time to swap that loser out. Repeat this process until you have only top-drawer publications or companies on your roster.

You become more valuable. When you’re fully booked, it’s like smoke signals go up. You start to attract great new clients. When you tell some prospects you can’t take them on because you’re too busy, they are impressed. You must be a good writer! They want to hire you even more. Sometimes, they offer you more money in hopes of getting you to kick someone else off your schedule to make room for their assignment. Sometimes, you say yes.

Your rate starts to rise. Besides all the reasons already stated above, your rate starts to go up when you’re fully booked because you don’t have to spend as many hours marketing (but don’t stop!). You have more productive, billable hours, so that translates to more income.

Are you fully booked? If not, maybe you want to take a look at my mentoring page and think about whether you could use a boost to get your freelance writing career moving forward. There’s a lot of work out there now — the economy is thawing, new magazines are starting, companies are ramping up marketing budgets, and now’s a great time to make new connections and find  new clients.

Photo via Flickr user Bohman

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6 Lessons Learned from Creating My Make A Living Writing E-Book

ebook readerWell…it finally happened. I sat down with my designer today and the Word files for my e-book and we began the process of getting it ready to publish.

This project seemed to take forever! In fact, it took about 18 months. I’m so excited that it’s finally coming into the home stretch.

I learned a lot in the process of writing Make a Living Writing: The 21st Century Guide. If you’re thinking about writing an e-book — and everybody should be! — here are some of my tips on the e-book writing process:

1. Start small. Why, oh why, did I think my very first e-book should be a broad-spectrum, comprehensive guide to everything you need to know to earn well in the writing biz today? If I was doing this over again, I would have found a chunk to publish first as a stand-alone, smaller first e-book to get something out there while I finished the larger book. As it is, I’ll probably be doing that — I plan to pull out the copywriting section and offer it later as a separate product. But part of this information could have been out there helping writers already — and helping me earn — while I finished the bigger book.

2. Chunkify. This is a phrase I learned from one of my Seattle Times editors. Especially when people are reading online, they need information broken up into small bites. So most of my sections are short or broken out into bullets or numbered items to make them easy to digest.

3. Listen to your audience. If you’re writing any sort of nonfiction, how-to e-book, don’t sit in a vacuum in your office writing what you think people want to know. Find out what they really want to know! I’ve gotten great feedback from my mentees and readers of this blog about exactly what they wanted to know about traditional markets today, emerging writing opportunities and new techniques for finding good-paying clients. The e-book would not be nearly as strong without that critical feedback.

4. Think landscape. E-books lay out in landscape format, not portrait — that is, 11″ wide by 8 1 /2″ high, not the other way around. When I started out, I wasn’t thinking about this. I ended up reorganizing and editing a lot as a result. Landscape format is the shape of  most computer screens (though not e-readers like the one above!) — so it helps to think about that shape while you’re writing and looking at how much will fit on a page.

5. Think about structure and style. One of the toughest challenges for me as someone used to writing articles of maybe up to 3,000 words was organizing so much material. I should have spent more time up-front working with my table of contents to figure out where topics would fit best — would have saved a lot of reorganizing on the back end. On the style side, I kept doing things differently — how to put dashes, how to format lists. Think of a style and stick with it to avoid lots of combing through to change little format problems later.

6. Let it go. At some point, it’s time to call the e-book done. But I found it hard to get there. I got great advice from my online buddy Robert Earle Howells, who told me to just press “send” and move on to the next e-book. It doesn’t have to be perfect,  he said — it’s an e-book. Nonfiction e-books are meant to be timely and produced quickly. He told me he still sometimes goes back in and changes something in the PDF of his book, and that it’s no big deal. That helped me a lot…I probably would have kept tinkering with this forever, until the recession was long over and a lot of it would have needed revising! Wish I’d heard his advice six months ago…probably would have the e-book out already!

Have any questions about writing an e-book? Let me know — if I think the readers would benefit, I’ll answer them here on the blog.

Photo via Flickr user cloudsoup

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My Make a Living Writing e-book, Part II: What’s Missing?

Make a Living Writing: The 21st Century GuideEarlier this week, I shared the table of contents for the first half of my upcoming e-book, Make a Living Writing: The 21st Century Guide. Below is the second half, covering copywriting and earning from your niche blog. Some of you may recognize a few of these headings from previous blog entries I’ve done here or on WM Freelance Writing Connection. They’ve been revised and in many cases expanded for the book, which also includes a lot of new material I have not blogged on before.

Please feel free to leave comments about any topics you don’t see included that you would like to see covered in the book.

Thanks all —

Make a Living Writing: The 21st Century Guide

By Carol Tice




An Introduction to the World of Copywriting

Choosing a niche

Use your life experience

My breaking-in story

Is copywriting “selling out”?

Getting Copywriting Assignments

Seven ways to find your first clients

A sample opening pitch

Two more strategies for getting those first samples

Blogging for business—a great new break-in opportunity

Five signs of a good business-blogging prospect

How to create a great business blog

The mechanics of business blogging

Break in with crowdsourcing contests

What to Charge

Why I don’t have a rate sheet

What to do if a prospect requires a quote

Sample copywriting client questionnaire

Negotiation tips for getting the best rate

Listen in on a client negotiation

Completing Your First Copywriting Assignment

Client meeting 101

Writing your assignment

Submit your work and deal with edits

Turn one assignment into a regular gig

How to Gain Confidence and Move Up

Social media + copywriting = good pay

Team with a graphic designer to earn more

Copywriting for nonprofits

Learn more about copywriting



Blog vs. Article: What’s the Difference?

Why Your Blog Needs a Niche

Best Traits of Successful Niche Bloggers

Nine Ways to Monetize Your Blog

Advice from Successful Niche Blogger Nathan Hangen

Conclusion: Making it Happen

You Gotta Believe

Make a Living Writing: The Sequel


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