Readers: Can You Answer These 4 Freelance Writing Questions?

As you read this, I plan to be lounging by a lake in the hotter part of my state, enjoying the summer. But there’s a problem: Freelance writers have a lot of questions!

My mailbag is bulging. However, I think I have a solution.

This month, I got some questions that I strongly believe my smart blog readers can answer for you.

So this post is an experiment.

I’m just going to post the questions, and let the savvy writers who read my blog give you their answers in the comments.

We’ve got questions about pricing, taking low-paying gigs, breaking into new markets and…pricing. Take your pick!

QUESTION 1:

I have a burning question that comes up every time I am presented with a big project: What should I charge?  Is there a resource freelancers can use to determine what to charge?  I refer frequently to the Writer’s Market, but some projects aren’t as cut and dry as the ones listed in the book.

I have an opportunity to edit a bi-monthly newspaper working from home.  The project requires editing four to 10 stories a month, fact-checking some, rewriting others from press releases and writing photo captions.  I would also be responsible for editing four columns and writing headlines.  The managing editor is open to a flat fee or rate per article.

According to the Writer’s Market, I could charge anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per issue, or $185 to $230 per page.  What would you suggest or can you refer me to a good source to help determine rates since this question always comes up?

–Alma

 QUESTION 2:

How do you feel about blogging on HubPages to get at least a little pay? Is it worth it?

–Victoria

QUESTION 3:

I would like to write for business magazines. What advice can you give me to get started?

–Marcie Hill, MarcieWrites

QUESTION 4:

One of my new writing clients asked me for an explanation of my fees. I sent her an e-mail and told her that I charged a flat fee based on each individual project and that I would let her know upfront what that fee was. I also asked her for her writing budget, and told her that I would work within that budget.

She e-mailed me and asked me how do I determine the flat fee for each project. They have a large amount of projects and they want to know what to expect. She also evaded the writing budget question.

She is not a difficult client; I already did a major project for her and quoted her a fee, to which she paid without question. I’m a bit confused as to how I should answer her question.

— Taheerah B.

Take it away, readers! I know many of you have freelance-writing experience to share.

When I return from vacation, I’ll add my own advice in the comments, too.

What’s your advice for these writers? Post it in the comments below.

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14 comments on “Readers: Can You Answer These 4 Freelance Writing Questions?
  1. Carol Tice says:

    I knew I could count on you, readers! Some great answers here. I especially had hoped to hear from people with HubPages experience since I never did them…so thanks for not letting me down.

    My answers:

    #1 – I think it’s hard for freelance writers to accept that there isn’t some magical resource with all the answers on rates. They just vary. My best bets are asking clients “What’s your budget?” before you bid and seeing if they’ll tip their hand…and asking your writer networks what would be appropriate. Every time I do these two things, I end up earning more.

    #2 – The answer depends on your goals as a writer right now. Just want to write and get a bunch of practice? Need money right away? Need great clips? Hubpages might meet that first goal, but not the other two.

    In general, I think these revshare places are mostly a waste of time for writers trying to build a high-earning career. I’m forever hearing from writers who ‘brag’ about how they’ve made $1,000 from the 100 articles they wrote over the course of 3 years…while I’m thinking I would have made $50,000 from 100 articles and gotten paid right away, writing for good markets. Not sure why the revshare thing continues to appeal to people when so few make anything substantial.

    #3 — I’d need to know more about your experience with business to guide you. Most business magazines do like to see journalism skills, and a demonstrated ability to tell a good business story. If you have that, focus on industries you know well, and consider hitting trade magazines first — they have a harder time finding good writers and don’t get pitched much. Or business weeklies — they often assign freelance, especially if you’ve found an interesting business to profile they hadn’t discovered, or a trend angle that would fit some theme they need in their editorial calendar.

    Then, you can use those clips to pitch the Seattle Business or Entrepreneur type mags. That’s actually exactly how I got into Entrepreneur — leveraging clips from trade pubs, a business weekly, and a city business mag to go up to the national level.

    #4 – I’m going to agree with the British Royalty approach — never apologize, never explain. If you must, give some general explanation that your fees are based on your time estimate and many other factors such as level of sophistication of the work, interviews needed, rewrites you expect, etc. Bottom line: it’s the price you feel makes it worth your time to do it.

    Generally, when you get these kind of reachouts, it means someone is looking to cut their rates. I had one website I wrote $20K worth of content for at good rates — $1 a word for many of the pages. After a lull, I got a request to quote my “best price” for another package. I noted that my rates were my rates. Never heard from them again…think their attitude toward content development had changed and they were now looking for someone to do it for pennies.

    If any of the questioners above have any followup questions, please come on down and leave them in the comments! Happy to answer.

  2. Dear Teerah,

    My question is how did you figure the charge for the last project you did for your client? You say she was happy. Were you?

    I wonder if maybe telling her that you figure your fee based on the time (including when she wants it done) and expense it takes to do a project would satisfy her. Or maybe asking her to give you a sample idea of a project she needs to be done, so you could better calculate, as each project would be different in size and detail.

    It almost sounds like she wants a flat rate for any project, though surely not.

    Cheers,
    Clara Mae

  3. margiewrites says:

    OK, I just had to respond to Taheera’s Question 4.

    Although I know how tempting it is to break it down the same way Lisa P has done above, I don’t think I’d go into much detail at all about explaining how you price your rates–I think that’s just opening yourself up to your client nitpicking and talking you way down (the client may think it should only take one hour to write X, but you price yourself considering it would take about three hours based on how long it takes to research, communicate with the client, write, rewrite and so on).

    I’d respond with something super short about the rate being in line with market rate and immediately start selling them on the value of what you personally can bring — your expertise and how you’ve helped out other businesses in similar projects, etc.

    I understand coming from her perspective, she wants to know how much she’d be paying a month, but you can always try to adjust the scope of what you do and how long it takes you to complete it to fit what you would be willing to work for. If she only has $500 a month to spend, adjust what services you could provide her. If it’s still not worth it to you, then it’s not the client for you. If she still want to dance around the budget after your response, I’d assume they can’t afford you.

  4. Barbara says:

    To #4 —

    Not to sound suspicious, but my first impression is — even though you’ve done work for this client in the past and were paid in full without hesitation — it seems the client may not have been as satisfied as the quick payment may have indicated to you. I’m wondering if she got/found information about others’ rates that is making her question yours. She may have stumbled on someone online who advertises rates significantly lower than yours, and so as pleased as she was with your earlier work, she now has the phantom ‘did I pay too much’ question sitting on her shoulder.

    So I think you need to drop the emails and call her, or better yet if its feasible, go see her in person. Bring your portfolio of various projects you’ve done and when you’re face-to-face just outright ask what her concerns are. Be prepared with a breakdown of how you arrived at the rate you charged for her previous job, and then with your portfolio you can indicate on other projects (NOT revealing the full pricing you charged for any of them) you can point to specific aspects and how their INclusion or EXclusion from a project affected your final price.

    It’s also very helpful if you have written endorsements from other clients. Some might even be willing to be contacted by prospective clients. But you definitely should have some kind of endorsements to offer new clients so they can see that you obviously have successful professional relationships with satisfied clients.

    Writing and editing is one of those invisible services. Often people who are working for a ‘regular’ paycheck (or those who own their own more “practical,” tangible type of business) forget to consider that a freelancer in a creative service has a lot invested not only in executing the nuts and bolts of a job, but in the creative process that initiates, and then drives, the project from beginning to end. By having a real discussion with her and giving her a glimpse to remind, or inform, her of the nuances of your profession — and don’t forget it IS a profession! — she will have a more confident sense that your rates are reasonable, which should wipe out that niggling concern from her mind and establish a long and fruitful future relationship.

    There’s a possibility you may have to rethink, or renegotiate certain aspects of your pricing for her specific type of projects — especially if she is willing to put you on contract or retainer for several upcoming ones, or for a particular time period — so be prepared for this eventuality as well. If she sees you’re willing to negotiate a bit on rate if she’s willing to commit to a bigger contract then you’ve both won in the deal. And that’s what the infamous ‘art of the deal’ is all about, both sides walking away winning.

    It’s all about letting her peek into your world to allay her concerns she’s being ‘taken.’

    If, however, she keeps questioning you, keeps hesitating, won’t negotiate from her side, then I have to think she’s either being questioned by someone who holds the purse strings over HER head or she’s seen quotes from other sources that seriously undercut yours so that she thinks she can get as good a result for less. If she’s shopping — just to shop — for a bargain, that’s something you must discover, and decide your course of action onward. As much as you don’t want to lose a client, sometimes you have to take the gamble and let them go for the cheaper alternative so they can find out if the bargain was worth the result. If they’re not pleased with the outcome, you’ve lost one job but regained a loyal client. If they are satisfied, then they were bargain shopping and would never have stopped putting you through the wringer for any and all future jobs.

    But you’re never going to be able to feel your way through this by emails: you MUST speak with her directly, have a real and thorough conversation. Your talent, your work, may be words on a page, but when it comes to client relationships, you have to abandon the written for real, live, personal contact.

    In the end, YOU have to know what your earning comfort zone is — where and when in the plan you can bend, and where and when you must plant your foot. Yes, you won’t get every client that approaches you. But then, the ones you do get will be yours — and will end up being your ambassadors in finding your future NEW clients!

    Bon chance!

  5. Barbara says:

    Alma, I recently found this resource: http://allfreelancewriting.com/freelance-writing-rate-calculator/

    It goes into per-word, per-page and overall project and allows you to determine what you should be charging hourly to maintain a livable lifestyle. I just answered a casting call at WA, for a book request. Very little information, so I went on a fishing expedition. We’ll see if the client answers.

    Victoria, I have a HubPages account, but spend very little time there – it’s 100% rev share, which means, until your numbers get high enough, there’s no return for your time investment. Some have made it work, but they spend hours per day on their articles and keywords – something I can’t do right now.

    Marcie, start Googling business mags and write up a good query letter. Get that professionally edited, then customize it for each magazine job announcement you’re interested in. For magazine writing, it’s good, old-fashioned “I’m here, look at me, here’s what I can offer your publication” legwork. Best of luck!

    Taheera, your client may be dodging the money question because she can’t afford to pay very much. You might want to visit the link at the top of my answer so you can offer her a slightly more-detailed answer and begin drawing those answers out of her. The link above explains how you determine your fees as well.

    Barbara

  6. Lisa P says:

    In response to #4, if a client asked me how I set my prices I would be tempted to give them a basic economics lesson. “Well, say I was to draw a graph with the x axis showing quantity of my services in units and the y axis showing the price of said projects, then I plotted supply and demand according to the given amount demanded or supplied at the corresponding price. Demand slopes downward as there is an inverse relationship between price and quantity demanded. Supply slopes upward as there is a direct relationship between price and the quantity I am willing to supply (to a point). The intersection of those two lines is where the quantity supplied equals the quantity demanded, so the price per units at that point is the equilibrium that I am trying to strive for. If I go above the market equilibrium, I won’t get enough work. If I go below, I will be stretching myself too thin.”

    The client would probably be offended, but it’s kind of an offensive question. When I go to a coffee shop, I don’t demand to know why they charge what they do and they hopefully wouldn’t ask me why I don’t have more money to spend there.

    • Linda H says:

      I’m often asked ow much I charge for potential projects. I’ve learned to tell the client that I prefer to work by a project fee rather than hourly. The project fee depends on its complexity, how many pages or words, and the overall content. I have a specific hourly rate in mind, then calculate according to what I believe it will take me to complete the job. I give myself some additional leaway and the present the price.

      I also tell the client I’ll work with them if they have a budget. If they push the rate before I learn their budget, I reply with a range of fees, i.e. $400-1,5000 or 4 blogs/month of XXX words for $XXXX, and that I’ll gladly write a contract that outlines the scope of what specifically I’ll do for my fee. I then add that if they have additional work for me, we can alter the contract or write a new one. Once I’ve done that, they suddenly start talking budgets.

      On two occasions I came down from my original bid, but learned after-the-fact that I still earned a good living wage and I didn’t waste my time. So now I have a growing list of clients, with specific clips available online to show for my work.

      As mentioned in other posts, the fee you charge is based on what you believe is the value of your work. You deserve to make a living wage and if you’re good and have recommendations, point to them. I often point people to my LinkedIn profile where I have several recommendations. Or to my website where I have several testimonials that are legitimate.

      Good clients will work with you and welcome a contract. Those that want to bargain more may be more work than they’re worth. When I recently spoke to a new writing colleague about clients to balk over pricing his first comment was “So long client!” His thought was that the fees he charges are worth the efforts expended. He doesn’t have time to negotiate fees for high quality work that brings in millions for the client after-the-fact. I happen to agree.

      You’re worth your work. As you get better and gain experience you’ll be more expensive. Writers who command high salaries have earned them and they are worth every penny. Become one of those!
      Linda H recently posted…Are You Sabotaging Your Interview for The “A” Team?My Profile

  7. I signed up for HubPages four years ago. It was great in the beginning, but I wouldn’t recommend it now. The reason is the lack of control. They own the site, so they can change the rules whenever they want. And sometimes they do.

    When you own your own website, you make the rules. It costs less than $10 to register a domain and less than $10 per month for hosting. Choose a host that offers Fantastico or something like it so you can install WordPress easily, pick a nice-looking theme, and go.

    Use the Google AdWords keyword tool to find out what phrases people use most often when searching for whatever you’re writing about, and make an effort to include a few of these phrases in your post without making it sound forced. This will improve your chances of getting search engine traffic.

    By the way, I still make money from Hubpages. I have 123 articles and usually make between $80 and $90 per month. Not bad when you consider that I’m not adding new articles unless I need a backlink for one of my websites. This is mostly residual income from stuff I wrote years ago.

    The amount you make will vary depending on what you write about. HubPages doesn’t break down the stats by article, but I know from the days before the HubPages Ad Program was introduced that my foreclosure articles made the most money from AdSense.
    Bethanny Parker recently posted…SEO Writing ServicesMy Profile

  8. Anna says:

    Determining the flat fees can depend on so many things, the topic, the lengths etc. Some freelancers are paid per words, some of them are paid per articles, but usual, the fees are depending on the budget of the actual project.
    Anna recently posted…Általános áttekintés a fogbeültetés költségeirőlMy Profile

  9. Neil says:

    Ok, number 3 is still open so I will post a response.

    What are your strengths in business? Can you sit down and characterize a group of 5 ideas from the top of your head that you can offer business circulars? Take the time and do that.

    Then do a Google for the business publications out there…and don’t be reticent to looking at trade publications. Find 5, to start, you would like to address Submit queries to them with your ideas, but in short and semi-detailed description of what your article concept is.

    Then get busy and market so many a day. be consistent. marketing is half…ok maybe 2/3’s the battle. My thoughts.

    Neil

    • Linda H says:

      I second what Neil says, but wanted to add the 80/20 rule for marketing. Marketing is 80% research and 20% writing. That’s the rule and it hasn’t changed. I’ve been hearing similarities in marketing techniques for business writing, trade journal writing, performing business start-up work, and just about any other kind of marketing and it’s all 80/20. But once you get going, it’s kinda fun!

      And once you get a few under your belt it gets a little easier and faster because you become a pro at it. But if you’re like me you have trouble finding the time within your day of doing the money-producing work right now. So, schedule a specific time to market each day/night/week, and focus on only marketing for about 2 hours, if you have that much time. Once you become consistent it becomes habit and that habit can produce a lot of income when it starts kicking in.

      If you belong to the Freelance Writer’s Den, Carol has a ton of information available there on LOIs, marketing techniques and other techniques to get it done. If not, read through her blogs, they have a lot of tips that can help you.

  10. I wanted to respond to Taheerah’s question (#4). If you prefer to quote a flat fee I would just explain to your client that your flat fees are unique to each project and are based on an ideal hourly rate, however, that they are tailored to the demands of each project. Definitely explain that this is to their advantage because you will estimate less, for projects that you feel will require less time to complete. If you were to charge the same fee for every project you would have to estimate much higher to encompass work that might require a larger chunk of your time – including research, revisions, interview time etc.

    I would also mention again that you will work within a budget, and that for regular work you would be willing to negotiate a regular rate or even a retainer fee that you would receive the same time each month. However, if you do offer to work on retainer, make sure that you stipulate that the fee would need to be reevaluated regularly to make sure that the arrangement is a fair price for both parties. (For example, keep track of your hours spent for a month, suggest an average fee based on the amount of work you performed, and then re-evaluate every 2-3 months to makes sure they aren’t increasing or decreasing your work load so that the fee should be adjusted.)

    Whatever you do, just supply great writing (on time), and appear to be flexible to their budget concerns … within reason. You definitely need to have at least an hourly goal range in mind to know if your talents or time are ever being abused by a client!

  11. In reply to Question 2, “How do you feel about blogging on HubPages to get at least a little pay? Is it worth it?”

    In my opinion, NO!

    I used to write stuff on HubPages just because I was looking for readers. I got a few, but when I turned my attention to my own blogs and started doing basic stuff like writing regularly and posting to social media, I very quickly started getting tons more traffic and selling the few affiliate products I have to offer. My total earnings on HubPages after about 35 articles is something like $10. Others do better, but as far as I can see, their income isn’t enough to justify their output. I’m not making big bucks on my sites, but about $100 dropped out of cyberspace and into my PayPal account last month and the earnings are growing.

    One of my blogs has also paid off big time by getting me regular writing gigs.

    I recommend establishing your identity on your own blog or blogs first. Then maybe post on HubPages once in awhile for traffic. I still seem to get some traffic through them, though not enough to devote a lot of time writing there. Twitter, FB and LinkedIn traffic is better and takes about 30 seconds.
    Rob Schneider recently posted…How to Learn Positive WritingMy Profile

  12. Rae says:

    Hi, hope you’re enjoying your time by the lake in the sunshine. I couldn’t resist coming out of lurkdom to respond to Alma.

    I’m coming at this from both a writing and business / life coaching perspective, so parts of it might be a little outside the box.

    Alma, I would say BURN the resources other freelancers use to determine what to charge! Just as we do not all need to follow one particular lifestyle or diet, we shouldn’t follow one set charge.

    Sure you have to pitch it ‘right’, but some of us have bigger outgoings than another, a more frugal lifestyle, less (or more) financial desires. Which means pitching your price is a very personal thing.

    Here’s the million dollar question:
    What will you decide for your hourly rate?

    Not what you think you should. Not what you think others will pay. Not what others charge… This is all about YOU.
    What are you worth? What do you WANT (not need)? What would give you joy in your heart to earn? What FEELS right when you say it to someone … practise saying it “I charge xxx amount per hour”

    Once you’ve figured that out, everything else is easy!

    For the editing a bi-monthly newspaper example; once you have your hourly rate in mind – how long will it take you to edit four-10 stories? How long will it take you to fact check? How long will it take you to rewrite? How long will it take you to write photo captions? How long will it take you to edit four columns and write headlines? How long have you already spent speaking with the editor / sending emails / speaking on the phone? How much time have you spent THINKING of the best way to do things (this often takes up a lot of time)?

    Calculate this using your hourly rate, bearing in mind that if you need to edit four articles it will take less time than ten; so a rate per article might be safer for you.

    Then practice saying that amount and seeing how good (or otherwise) it feels.

    DON’T price yourself too low and when you give your price tell this person exactly what they will be getting, including all the ‘value added’ (you need to figure this out) but most likely to be that working with you means you are attainable (nothing worse than a big company that fields your calls from one person to another) and that this will receive your personal attention from start of job to finish and there will be no call centres… people value those kind of things a lot and will pay for them.

    I hope this helps and good luck with the job, it sounds a fantastic opportunity!

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