Bad advice and better advice on freelance rates

Most of my freelance writing has been in the insurance and asset management / mutual funds industries, so when I had the opportunity to write copy for a state university, I had no idea what to charge.

Therefore, I posed the question to an online freelance writing group: What is the market rate in the nonprofit market, specifically higher education?

I was looking for dollars-and-cents figures but got none. Sadly, the most relevant answer was: Whatever you do, don’t undercharge.

I can’t imagine more useless advice.

What the hell constitutes underpricing?

Everyone has his own idea. Some people have never written for pay and $15 per article feels like a fortune. Others consistently charge $150 per hour and get it. Anything less feels wrong to them.

But one constant holds: You must name your figure.

Sure, sometimes you can ask the prospect what they want to pay or what they have budgeted, and they will respond. Still, you have to know if that number is sufficient for you.

Nowadays that isn’t sufficient. Fellow writers in LinkedIn groups and such will make you feel that you have a responsibility to the whole-wide-world of writers.

If you undercharge—and no one has explained exactly what amount is too low—you are diminishing the entire group. You are personally responsible for the impoverishment of all writers. You are guilty of low self-esteem. You deserve the misery you are heaping upon yourself and the underpricing contagion you are unleashing on the world.

Clearly, we need more numbers out there.

However, the potential for shame is so intimidating that no one wants to share.

In discussing rates, we need some kind of uniform unit to price. One way is by the hour.

The alternative is to suggest rate per piece of work, such as per 500-word blog post.

Both approaches have problems in real life, but I’m going with by the hour for this article because it’s easier to work with.

Recently someone in a LinkedIn freelancers group who had writing experience and advanced college degrees in a relevant specialty asked for a starting fee. In a private exchange, I suggested $75 an hour.

There’s nothing sacred about that figure. You simply need a starting number and I threw that one out.

If it struck him as absurdly high or distressingly low, he was free to adjust accordingly. Your gut check is perfectly fine input.

But without a number to react to, it’s damn hard to choose a starting rate.

Another way to pick a starting rate.

Determine the typical pay for a full-time writing position similar to your freelance service. This may be your pay (ignoring benefits) at your last good job.

Determine an approximate hourly rate, dividing by 1000 and then by 2.

So if the pay is $50,000 and you divide by 1,000, you get 50. Divide by 2 and you get $25.

This hourly fee is way too low. It doesn’t recognize benefits, additional taxes and expenses you will have as a freelancer, and the unpaid time required for marketing and administration. In addition, because there are so many unpaid tasks, the typical freelance workweek has only 20 to 25 paid hours.

This means you would charge at least $50 and more like $75 per hour. You may even consider $100 per hour.

Heck, this is just a guideline. Charge more if you wish.

Your responsibility is only to you. Don’t cloud your mind with some vague but oppressive responsibility to every freelancer in the world.

Your fees? Your thoughts?


For more on freelance fee setting, check out my book, Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less, available on Amazon.

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