Are You Undercharging? 5 Tips For Setting Freelance Writing Rates

Freelance writing is one of the best jobs in the world. You can be your own boss, set your hours, work in your PJs and get paid to write. It’s enough to make you want to jump in and get started right now.

It’s easy (especially if you’re taking on freelance jobs for beginners) to get so desperate for clients you start thinking, I’ll just start cheap and work my way up later.

Trouble is, once you establish cheap freelance writing rates, it’s a hard stink to shake – especially when you’re working yourself to the bone and over-producing to make up for the low rates you’re getting on each project.

Lucky for you, plenty of people have already made this mistake, which you can learn from. Below, you’ll find five tips for setting freelance writing rates so you can avoid underselling yourself and start your freelance career the right way.

BONUS: Looking for a way to win high-paying freelance writing jobs? American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI), teaches nonfiction writers how to earn thousands of dollars through copywriting (writing words that sell products or services). They offer a challenge that allows you to build your portfolio (and earn some decent cash) before you finish the program. Find out more here.

1) Research Your Market

Like with anything else in life, knowledge is power. The first step you’ll want to take in your journey to being a successful freelance writer is identifying exactly what that means.

There’s a lot to learn about freelancing – from productivity tips to taxes and contracts – but perhaps the most important factor is your freelance writing rates. How much you charge is going to shape every other aspect of your business, so it’s important to get it right.

You’ll want to start by getting the lay of the land and seeing what other people charge. Googling average writing rates is a good way to get a baseline, but don’t stop there. Browse some freelance writing jobs online and check out the freelancer profiles you find.

Look at the average freelance writing rates they charge, the kinds of projects they take on and how long they’ve been in the business. Does it sound like the kind of writing you’d like to do? If not, keep looking – different specialisations have different average market rates, and it won’t do you any good to base your numbers on a freelancer who’s doing something completely different.

And don’t be afraid to reach out and ask people about their experiences. Remember, it’s never too early to start networking!

2) Make a Plan

Now that you have a sense of the standard freelance writing rates, it’s time to figure out what rates will look like for you. To find the ideal rate for yourself, you need to sit down and determine some broad strokes of your business, including:

  • What freelance writing sites are you going to use?
  • What kind of writing are you most interested in: blogging, content marketing, ghostwriting, proofreading, journalism?
  • How many hours per week can you devote to your online freelance writing job, and how quickly can you write?
  • What kind of clients are you hoping to get?
  • What experience do you have, if any? If you’re starting a freelance editing business, do you already have decades of experience as a developmental editor (or even an editorial assistant)? Don’t undervalue the experience you bring to the table.

It’s important to figure out the answers to the questions above now since a lot of it will shape what’s within your power to charge and what your maximum potential income will look like.

For example, you might need to charge clients more if the job board you use takes a larger cut. On the other hand, small businesses and individual bloggers won’t be able to afford as high a rate as big corporate clients (if that’s your target market).

In particular, give some serious thought to your own capabilities. Knowing how fast you write and how much of your week you can dedicate to this job will impact everything from rates to the number of clients you take on.

Be honest with yourself about your abilities. It won’t pay to overestimate your skills now only to burn out within six months of starting.

Once you know what you want your process to look like, it’s time to get down to the actual numbers.

3) Determine Your Rate Breakdown

There are three main options for rates: by the hour, by the word or by the project.

Most professionals recommend charging by the project. While charging by the hour or the word can seem more “fair” at first, there are significant downsides – for you and your clients.

For one thing, neither the length of time it takes nor the number of words it ends up being are directly proportional to how difficult the assignment is.

Something that takes a lot of time to research can be easy to throw together and won’t seem “worth” the money your client is spending, while something that’s only 200 words can turn out to be a huge challenge. Hourly rates also invite easy comparison to other professions and can lead to clients wondering if you’re really as valuable as their accountants, designers or lawyers.

But perhaps the biggest issue with hourly and per-word rates when it comes to freelance writing jobs is that they’re not consistent.

Neither you nor your client really knows exactly how much an assignment will cost upfront. This can lead to a disappointingly low profit for you or a sudden shock on your client’s bill, neither of which will do you any favors.

And on that note…

4) Be Upfront About Your Rates

The last thing you want is to disappoint your client, so it’s important to be upfront and honest about what they can expect from you in terms of rates and turnaround times.

Make sure you have a website with your freelance profile and state your rates clearly for clients to find them. After all, it doesn’t do you any good to win one contract with them only to burn that bridge when they realise you’re not what they expected.

On the flip side, remember to stick to your rates. Believe me, it’s tempting to accept a job that pays less than you know you’re worth, especially when you’re just starting out. But underselling yourself hurts not only your bottom line, but it also devalues the whole industry.

That’s assuming you can even keep up with the job and don’t run yourself ragged scrambling with too many cheap jobs while still barely making ends meet. That’s not what you signed up for, is it?

Practice saying “no” as early as possible. It’s uncomfortable at first, but soon it will become second nature. Eventually, you won’t be able to imagine accepting anything less than what you deserve. And you do deserve it. Freelance writing is not for the faint of heart. So take a breath, be brave, and charge what you know you’re worth. Your clients will respect you for it in the long run.

5) Work Within a Profitable Niche

By now you’ve got a good rate, you’re open about your rates, and you’re not (or you really shouldn’t be) willing to compromise just to land a new contract.

But with all the talented writers out there, how are you supposed to stand out and get someone to accept your bid over everyone else’s – especially while maintaining your rates? As in real estate, the answer is location, location, location. You need to position yourself as the go-to voice on a particular topic.

It doesn’t matter what that topic is, so long as you’re prepared to write about it a lot. Do you have a passion for golf? Ballet? Computer science? Are you an animal lover? Were you previously an author who loved crime fiction? Do you want to spend all day writing recaps of every popular, new TV series?

Don’t worry if you don’t know everything about the subject right off the bat – that’s what learning and researching are for. What you need right now is a passion. Right from the start, present yourself as a voice in your area of interest, and then double down.

Use each new client, article and blog post as the proof you need to demonstrate your knowledge to the next client. By making yourself a big fish in a small pond, you’ll not only build expertise – you’ll make yourself the go-to name in your industry, allowing you to not just keep your rates where they should be but raise them over time.

Play your cards right, and maybe one day soon, clients will start competing for you.

About Jenn:

Jenn Gott is an indie author and a writer with Reedsy, so she basically spends all her time either writing books, or helping people learn how to write books.

She firmly believes there is no writing skill you cannot learn with practice and the right guidance. When she’s not working, she enjoys keeping up with the latest superhero movies, reading, and swimming.

BONUS: Looking for a way to win high-paying freelance writing jobs? American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI), teaches nonfiction writers how to earn thousands of dollars through copywriting (writing words that sell products or services). They offer a challenge that allows you to build your portfolio (and earn some decent cash) before you finish the program. Find out more here.


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