Freelance writers: Should I be charging more for my work?
March 12, 2014 7:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm 25 and have been in the freelance scene for about a year. I saw Igyre's question and how she was unhappy with making $25/hour. That's about what I'm making now. I'm looking for perspective and what I need to do to start charging more.

I earned my degree in a field I don't intend to pursue and started writing to make money while I figured out what I was going to do with my life. That was almost a year ago. I currently make my living by writing/editing for two different websites and some random work for a third website. My rate averages out to about $25/hour for each of these jobs. Some of the work is hourly and some of it is pay per article which depends on my writing speed.

I've been pretty happy with my set up right now. One of my contracts, however, ends in two months and I don't think it'll be renewed (lack of funds). It's both a good and a bad thing because while I love the boost in income (I started working for them in the fall of last year) the work I did for them is very different from my other two gigs and constantly switching gears gets exhausting sometimes.

I haven't started just yet but I know I'll want to start looking for ways to supplement my income since one third of it is about to dry up. And since I'm fairly young and frugal, I thought I was doing pretty well for myself with $25/hour (I felt that the freedom to work anywhere with an internet connection made up the difference). But when I read in Igyre's thread that $25/hour is actually really low, I started to wonder if I should be charging more.

So Mefite freelance writers and copywriters…is $25/hour way too low? Since I didn't graduate with an English or journalism degree and feel like my writing could still use work, I feel a bit shy about asking for more. After I get my writing skills more up to snuff, what do you think I should I be charging and where do you suggest that I look for work? Should I set up a personal website with my clips? Also links to resources on online writing skill building would be great (I still don't completely understand what SEO is and how to be "good" at it).

I'm also keeping an eye on Igyre's thread but I like the freedom of working remotely so am likely to stick with writing gigs.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
It sort of depends on whether you're doing journalism, copywriting or web content. They are paid differently.

As you would be aware, freelance journalism rates have been plummeting. They're like seriously, crazy low at the moment. Including (and especially) for big, prestigious sites, where the payment is often a sort of token sum of $75 or $100 that bears zero relation to the length or work that went into the article. Compared to that, $25 an hour looks pretty good.

By comparison, copywriting rates are still buoyant (at least where I am, can't speak for the US). Where I am, $25 an hour is much too low for a professional copywriter to be charging to, say, create the copy for a mid-size firm's website.

Web content, I think, is probably in between the two? For Australia, $25 an hour would be too low, though.

As far as looking for work, definitely set up your own copywriting website. Perhaps you could specialise in something, like web content, social media content, or SEO aware or optimised copywriting, which is kind of icky but seems to be a thing that appeals to clients. Or perhaps a particular kind of content for a particular kind of company or industry. You should also submit features and op-eds to online magazines and newspapers to build your portfolio, build your credibility and build your profile (and, perhaps, make some pocket money on the side).
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:42 PM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Apologies, I should have said, set up your own writing website (not copywriting website). It might be offering journalism, web content, social media content, copywriting or all the above.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:45 PM on March 12, 2014

I'm a freelance writer, although not a generalist, and IMO $25 is way too low. But it is too low for me, and should not necessarily mean that it is too low for you (please remember is up to you in terms of what is not enough or enough,too).

This is what I would recommend if you would like to earn more eventually as a freelance writer:

-Can you get a full-time job writing/editing? I do this as a freelancer now, but I guarantee I would be floundering except that I first got an industry job. The reason that I would recommend this is 1) you want quality professional samples 2) you can refer to a former workplace (and this has been enough for me to get freelance jobs sometimes...they know that you were trained according to industry standards) 3) if you pursue this at a fulltime job, you can get training for skills that you want as a freelancer, either by working one-on-one with someone and/or getting training at work.

-I would try to specialize vs generic writing (ie, are you doing content mill stuff?). But there are some specialized areas that will pay much more. I don't know where your other interests lie - but I would look into medical or technical writing, but match it according to your other skill sets/interests/etc.

-So if you do those other 2 things first, THEN approach people for projects. I do think a website helps, but it is not mandatory.LinkedIn works very well, for example, but list specialties, not just "freelance writing" (I've gotten projects from clients looking for someone to develop materials, but the searched by specialties first).For LinkedIn make it detailed, put a link to your website if you have one, put contact info in it

-Approach companies on your own.Please don't take this in the wrong way, but a communication company, not content mills, not elance, guru, or whatever because then everyone is fighting over scraps and you will waste time placing bids, etc.

-Pick a rate and approach companies with a rate (and/or list it on your web page). But don't let them tell you $25/hour (you come with your rate/they can find other freelancers if that is what they want).

-Also, consider offering other skills than just writing. For example, sometimes companies have paid me to fact-check or attend meetings and report what happened at the meeting, etc. (I don't know what industry you will go into in the end as a specialty, but it doesn't need to just be writing).

Don't worry about not having an English degree, etc. Get quality samples and experience.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 7:49 PM on March 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

As mentioned in yet another AskMe today, the Editorial Freelancers Association has a list of what it calls "common editorial rates" for different kinds of work.
posted by Longtime Listener at 8:01 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hah! I also saw that and thought, "wait a minute..."

It really depends on your market--and by that I mean both the work you're doing and where you're doing it. The EFA says I should make $40-60 for what I do, but the market where I am just will not support $60/hr for editorial. I could insist, but then I'd just be unemployed.

I consider $25/hr to be my bare minimum freelance rate. If it's offered, I will usually try to negotiate my way up. $35-45/hr is a more typical rate for me these days.

That said, if I've got nothing else in the hopper for a few weeks, $25/hr isn't exactly chump change compared to Zero dollars. For comparison, my actual employee salary jobs worked out to ~15-18/hr BEFORE tax and benefits.

Also: where does that poster live, you know? Yeah in SF or NYC that's not gonna work out to much of a living. Most of the people I know, however, live in the midwest and still gasp at $30/hr as SO MUCH MONEY.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:20 PM on March 12, 2014

Journalism and copy writing tend to pay kind of shit, as far as writing jobs go. If you really want to write for a living and aren't terribly concerned with what you're writing, technical and grant writing is a much more lucrative field. For example, I know many grant writers that charge $100+ an hour. Now, that's probably with a decade of experience and proven results for funding, but $100+ is nothing to shake a stick at when you're 35. Many technical writers can demand even more than that, depending on the niche. Also: find a niche.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:27 PM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

So Mefite freelance writers and copywriters…is $25/hour way too low?

This is a bit like asking how long a piece string is. When I was freelancing things that affected my charge rate (which varied) included:

1) my own experience and level of skill
2) the skill required for the job and the type writing/work it would be (interviews and research heavy work takes time costs more)
3) the willingness/ability of the client to pay more or less (e.g. I would charge more for corporate work than freelancey street press stuff)
4) the competitiveness/size of the market for the kind of writing (if was dependent on some special knowledge, contact or ability of mine, I would expect to get paid more.)

And other stuff I can't even remember. The main thing is anything tangentially attached to "journalism" is a mug's game. Look at how well papers and magazines are performing, and the number of aspiring writers. Very very hard to get decent cash writing for popular public consumption.

Corporate work, especially specialised fields, is where it's at. It's a small market, working for companies that have money to pay. There are also companies that are contracted to do corporate work - think of them like content mills with standards that pay decently - and you can find yourself sub contracted to them, which is often not a bad deal.

Put together a plan of building a portfolio to attract cooperate clients and their agencies and start pursuing it. A good start is doing cheap work for smaller companies, or industry associations, and build up from there. Industry associations are especially good as your work gets exposed to the clients you REALLY want.

Target industries that are profitable, growing, and somewhat abstruse, ideally. Mining and resources, medical, waste management, for example. These industries need writers too, and they don't get the attention traditional sources do.
posted by smoke at 8:36 PM on March 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

It depends who you're doing the work for and what your goals are. I've done freelance writing for some sports websites, and generally I found the compensation was very low, except for the sites that were owned by huge massive media companies -- but those companies hired very experienced, good writers and you can't break into them without experience at other websites or newspapers. Some websites didn't pay their writers anything and they could get away with it people people were willing to do it for free to build their portfolio or out because they wanted to write about sports. So the going rate really depends, but for me and what I've done, $25/hour wouldn't be too low. I realize what you're doing probably isn't sports, but at least in my world, I've found a lot of freelancers will have several stable gigs, or they will have a main job and do a bit of freelancing on the side because they don't get paid anywhere near $25/hour.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:35 PM on March 12, 2014

First and foremost, you must understand that truly successful writers are superb, or at least, very adequate and disciplined marketers.

And, yes, that means sales too. But remember, sales doesn't have to be sleazy. Sell like you were selling a Rolls Royce, not a 35 year-old Ford Pinto with a refreshed odometer.

If, like Igyre, you hate the thought of selling, I'd recommend you work on changing that belief. Educate yourself but mostly, imo, it's about a mindset change. Plenty of resources on the web to help.

Successful writers are damn good networkers too.

Never consider other good writers your competitors; see them as partners, occasional co-conspirators in projects. Many times I use others whose skills complement mine. And the favor returns to me often.

Example: I am an American living in Nairobi and I get a ton of Adwords spots to write from a Bangladeshi I've never met who happens to be an Adsense placement ninja. In the process, he's gifted me with graduate level split testing expertise on Adsense ads.

Depends on your needs/goals but if money's the objective, then suck the corporate teat. These cats have the money and will gladly pay a writer who can spell, understands visual crispness and meets deadlines.

Once you find a good client, dig in. Over-deliver, bring in projects early, and offer marketing advice ~ not just words. Don't worry if you don't have the cred just yet. After a few projects, you will. That, plus networking with fellow marketers.

As far as what you charge, SCRAP the per/hour mentality. It's a chump's lunch. Most of us have been there; I know I was. But, in time, you need to think not about hourly rates but in how much value you deliver.

And then translate that value to your rates. Let's say you write one blog post per week that brings your client 10 new customers per year. Ask him how much a new client is worth. Then you should charge a percentage of that return to your client. For a great 30-minute read on this topic, read Mike McDerment's "Breaking the Time Barrier". It's free and will change your outlook, guaranteed.

OK, let me jump off the soapstand.

In summary, these points:

*Get a great LinkedIn profile as some have suggested. It's where the corp wanks hang out. Look at other great writers' profiles for inspiration. Trust me, they did the same
*Have some killer work to show them
*Ask questions; be a salesman. You not only learn in the process, you show prospects you have some chutzpah and understanding
*Follow whoever said to work with great marketing agencies. I've formed some great relationships with companies just through cold emails. And they pay very well. Here's a good place to start
*Google search is your friend, for so many things. Become an expert user
*And remember you can always come down on price, but don't. EVER

If you spend a bit of time online, or too much, as I do, you'll see just how much poor writing gets published. Trust me, good, smart, dependable writers are rare. Companies know this and will gladly reward the few good ones they find.

Some random sites/blogs I highly recommend, for learning, inspiration, tricks and tips:
---Barry Feldman at Feldman Creative
---Content Marketing Institute
---The Write Life
---The Warrior Forum, especially the Copywriter forum

Good luck, and live life large until the moment of impact.
posted by lometogo at 3:30 AM on March 13, 2014 [9 favorites]

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