How the Internet Thinks You Should Price Your Freelance Rates

Are your freelance writing rates set so high that nobody wants to hire you? I thought mine were.

I was a full-time freelance ghostwriter and web designer for 20 years before I started writing full-time on Medium and my blog. I pride myself on being able to write about any topic, and I did, from ColdFusion programming to fine art prints. I had a couple of terrific clients, and they kept me going for a long time.

But, when Medium came along, I decided I would slow down on freelancing and focus on publishing stories. The funny thing is that I expected to earn thousands of dollars without much effort, and that never happened, so I may have been better off keeping a few clients.

The good thing about regularly publishing on Medium and my blog is that a lot of people looking to hire writers read my work and find me on LinkedIn.

I get an offer a week, at least.

Some are ridiculous, like a few dollars for a 1,000-word article. They always say how great the exposure would be and how the money could get better in the future. I’ve learned long ago not to work for pennies or for free, so that is not the problem. The problem happens when they ask me what my rates are.

The only frame of reference I have for rates is what I used to charge my clients back in the day, which is a little over $.20 per word, or $50 per hour.

Most of the time, when I start at that figure, people balk and go elsewhere, but I have been lucky that a few people see my value right off the bat and have no problem paying my rate. They wondered why I was so inexpensive.

Prospective clients only know what they can see about me from my profile or writing. They don’t know how responsible I am, or if I can deliver on deadlines. They don’t know me from a hole in the ground, so why would they pay me what they feel are premium rates?

I’ve lost so many jobs because clients think I quote too high of a rate, and I am starting to wonder if I am letting my ego dictate my prices. Or am I coming across too many people who want cheap or free talent?

How the Internet Says I Should Set Rates

Those of us who freelance know it is difficult to nail anyone down about rates. Clients don’t want to tell us how much they can afford in the chance that we slip up and offer them much less. They want to save money, not pay us what we are worth.

Other freelancers won’t quote their rates because they don’t want to be undercut by you.

So what do you do?

When I was looking around for advice on what to charge, I searched the internet briefly. The other option was to pick up a copy of The Writer’s Market, but I didn’t do that because at the time I couldn’t afford it.

I still can’t. $30 may seem like chicken feed, but it’s a lot to me.

So I typed “how to set freelance writing rates” on Google and started my journey. Back then I didn’t spend enough time researching like I did this time, and it may have been a terrible mistake.

“Some writers prefer to charge by the word too. This is slightly different as it varies on several factors. If you are going to charge on a per word basis, decide how much that is and stick with it on all your projects of varying lengths. Often the rate per word charge fluctuates by writer depending on what the writer is writing (article, book, and web content).

Whatever you choose to charge, consider the time you spend creating the work. Remember, if you are an educated writer in your field, you should be able to realize anywhere from $30-$75 per hour.”

So, according to them, I’m right, because I do 250 words per hour @ $.20 per word = $50.00. So, my ego-stroking rate is not too much money, but maybe not ideal, because although I know I am a good writer, I am by no means in the top percentile.

When I used the calculator to figure out my hourly rate, it was set at $50 per hour or $.20 per word, which is the rate I use per hour, and I am starting to wonder if they laughed at me on LinkedIn all this time.

Just two websites in, and I already see that my idea of setting my rates by how much I was charging my long-term clients before I started publishing on Medium could be right. I’m also starting to wish I had done a more thorough search online before.

Location Rebel

This website talks about a seven-step framework for setting freelance rates, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and use the formula.

How much do I need to make a month? $3,000

How many hours can I work (realistically) in a month? 80

Base hourly rate = $37.50 per hour

Now adjust up and down based on how long each job will take (based on a few other factors) and add a buffer for unexpected expenses or issues.

Again, I am not far off.

So, Why Is Everyone Turning Me Down?

Asking for $.20 a word or $50 an hour is not far-fetched as a beginning rate at my skill level and experience, so why are clients scoffing and turning me down?

Is it because poor writers are flooding the market with cheap rates, which hurts everyone in the process?

Yes, that is one reason. New writers will come in and work for much lower rates, and the clients expect everyone to work at that rate.

Is it because they can get writers from countries like the Philippines or India to work for cheaper?

Yes, partly, but don’t begrudge those writers for wanting to work, and the idea that they should make less is wrong. I lived in the Philippines for 12 years and happened to know that most of those writers are as good, if not better than the talent in Western countries. We need to start educating clients about the value they provide.

Is it because they don’t know me and my work, or if I will be reliable and meet deadlines?

This is also part of it, but if they look at my LinkedIn profile or portfolio, they can see my experience and work samples. From those, they should be able to get an idea of what kind of writer and web designer I am, right?

Is it because clients want everything for free?

Partly. For as many people who approach me to work for them and get paid, many try to get me to work for free. It is an outdated idea that writers and web designers will be happy with the exposure. We can’t eat exposure and certainly can’t pay our rent with it.

How many exposures does it take to buy a Big Mac?

Like any other skill and talent, it takes effort to create words on a page or build an entire website, and we should be compensated for using that talent on their behalf.

What We Can Do

If you are ever in doubt, do some research and check your rates. All this time, I thought it was my ego putting my prices too high, but I know they’re right where they need to be for my experience level. They may even be a bit too low, considering the substantial leap in quality my writing has taken over the last year.

Make sure you have either a portfolio website or a profile on LinkedIn. Include samples of your work, so prospective clients get an idea of you through your writing.

But, the one problem we all need to work on is educating the clients about real value and how people who provide a professional service should be compensated. Fabulous writing is not easy, and if someone wants to hire you to make them look good with your ghostwriting, they should be willing to pay a premium.

Above all, never work for free, unless you are doing your best friend a favor, and don’t be undercut by poor writers and greedy clients.

Do us all a favor? Please?

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