What should I charge? Five insights to help figure out your hourly rate.
I know a lot of writers. I know writers who work in-house, freelance writers, journalists, novelists, bloggers, beginner copywriters and writers who’re building impressive businesses writing all manner of creative content.
The writers I know are intelligent, insightful and resourceful. But, nearly all of my writer friends have struggled with this question at one point or another:
‘What do I charge for my writing?’
The less creative and more business focused side of writing can be a tight and tricky place to navigate, and it’s not just the rookies who find it hard. I know experienced copywriters who find it challenging to increase their rates or change the way they charge for their writing. In fact, many folks with service-based businesses run into the same challenge when it comes to hourly rates.
Whether you’re a newbie copywriter, a freelance writer looking to take the next leap, or you’re running a service-based business, here are my insights on how to figure out your rates and fees:
1. You don’t need a standard rate.
That is, if you don’t want one. If you want to estimate project by project, rather than provide an hourly rate, you can. And you don’t need a rate card either. I don’t have a formal rate card and you don’t necessarily need one.
You don’t ‘have’ to do anything. Plenty of writers charge by project and it makes perfect sense, because all projects are different. For example, working with corporate clients might mean you estimate differently compared to writing a succinct website for a small business.
It’s okay to vary your rates and estimate based on the unique projects and clients you have in front of you.
2. But an average hourly rate can help.
It can help to come up with your project fee (hourly rate x hours = project fee) by using an hourly rate as a start.
This doesn’t mean you have to share it with clients though – your rate can function purely as a means for you to quote and account for your time. So how do you arrive at your hourly rate?
My advice is to choose a figure that feels reasonable but is also satisfying and rewarding for you.
By all means, do your research on what other writers are charging but don’t be guided solely by this.
Sometimes canvassing other writers and peers is a way of avoiding making your own decisions or ignoring your intuition.
And you never know what’s going on behind the scenes for other writers. If another writer works in a particular field and is uniquely experienced in one area, they’ll charge a certain rate. Or if they’re just starting out, their rates might reflect their experience and confidence.
So try as best you can to decide your copywriting rate based on what you want to charge and what you think is reasonable for your skills, experience, core client base and most importantly – the unique value that only you can provide to your clients.
Also, remember to think about all the time you’ll spend on the client that’s over and above the writing, eg admin, emails and clarifying conversations, reading background material, rounds of review, final proofing and editing etc.
These activities are easy to forget when you’re estimating, but they can be just as time consuming as the actual writing.
As an aside, I love Danielle LaPorte’s advice on what to charge.
In Danielle’s The Burning Questions of The Fire Starter Sessions and with her 1:1 clients, she asks: How much money would you like to be making?
Danielle then goes on to share Naomi Dunford’s thoughts on the answer:
‘The best way to think about this question is this…we want the number that would make you happy. Not resigned. Not elated. Just happy. Somewhere between eating Ramen noodles and buying a yacht. For many people, this number is about the salary they would be making if they worked outside the home.’
Aim for that.
(You can read more of Danielle’s advice on charging what feels right here).
3. Brief before estimate.
Before you estimate or quote on a copywriting or freelance writing assignment, get a brief first.
I’ve been burnt by estimating without a brief many, many times. I once estimated on a simple website project without a proper brief. The project should have taken me around a day to complete but in reality it ended up taking a few days, with my client throwing in new pages and inclusions, and changing approach drastically mid-project. We had a conversation about her changing the brief, but by that point it was too late and I realised the error was with me for not taking a proper brief.
Completing a brief at the outset of a project helps clients to clarify their approach and further consider things they’d like to include – so it’s a win-win.
4. Make your copywriting life easier by creating a brief.
If you make your own standard briefing form or template, estimating on jobs (and completing them) will become a much smoother and easier process.
I suggest creating a basic word document Q&A briefing form, a writing ‘playbook’ (or pdf book questionnaire) or writing up standard questions in an email. The idea is that you send your briefing form to your clients to find out more about the writing project.
As a start, you might like to ask what the key message are, the goals they have or the outcome they want, any ‘must dos’ or ‘must have’ inclusions, timeframes and sign-offs, and what the main call to action is. Generally, the more information you can get upfront, the better.
Your brief is also a good place to clarify how many rounds of review you allow and start setting expectations and boundaries around timing and your process.
5. Here’s how I charge in my business.
I tend to charge on copywriting jobs with a project fee, rather than an hourly rate. This way, I don’t have to closely track the hours I spend on a job (a few extra or less hours here or there ends up balancing out).
However, I use my hourly rate to determine my project fee by averaging the rate by how long I think a project will take to complete.
And really, there’s no standard.
If a client I want to work with insists on an hourly rate, I’ll consider it. Flexibility in your rates can see you open up to bigger and broader opportunities, so keep an open mind when different projects come your way.
How did you arrive at your rates? If you found these insights helpful, I’d love to know.