Technically speaking you charge a fee, not a price, for your professional writing services. If you are a professional writer then your fees should reflect that fact. With or without tertiary qualifications, if you can produce the goods then you should be paid accordingly. Your doctor doesn’t do house calls for free, or even consultations in his practise. Your accountant doesn’t work for peanuts and neither does your lawyer, engineer, architect, insurance agent, real estate agent, veterinary doctor or mechanic, plumber, painter, carpenter, taxi driver or waitress. So why do some people think
A) You should do it for nothing or
B) Very little?
The answer is that they don’t value your services. If they did they would be happy to pay a fair price for them. If I want a financial planner to set up a self manged superannuation fund I do not expect him or her to work for free and the one I would use who engages my services doesn’t expect me to work free or cheaply, either. We have an agreement where we exchange hours worked on a 1:1 basis and you can always find ‘contra’ deals like this if you just ask the question. But you can’t barter for everything, sooner or later you need to be paid in real money.
If You Don’t Respect You, Who Will?
A lot of the time I find the reason clients don’t respect you is because you don’t respect yourself, or more accurately, your work. Part of the problem is you might feel guilty getting paid for doing something you love to do and because you love it, it doesn’t seem like work to you. You have always been able to write and think everyone else can. Well, they can’t. If they could they wouldn’t have asked you to write for them. Even if they can write and perhaps they can write whatever it is they need written as competently as you, they know their time is far more productive doing whatever it is they usually do and outsourcing the time consuming tasks like writing web blogs and marketing email copy. You have to respect yourself and your work and believe what you do is worth getting paid for.
I never discount my work. If I give 50% off and only wrote ha o eve wo li th (half of every word like this) I doubt the client would be happy. They want 100% of the word, each and every word so I want 100% of the fee. What I do is try to give added value. Go the extra mile and give the customer what they are paying for and then some. I will put in extra time and research the piece thoroughly even if they have sent me what they believe is all I need, I will give them several versions of a CV or mail out piece or I will provide .doc, .pdf, .mobi and .epub files of their manuscript as well as the published hard copy they originally ordered so that they can effortlessly offer it as an eBook too. I have saved client’s tons of money and all too often a lot of legal grief by giving them the benefit of my professional opinion and experience. One client wanted eBooks written but had no clue of copyright and I could have retained that and sold them a license to publish one electronic copy of the eBook in the USA and Canada only and they would never have known any better. Instead I advised them how to protect their rights and provided them with a contract they could use in future with any other writers they may hire that had them covered in tree book as well as eBook and around the world in any language you can name. Going the extra mile resulted in their giving me the full series of eBooks to write instead of just one. Another eBook client contracted with me to write 20 titles yet after 16 I realised their business situation had changed and released them from their obligation to accept and pay for the last four in the contract. I could have written the four eBooks and insisted on payment and the client would have coughed up as he is an honest and honourable man. Yet by placing the client’s interests ahead of mine I saved him a lot of money. A few months later he engaged me to write regular blog articles for several websites and a share of any affiliate sales through those sites. That is ongoing income that in time will overtake however much I lost on the unwritten eBooks.
So How Much Do I Charge?
How much do you want to be paid? I was like most writers I have spoken to over the years and began by charging very little, afraid of scaring off clients if I charged too much. I started bidding on Elance.com for jobs, competing with writers who have English as a second language and who live in countries where they can charge very little and still feed their families. I don’t begrudge them, they have to make a living too. I just specialised in eBook writing and picked my jobs. I confess I bid low to get the job at first and sometimes, half way through, I would wish the thing would hurry up and write itself. Now, I charge more and halfway through I double check to make sure I am giving the client added value! I don’t regret the fee I proposed nor do I want to hurry up and get the thing over and done with so I can look for the next job. Going too cheap isn’t good for you or the client. Nobody is happy; neither you with the pay nor them with the product because if you are not keen to write your best, it will show. There is little worse for a writer than to resent the writing they are doing because they feel they are worth more. So why bid so low?
When you start out you can do some freebies to get a portfolio together, sure. But sooner or later you need to charge money or else you are going to starve or worse, go back to a ‘real job’. In fact, if you think of your writing business as anything less than a real job, you will never succeed. The same for low balling. It gets you going but you do so as part of a strategy where you add value and build your business and clientele and eventually you charge a fair fee that reflects your worth.
But How Do I Cost A Job?
I compare myself to other professionals yet accept times are tough all over, so I can’t be too pricey. I need to make a fair return on the investment I have made in terms of experience, ability, education and actual business expenses and running costs. I work for myself so I have to spend as much time on my business as in it. For every hour of writing for pay I need to spend an hour looking for paying writing work. Some work requires more thought than other jobs. Writing an eBook calls for creativity and how do you put a price on that? What about research time spent surfing the web and learning what I need to know to compose a worthwhile chapter on a new topic? When I ghostwrite a client will send me a ton of material from audio clips to links to websites and even other eBooks by competitors. To read, view and listen to all this material all takes time. Then I have to think about it, collate it and put it into order, then write the draft. Then send it to the client and fix anything they want fixed then send it off again and perhaps just change the odd thing before proof reading it for typos and then laying it out for publishing. Next comes the actual publishing. Most eBooks or ghost writing projects are charged on a cents per word basis, not an hourly rate. If I charged for every hour the client would baulk and most likely appoint a different writer. So how do you charge for this?
I work on a rule of thumb based on writing 750 words per hour. I can write a lot more but this averages out the time needed to read any background material or do some research. Then I divide that number into the total word count the client has asked the book or eBook to be or that we have discussed and agreed upon for whatever reason. So a 12,000 word ‘How To’ eBook for a client to use to get people to opt-in to his email list works out at 16 hours of work. Add time to proof and re-write and what have you (I use a 4:1 ratio based on experience) and so I add 4 hours to make 20 in total. 20 hours at $100/hr equals $2,000. My mechanic charges $110/hr and my plumber charges $80 for the first 30 minutes of a house call and this is 2012 so I think $100 an hour is about right for a D.Lit, MA(Writing), Dip Bus, CertIV TAA qualified writer with my writing abilities and portfolio. Keep in mind that is effectively only $50/hr because nobody pays me for the time it takes to ‘find and sign’ the new business. Of course repeat business means there is more cream in the job but the numbers are about right across the board.
That $2,000 for a 12,000 word eBook works out at $0.166/word. Sixteen cents a word. If the project is a longer book, such as a novel length title, (50,000 words and above although most of my ghost writing is non-fiction) then I reduce the rate to $0.10/word. The rationale is not one of giving a discount but rather my fixed expenses are the same even though it will take longer to write. In the case of, say a 70,000 word creative non-fiction business related self help book, about 117 hours or $7,000. While the hourly rate would mean an extra $4,700, the fact that I don’t have to spend 117 hours looking for a client, (remember what I wrote about spending time on the business as much as in the business) or even half that time means I can apply the lower rate and still cover my expenses and make a profit. That profit is my ‘pay’, don’t forget. The bit I use to feed the wife and five kids. With some repeat clients I charge a lower cents per word rate because they give me repeat business and are easy to work for. If they aren’t easy to work for they rarely become repeat customers.
When it comes to ‘jobbing’ articles and web pages the $100/hr rate scares off those who just need some content written. Small jobs are great to fill in the time between the big paying ones and since you can’t work for days on end on the same job without fading a little in the creativity department they offer a nice break. I charge $20 per page or 200 words, which comes first. If it is a longer page, say 700 words then it depends on whether it is a one off or just one page of several for the same client. I might invoke the $0.10/word rate or charge a flat $50 because web pages can scroll on forever unlike A4 paper pages where 250-350 words are the average. Keep in mind it takes time to set up a client work sheet and to liaise with the client, send them the work, create an invoice and sometimes, chase payment. Plus there may be fees to absorb if they pay by PayPal and lots of other details. I have a $20 minimum and figure I should be able to knock that off, including the admin side of things, in 30 minutes. I know that makes the hourly rate effectively just $40 but if work is light and you have four or five of these and some prospecting to do for the day it covers the lease on the iMac and could lead to some better jobs.
If the client is offering regular, ongoing work and they are good payers (ontime without having to chase them) then I charge a flat $10 per article, 100-200 words in batches of ten. Unless the client is a regular or the topics are familiar to me and require little research time I often outsource these to a writer overseas who is an excellent writer for someone whose native language is not English and give them 60% of the fee. They know how I like the work set out and send me work I can copy/paste straight to the client’s web site, saving time and hassle. They get work and I keep the client happy. I make 40% for the sake of finding, allocating and then processing the work.
I have found it takes just as much effort to find clients that appreciate your work and are willing to pay for it as it does to find those who want it all for nothing and will be hard to get the money out of if you don’t get it up front. With any job over $1,000 I ask for an initial payment of $250-500. I also expect part payment half way through so that there remains only 40-50% of the total price upon delivery of the final work. I retain copyright until paid in full and sometimes I expect payment upon delivery although usually my terms are ‘Strictly Net Seven (7) Days’. So far I have had few problems with non-paying clients and I put this down to belief in my work being to a professional standard and respect for myself as a professional. If I believe it they will believe it. I found this to be true when I was a Military Policeman. If you told a violent offender that you would walk right through him if he didn’t obey your command and you believed it then he would too. If you doubted yourself or showed any hesitation then he would pick up on this and you were doomed to failure and probably end up copping a hiding too. I set out my terms up front like any other professional and expect to be paid or not taken on. I do not pretend I am doing them a favour or they are my friend, even though I am now very good friends with many of my clients. Nor am I embarrassed to state my fee structure. I am open to negotiation and will adjust my price if I believe the project or the client relationship justifies doing so.
I don’t get every job I go for, in fact I probably miss out on more than I get but I can’t do them all even if I won every tender I place. I don’t bid for work I can’t do but you have to have more irons in the fire than hands to pull them out with because they all heat up at different rates. Think of it like a giant funnel where you keep pouring job bids and proposals in the top so that they eventually produce a drip out the bottom you can mange. Always look to the work and add value and if you have charged a fair fee you are happy with then there is no reason not to give of your best each and every time. There will be no remorse or resentment that you should have asked for more money. This way you do the work you love so it isn’t like work but you make the income you deserve. Good luck.