I get a lot of mail from freelancers looking for direction with their businesses. One of the most common questions I receive is: “How do I set my rates?”
The beginning online freelance writer isn’t looking for information on when it’s time to raise rates; s/he just wants to know what to do for a starting point. Unfortunately, there is no set formula for setting your rates. I can offer a few guidelines, though, as you start to figure out how much to charge.
Ability and Experience
I have a journalism background. While my credentials can be used to provide me with a bargaining chip, the reality is that you don’t necessarily need formal training to become an online freelance writer — or even to command high rates.
Writing is one of those areas where you can show your capabilities fairly easily. Your background doesn’t matter as much as your ability. If you can tell a compelling story in a manner that is grammatically and stylistically readable, you can charge higher rates. The better you are, the higher your rate.
Your experience goes into the equation as well. I have 10 years of experience as an online freelance writer. That alone is worth something. I can charge more than someone just starting out. Whether you have experience in specific area (even if you don’t have experience as a writer) or long experience as a writer, that can help you as you set your rates.
Choose a Niche
Someone who specializes in a subject can charge more than a utilitarian writer. Nine years ago, I stumbled upon the personal finance niche. I didn’t know much about personal finances, but I learned as I went, and it became my niche. I can charge more when writing in this niche because I know the space, I understand how to write in the space and I have built connections. All of this allows me to charge more.
If you write about everything, without drilling down and becoming a specialist, you won’t be able to charge as much. The world of online writing isn’t one where you get x cents per word and that’s the way it is. Your ability, experience and specialization matters.
Before I look at the “going rate” for writing, I like to establish my experience and ability, as well as show my knowledge of my niche. Market rates can be useful guidelines, but they don’t always apply. When setting my own rate for a project, I take a look at other factors before looking at market rates.
Once you have an idea of whether you should charge above market, at market or below market, then you can do a little research. You can look at a resource, like the chart from Writer’s Market to get an idea. You can also search on other writers’ sites for their rate cards to see what they charge for different services. I don’t publish a rate card, but I know plenty of writers who do. You can also ask. However, many writers are reluctant to share their rates. Even I’m reticent about sharing my rates.
Setting your rates can be difficult because an online freelance writer can make anywhere between $5 and $500 (or even more) for a fairly “standard” 500-word article or blog post.
There are other factors you can use as you set rates as well. Some of these include:
- Your connections in your niche and your social media presence.
- Whether or not you include primary sources and primary research.
- Whose byline is on the piece (you might be able to charge more for ghostwriting since you won’t get the recognition).
- How much your potential clients can afford. Independent bloggers I write for can’t afford the rates I charge corporate clients. If you are starting out, you might have to settle for a little less, just so that you can get the work you need.
If you get a good idea of your abilities and your specialty area, then make look at market rates, you can adjust to figure out where you fit on the scale. Other items you can add in terms of value can help you decide if you can charge more.
And, of course, as you gain more experience and improve in other areas, you can raise your rates.