Know your worth.
When it comes to writing, and being able to make a living from it, you have to be convinced of your value. After all, you are creating the words that are ultimately driving profits for your clients, and if they don’t understand that, don’t bother educating them.
The fact is, what happens when you go to a website? You start reading words. If those words are not elegantly put together, and the writing is of poor quality, that reflects on the company, the brand, and affects the decisions that customers make. That same concept goes for every piece of copy you create for every business and client you work with. You are creating their money-making potential. If they don’t understand that, don’t bother taking them on. If you take all the low-hanging fruit, you will be filling your time up with low hourly rate jobs that won’t pay the bills.
Only pitch to clients who value quality writing.
So, I will say it again. Only take your time pitching to clients who value quality writing from the start. If they don’t, they won’t take you seriously, and won’t be willing to pay you what you are worth.
In the bidding process, when you’ve got people coming to you wanting your services and asking for quotes, start to assess early on those who value quality writing from those who don’t. It will make your life a lot easier and increase your value. When you take low hourly rates with clients who may promise more work or might seem like a good short-term idea, you are really devaluing yourself for the long term. First off, the work you do for them probably won’t be something you are proud to put into your portfolio. Second, it will add to the growing likelihood that you won’t be able to make a living off of freelancing, and thus defeating your purpose.
Pitch projects, not hourly rates.
Now, in terms of compensation, hourly wages are popular, and people looking for a bargain love hourly wages. What does it do to you? As a writer, it punishes you for being talented. If you are able to produce high-quality content in a short amount of time, you lose. You only spent an hour on a project you should have charged $300 dollars for and pitched a low hourly rate of about $20. You now just made $20. What do you do?
First off, if you must use hourly wages because you are pitching to a client who only deals with hourly rates, or you feel it is a good model for the project you are working on, realize that you shouldn’t be charging around minimum wage for the best stuff you’ve got. Your rates can range from $50-$150 dollars.
I love to consult The Editorial Freelancer’s Association for freelance rates for various types of freelance writing work.
As far as setting your freelance rates goes, you should really pitch projects, not hourly rates.
The Writer’s Market offers a wonderful online resource which quotes by type of writing, hourly rates, and project rates.
This will give you a good starting point that is based off of self-reports from accredited freelance professionals. [ Read “How Much Should I Charge?” (.pdf) by Lynn Wasnak / The Writer’s Market ]
When you start pitching projects, and start producing higher quality writing faster, your work begins to pay off. Now, you can tell all of your clients, even existing ones, that you will be charging them by project. An easy way to do this is to divide the number of projects into your total charge (how many hours it took you to complete all the projects multiplied by your hourly rate).
Example: if you are writing 5 blog posts a week and charging 20 dollars per hour and each blog post is taking you about two hours, you are charging your employer $200 for that week. Now, just break that up by the project. Take that $200 dollars and divide that by how many blog posts you did, which was 5. So you are going to start charging $40 for each blog post, regardless of the amount of time it takes you to complete them. Now, your new goal is to write each blog post in less time, so you can make more money, faster. Show clients the money.
When you pitch by project you show your client exactly what they are getting for their money. That way it is less ambiguous, less vague. I feel personally that if I was paying someone by the hour for writing, I would wonder what they are doing in that time. I would actually feel better knowing what I was receiving in the end, and for what cost. Well, that is how every client and prospective client is going to feel when you start pitching by project. Hourly rates throw you in a big pond of little fish. Realize there are “content mills” out there and people willing to write for pennies in return for every word. Pennies.
Take yourself out of that rat race. Turn your freelance writing business into a business that you can live off of. The only way to do this is to market your worth. Sell yourself. Market yourself. Pitch yourself to the project.
Even though you are a writer, you still have to sell.
At some point or another, it’s going to feel like you have a sales job, and it’s going to be about managing people, not about the writing. This doesn’t feel very good to you, because you are a writer, but it’s part of the reality of making a living off of freelance writing.
If you really want to make this your career, you are going to have to market yourself, respond to requests, throw out bids, and quote people left and right. What you can do to get the higher-paying jobs and the lucrative clients is set yourself apart and tell each client why you are the best one for the job. Be specific. Don’t be a catch-all writer. If they are looking for someone to write an educational pamphlet, pitch to that. Tell them about your specific experience with educational pamphlets. Don’t be a “jack of all trades” when it comes to pitching to prospective clients. Carefully choose your words and craft your proposal to sell to them why you are the best one for their specific needs. And then, bill for that.
Figuring out what you need to make for a living.
If you already know how to make a budget, it is no mystery how to figure out what you need to make to live off of. You can also just set a goal, a high one, a livable one, or whatever you feel like making. Divide that number by how many hours you reasonably feel you can work in a week, or your billable hours, and decide what you need to start making in those working hours. This will give you a dollar number to put on your time, which can translate into how much you need to start charging for projects. This will make you realize exactly what you need to charge.
If you aren’t meeting that goal, you need to start looking at your marketing efforts, your sales efforts, and how you are pitching to your clients. Never undervalue networking, business cards, referrals, and good old-fashioned marketing tactics. They come in handy for freelance writers because it’s the type of business where you need to keep the leads coming in, because when your funnel dries up, you don’t have a business anymore.
You can make a living off of freelance writing, you just have to do it the right way. This includes marketing, sales, and pitching by project. Ultimately, you have to know what you need to survive, and how to meet that goal. So, stop writing for pennies on every word, and start realizing your worth as a talented writer.