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Mistakes Freelancers Make When Pricing Their Work

Freelance writing rates

July 16, 2017 | Tags: , , , ,

When I was interviewed by Project Book podcaster Alex Cespedes in April 2016 about being freelancer, I offered tips on getting started with freelancing and shared details about my freelance writing rates at that time:

• For one interview, one source, an about 500 words, I try to get about $0.50/word from a client. That averages to about $250 an article.
• Hopefully that takes me two to three hours depending on how familiar I am with the topic, so my hourly rate seems like it is pretty good.
• Remember, that’s my gross rate. When I estimate that at least 25 percent needs to be put away for taxes, I keep in mind that I’m getting paid about $187 for the assignment.

While I understand it’s a competitive market in the freelance writing space, that doesn’t mean you need to write for free or slash your rates to $10-25/article in order to secure the assignment.

If you’re just starting out and using this time to build up experience and get clips so you can raise your rates later, you might need to settle for a lower rate in the beginning. (Learn more about how to start freelance writing when you don’t have experience in my new course.)

Since I’ve been a freelance writer since 2006, I wanted to share common mistakes freelancers make when giving clients rate information and pricing their work:

  • You don’t factor in the time you already spent researching an idea before it was approved. If you’re sending a strong pitch, you’re probably spending at least 30 minutes researching and reading about the topic and considering sources.
  • You’re not factoring in back-and-forth time for edits. Some editors say,“Thanks!” process your invoice, and then you don’t see the piece until it’s live. (Sometimes that’s a good thing, other times it’s not if they’re a heavy-handed editor and misconstrued something you wrote with their edits.) Some editors will have a ton of edits and questions and you’ll need to go back to a source (or find new ones) to get a question answered. If the story is for a print magazine, it’s probably going through at least two (likely three to five) other rounds of editors’ eyeballs on it, not to mention a fact checker and copyeditor. The more you have to keep reworking something you already turned in, the lower your hourly rate is. I think of it like this–the more time I’m spending on a piece I already turned in, the less time I have to work on an article for another client or pitch ideas.
  • You’re not factoring in time for transcribing. If you’re recording interviews over the phone and then transcribing them yourself later, it can take hours to type up those notes. Some editors want you to send over complete transcribed interview notes. It’s my personal preference to record an interview and just be “in the moment” in the conversation so I’m more in tune to an appropriate follow-up question. I’ll transcribe the interview later or send them out to a service that does it. I tend to be a slow transcriber and a 15-minute interview can take me about 40 minutes to type up.
  • You’re not factoring in the “onboarding” time. Some clients have a ton of paperwork for you to print out, review, sign, and scan back to them. This is usually a one-time hassle but it still takes about 15 minutes.

Breaking it down:

Here’s a sample of how long it might take me to write a one-interview, 500-word article based on light research, if I’m not very familiar with the subject, and if it’s a new editor I’m working with.

• Research the topic, read up about it, consider whom I’d interview. (30)
• Determine the best outlet for the article. Then, who to pitch at that outlet specifically. (15-25)
• Craft the perfect pitch email. (15-25)
• Get the assignment accepted and conduct some back and forth emails with an editor on the assignment details: word count, rate, due date, making sure that who I planned to interview is the type of person they’d want me to interview. (15)
• Finding the right source, which may mean going through an association’s media relations department, contacting them, explaining who I am and who I want to speak to. (15-30)
• Securing the source’s email, introducing myself, emailing the details about the article and determining the best time to talk to them on the phone for about 15 minutes. (10)
• Review the assignment, write up questions for my source that pertain to the article (10-15)
• Do the interview with the expert and record it. (15)
• Transcribe the interview. (30-45)
• Write the article. Again, this is the time to review the assignment (did they want 5 tips or 10?), and make sure whatever you were instructed to include in the article is there. (60-90)
• Send article to the editor. (5)
• Get edits back from an editor or clarify their questions. I might need to go back to a study, reread it, and get a new stat, go through my interview notes, or provide something else. (20-30)
• Send the article back to the editor for final approval. (5)
• Create an invoice and send it to the appropriate contact. (5)
• Once the article is LIVE online, I’ll share it in my social media channels, email the source(s) with the link as well as my clients’ social media handles and mine. (10)
• This is a good time to reconnect with the editor and provide another article idea.
• Stalk mailbox or bank account for the next 30-45 days for your payment. If this takes longer, you might need to reach out to the editor, accounting department, or someone else at the company to make sure they have all of your paperwork and cut the check. (5-10)

On a conservative estimate of these timeframes, I’m up to about 265 minutes, about 4 hours and 25 minutes.

It’s funny, I estimated the writing process breakdown to be about two to three hours, but I wasn’t factoring in all the emails I send and those back and forth exchanges–they add up!

With this breakdown, you can see that a $187 NET paid article that takes over four hours (including researching, writing, and back and forth time), putting me at $45/hour rate for all the work done when I’m accounting for the little things.

Rates differ a lot from client to client, and my rates change depending on the scope of the project and how busy I am. For my business, rates are a fluid component, but it’s important to have a goal in mind of what you want your “hourly rate” to be when you’re pricing out article assignments.

If you’re interested in learning more about my freelance writing tips, sign up for my email newsletter to learn more about my Freelance Writing Online Course! Early birds who sign up for the newsletter in July and August will get half off!

What do you think about the breakdown of this process? Is it accurate for you?

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