A tricky part of setting up a freelance writing business is figuring out how to charge for the work you do - it's a job, so you have to get paid somehow, but it's not like you have a regular salary from one employer to fall back on. So how do you decide how you're going to charge, and how much you're going to charge?
Here's what you need to know about pricing formats and going rates for freelance writers.
Pricing formats for freelance writers
Freelance writers can charge in four rough categories of formatting:
Per hour - a standard charge for hours worked
Per word - the cost of a piece is determined by the word count multiplied by your charge
Per piece - the project price is determined by the number of deliverables you'll be sending (this is usually tiered to account for different formats and wordcounts)
Per project - the entire project is covered by one overarching fee (this is usually determined on an individual basis with each project)
Many freelancer writers use a combination of these categories to cover the different kinds of work they do. For example, my current pricing structure looks like this:
$25 per hour for formatting and digital marketing
$0.025 per word for writing of any kind
$0.015 per word for editing
How to determine which pricing format you should be using
Which format you use will largely depend on the kind of work you're doing.
For straightforward short-form writing, the most common formats are per word and per piece. Some writers have set tiers of wordcounts for which they will charge the same price - up to 1000 words for $10, up to 1500 for $15, up to 2000 for $20, etc. - which makes ordering a single piece or a small set of pieces easy and means the writer can be paid in advance. Some writers charge per word, meaning the exact price of the piece isn't available until after it's written, but the writer is being compensated appropriately for every word they write.
For long-form writing such as books and courses, per word is the most common format, followed closely by per project pricing. Per word is good if you are being compensated for each draft and per project is good if you're looking to cover drafting and revisions all in one go. Some writers charge per hour for writing, but I personally don't think that's very fair to your client or your fellow freelancers - being a slow typer shouldn't mean you're compensated more than being a quick typer.
Editors, formatters, and other technical freelancers tend to charge by the hour. In editing specifically, you can charge per word as well, but per hour is usually the easiest and most efficient method for compensating someone whose work is nitpicky and not entirely dependent on the number of words in a piece.
How to set your freelance service rate
As I mentioned in my guide to using Upwork, you can use a fairly simple formula to calculate your hourly rate.
To break this down again quickly, though, you'll want to calculate how much money you need to cover your monthly expenses, then figure out how many hours you have available per week. Divide your monthly expenses (plus a safety cushion) by your weekly working hours multiplied by four (to get monthly working hours) to get your ideal hourly rate.
For set rates like per word or per piece charges, it's a good idea to research the industry standards for the kind of writing that you do and put your rate in that range. At the moment, some of those standards look like this:
According to Draft.co, blog writing rates tend to start as low as $0.02/word.
According to Peak Freelance, freelance blog writers most often charge between $250 and $399 for each 1,500-word piece (that works out to about $0.17-$0.27 per word).
Upwork lists a standard charge for an intermediate freelancer to be around $0.30-$0.50 per word.
Best Writing recommends starting at $0.10/word.
You'll want to account for how long it will take you to write, so I recommend using this method:
Set a timer for one hour.
Write as much as you can in that hour.
Divide your charge for one hour of work by the number of words you managed to write. Round this to the nearest thousands place for convenience of charging.
I set a timer for myself for one hour.
I write 1,000 words in that hour.
I divide $25 by 1,000 words and get $0.025/word
Remember to account for the fact that, while it may only take you an hour to write that many words, you'll also need to research, outline, proofread, and revise your drafts. You aren't always going to be writing at the same speed, either; some topics are just harder to write than others. So, add some padding to your per word/piece charge to cover this extra effort.
How to raise your freelance service rate
Over time, with inflation and the overall general increase in the cost of living, as well as the expansion of your own needs, you may find that your current rates no longer support your lifestyle the way that they should. When this happens, it's time to raise your rates.
Typically, you'll want to raise your rates on a regular schedule. This is especially true if you have lots of long-term clients; they need to be able to predict how much their costs will change and accommodate for that. Many freelancers choose to evaluate their pricing structure annually or every six months; choose whatever timeframe works for you, but try to keep it consistent. Make it explicit in your contract and remind them about rate increases with plenty of warning (think 2-3 months in advance).
If you do decide to increase your rates, pick a reasonable increase that's not going to immediately terrify your clients. Typically, an annual increase of about 5-10% is considered normal, though you might also try a sliding increase if you're working on a biannual calendar. For example, if your current rate is $20/hour and you find you need to increase your rate, consider raising it to $21-$22/hour.
Should you charge for consultations?
Consultations are a fairly standard part of freelancing; people want to know what they're getting before they commit to a full service. These short, usually half-to-one-hour-long sessions function as a sort of interview for both the client and the freelancer, to make sure you work well together. There's some debate as to whether or not you should charge for consultations.
On the one hand, a consultation is a meeting that doesn't guarantee any results and doesn't always lead to a project for whatever reason. If you're turning down a client, why should they have to pay to be rejected? Additionally, offering free consultations can help attract clients more readily, like a free sample of food or a giveaway item at a convention booth. It's a way for people to see your work before they commit to it.
On the other hand, the time you spend in consultations is time that you could be spending elsewhere, on existing, paid projects, so it's logical to want to be compensated in some way. Asking potential clients to make a small payment can also incentivize them to actually attend a consultation, and charging an hourly consultation rate can prevent both of you from getting off-topic and letting a meeting run longer than necessary, letting you both get back to work or out of the office faster.
Ultimately, whether or not you charge for consultations is up to you. There's no right or wrong way to decide; it all depends on your business and client base, and how you want to use consultations.
I'll note that, while I am an experienced freelancer, I'm not the be-all-end-all of freelancing advice. I'm still learning, and I encourage you to keep learning as well. Experiment with pricing to see what works for you and what doesn't, and remember that you're allowed to change things if they're not working out. Freelancing is all about making your own business decisions, and pricing is one of those decisions that needs proper attention.