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Friday, January 10, 2014

Free Advice Friday: Pricing Projects

What's on the iPod: The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth

What started as a dismal week turned into an interesting, work-filled one. I had one project on Monday. Today, there are four. The freelance life is a fickle one.

I was still busy as the one project was quite large, so I set my project timer and figured out my schedule for each day. That helped me get the marketing done, the project done, and the follow-ups done. I've laid the groundwork for a pretty decent spring. If you're new to freelancing, know that the work you have in two months is found now.

During each day, I worked in a little "me" time, which included Twitter, Facebook, and the blogs. There was something standing out that's been bugging me for a while -- writers are eager to help you, but for a fee. I'm all for a writer making a buck and doing so via coaching, etc. What I'm not okay with is the unwillingness of some writers to help their peers without charging them. Seriously. It makes me wonder how much they paid for that same advice.

So in an effort to bring good will back into the profession and to help someone who is now where I once was in the career, I've decided to establish what I'm calling Free Advice Friday. Not that you won't get free advice here any day of the week, but that this day is specifically for you who need your questions answered.

I've also enlisted the help of friends, so look for guest posts here and on their blogs. One friend, Jenn Mattern, is the one who came up with the idea. I give full credit to those with great ideas, and this one is great.

Today's free advice topic: how to price a project.

Especially when you're new to freelancing, pricing can be a huge dilemma. What if you overcharge and lose the client? What's fair? What will get you a decent salary, and what do you deserve to earn?

While those questions are all valid, there are other questions you should be focusing on instead. What if I undercharge and lose the client? What if the project takes much longer than I thought? How do I price it so that I earn a good hourly rate?

Here's how I figure my projects. You can use the same parameters to get to your fee:

What is your hourly rate? If you don't know that already, start by going to All Indie Writers and using the free hourly rate calculator.

Start with a solid idea of what the project entails. You can't know this if you don't ask the right questions. Start by asking clients what length they expect the project to be -- a two-page article is much easier than a ten-page article, for example. Ask how many people will be on the project (the more people, the more edits you can expect). Are there interviews to be conducted? Are you writing for the person you're talking to or for someone you may not ever talk to? Each time there's another facet or step away from the main person, you should increase your fee accordingly (I suggest 5 percent per obstacle).

Understand your client. Is your client giving you solid feedback on what he wants or is he talking around the idea so much that you're unclear? Know that communication style can hamper your progress, so that should be factored in to your project estimate.

How many hours will it take you without the client's revisions? After you get used to writing various projects, you get to know how many hours it should take. For example, writing an article start to finish with 3 interviews should take about 8 to 10 hours. A blog post can be done in under an hour, and a tri-fold brochure usually comes in at 8 hours. If you're unsure how many hours something should take, ask other writers or check out some of the guides (Writer's Market is a good source) that can give you a range.

How many hours will be spent on revisions? This one could be tough to judge with new clients, but I figure at least two hours per project for revisions, emails, additional calls, etc. Sometimes it's more, sometimes less, but it gives you a number close to your intended rate.

How specialized is the work? If you work in a specialized area, there's a good chance you can demand a higher rate than if you're working in a general area. For example, if you write for technology companies who need someone to understand their terminology and issues, you can charge much more than if you were writing how-to technology articles aimed at consumers. Don't forget to put a price on your expertise.

What's the total? Now multiply all the time you've just determined you'll need by your hourly rate. Seem too high? Then get a reality check from another writer. It could be that you're simply not used to charging the right amount.

Add 10-20 percent. What's this? This is protection built into your fee that you'll undoubtedly need. We forget things, misunderstand, get led astray, have clients who aren't so sure or want numerous changes... by working an additional percentage into your final cost, you'll cover those unforeseen circumstances.

After the project, measure it. You'll not know for sure if the price you set was the right one until after the project is completed. Use this calculator to see what your actual rate was.

What seems to be your sticking point with pricing?


Paula said...

For smaller projects, it's a good idea to have a minimum fee. I've been writing and editing executive bios for a client's client. Usually I work on batches, but now and then there's a straggler (a new hire, guest speaker, etc..). One bio takes less than an hour, so they get my minimum charge, which is higher than my hourly rate.

Since the bulk of my work is writing articles, my main sticking point is how little flexibility publications have with their rates.

Don't focus only on per-word rates. If you can knock out a story with a low per-word rate quickly, you're hourly rate will be higher. Some articles with a higher per-word rate can be so labor intensive you might wind up making half your desired hourly rate.

Last month I turned down three articles from a fill-in client I sometimes work for when I have a gap in my schedule. The assignments usually require minimal effort (four or five short quotes in a 400 word short), but I turned them down without looking at the assignments simply because it was mid-December and the stories were due in early January. If I'm going to work around the holidays it's going to be on a high-paying project (which I did this year while still managing to take a full week off for Christmas). When I looked to see what I'd turned down I was really glad I'd said no. One of the pieces needed 10 "man on the street" sources and photographs - with no extra compensation for the additional sources or the photos. Since when am I a photographer? And why would I want to go out of my house with a sub-zero windchill? No thanks. If a client suddenly demands twice the interviews and photos, demand they compensate you for the extra work or walk away before their demands grow.

This week I turned down a multi-story offer from a former client - the Slow Payer I threatened with legal action a year ago following weeks of excuses for my payment being several months late. It came from a new editor (their two long-time editors both quit last year), so I politely explained why I couldn't accept the assignments unless they paid upfront or immediately upon submission.

That's a really long-winded way of saying that even with the article market where clients tend to set their prices, you still need to do the math to see if their terms are compatible with your rates.

Lori Widmer said...

Superb advice, Paula!

I charge a minimum of $300 per press release. Same idea you've outlined -- the work is such that usually I can knock it out in a short amount of time.

Devon Ellington said...

Great advice, Paula. The very first assignment from a new client is already three weeks' late payment because he was "on vacation." Not my problem -- pay on the contracted day.

The chronic random payer is late again, and this final batch of articles ends our relationship, thank goodness.

That will remove both of my lowest=paying clients, who, interestingly enough, are the slowest payers.

Lori Widmer said...

Devon, great decision. Isn't it true? The late payers and lowest-paying clients often do wait forever to pony up the cash.

Glad you're making a clean break from them!

Sarah Dizney said...

Very helpful article! I just found your blog, from a referral on FB. I signed up for the newsletter. :)

I'm a new freelance writer and am actually currently in communications with my first (hopefully) real client. And of course I've been debating what to charge. I have price lists from at least one established copywriter, and that's pretty much all I'm basing my fees off of. Well, that and what I feel comfortable charging, and I feel my work is worth... and what the client will pay... which is yet to be determined.

Anyway, this helped. Thanks!

Lori Widmer said...

Sarah, congrats on getting this far with your first client! Let us know how it goes. If you like, we can help you get to a good place where you're comfortable.

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