hen is a small fee worthwhile? When the gig is so short that the fee becomes sweet. While I never encourage fellow writers to pick up jobs that don’t pay enough, easy editing, breezy blog entries, and performing simple work can quickly add up, despite tiny fees.
For example, I regularly edit 200- to 500-word articles for a client who pays me $5 apiece. Each one takes me five minutes or fewer to edit. That’s $60 an hour.
Another client pays me $14 to ghostwrite short entries for her website’s blog. Since the subject matter is familiar and I can knock them out in fewer than ten minutes, that’s another $60-plus-an-hour client. The lack of a byline doesn’t bother me because I supply plenty of bylined work to other clients.
Try the following tips to make short gigs a sweet revenue stream for you:
Estimate how long it will take.
Ask enough questions about the gig ahead of time, so you can accurately estimate how long it will take to do it. Of course, you should not charge per hour because many people prefer knowing upfront how much the project will cost, and most will balk at paying $60 or more an hour (even though the minimal time the proofing takes will end up costing them very little). Setting the fee at a flat rate for the job allows you to build in more profit.
Allow a little buffer in your estimate.
Keep in mind that anytime you take on a new client, you’ll have a learning curve for the first few jobs you do for him. Also allow time for editing, saving the file, e-mailing, invoicing, and other administrative tasks. If you think that time isn’t worth anything, ask yourself how many business managers ask their employees to clock out when they perform these tasks. Make sure clients pay for all your writing and administrative time.
“Make sure clients pay for all your writing and administrative time.”
Set an adequate salary.
You need to set a rate that supplies the income you need, not the market rate, which some shysters use to pressure you into a crummy rate. Of course, they can always find someone willing to write for pittance. But you have to charge a fee that reflects your needs where you are in life. Pay yourself an hourly rate that reflects your value based upon experience and what you need to live on (including daily living expenses, regular bills, and long-term savings).
See what the experts suggest.
Rates vary for different types of writing. Check out the chart developed by Writer’s Digest here. This chart breaks pricing down by the type of work you want to do with low, medium, and high rates. If you’re in a metropolitan area, you can lean towards high, as can writers with more experience.
Build in your overhead.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics website can help you estimate how much you’re worth, but remember that those figures reflect employee wages. (The Bureau also breaks down the statistics by state and metro area.) Companies generally provide employees with benefits, cover half their tax burden, and pay for all their utilities, tools, and supplies. That’s why you have to charge enough to cover your overhead, not just what you need to live on. The Writer’s Digest chart offers a more realistic rate than the Bureau for that reason. Set aside at least one-third of your gross writing income for paying quarterly business taxes, unless advised otherwise by your tax preparer.
“Set aside at least one-third of your gross writing income for paying quarterly business taxes.”
Plan for upgrades.
Figure in a little to cover new equipment. Someday, you’ll need a different computer, for example. Periodically review your rates to plan for inflation. As your business expenses grow, increase your rates accordingly.
Build in a profit for your business.
Your fee should be large enough, so you can set aside some for a rainy day when assignments dry up or an emergency expense arises. You should also consider investing in writer’s workshops or other means of furthering your education if you think that would help you grow your business.
Consider company size.
A one-person start-up can’t afford the same fee as a long-established corporation (but don’t let Ms. Solo rip you off, either).
Introduce potential clients to reality.
Even though your rate may seem perfectly reasonable to you, some clients still insist that it makes perfect sense to pay $10 an hour, like the rate they pay their receptionist, to an experienced professional who possesses a rare skill. (That’s you, by the way.)
No plumber would accept $10 an hour for his services. He has to cover all of his overhead, and his special skills and education demand a higher rate. If your work as a writer were so easy, why doesn’t the skinflint client do it himself?
“ Avoid underscoring your value in the form of an apology for making a decent living.”
Stress your value to clients as you pitch your fee.
Avoid underscoring your value in the form of an apology for making a decent living. State how quickly you can turn around their project, why you can ideally handle their project (such as any previous, related experience or knowledge), and exactly what you will offer so they know what to expect.
“Thanks for taking the time to discuss your project with me. I can complete your project by the end of business tomorrow. I have written extensively on the benefits of grazing for dairy cattle for XXX periodicals (samples and testimonials are at www.ProWriterXYZ.com). I will send you the completed article in a .doc file. My fee is $XX, due via PayPal prior to beginning the project, paid to this e-mail address: info@ProWriterXYZ.com. The payment covers all expenses related to the project. If you agree with my above proposal, please reply with your consent to enact this agreement as a contract. Thank you.”
Ask for the fee in advance with new clients.
Small projects may offer small fees, but if you ask the right fee for the time spent, they can add up to big profits for your writing business.
Avoid responding to ads with the following verbiage. They likely indicate a scam or lowball offer:
- Freelance writer wanted. Contact for details. (Why? Is it so hard for you to give me one single clue as to what you want? Or do you just want my e-mail address to send me junk?)
- Rewrite articles. (Also known as, “Help us plagiarize!”)
- No skill needed. (Then why aren’t you doing it?)
- Writing intern wanted. (This is code for: “We don’t plan to pay you, and we likely won’t teach you anything either,” for many people placing ads for interns.)
- Gain exposure. (By writing for free for your obscure periodical? No thanks.)
- Are you committed to your art? (1. This is a business, not art. 2. I will not pay you for using my time and talent.)
- Do you love writing? (Yep, and I love making money every single time I do it.)
- Make big money writing!!!! No skill involved!!!! (Making big money writing always involves skill.)
- Good job for student or housewife. (Also known as, “I plan to pay you as little as I can get away with.” And thanks for assuming women at home possess no skill or self-respect.)
- Make money with simple copy and paste job. (Otherwise known as promoting junk online with fake positive reviews.)
- Job should just take a minute. (Let me be the judge of that. If you’re such an expert, do the job yourself.)
- Get experience. (How about paid experience?)
- Build your portfolio. (Been there, done that. Now I want money.)
- Don’t expect to get rich. (No, I just want a livable wage.)
- Come grow with us. (I don’t need growth; I need money.)
- Paid in good karma. (Sure, I can pay my phone bill with karma, and the phone company is happy.)
- Paid in percentage of royalties. (Only answer these if they’re actually successful. Most people offering only royalties have no hope of ever making money.)
- Pay based on clicks. (This is more pie-in-the-sky verbiage.)
- For consideration, send a writing sample about the following topic. (This is how scammers receive free work all the time. Send only published samples that demonstrate what you’ve done, not new work for which you won’t receive pay.)
I’m also leery of ads containing long lists of detailed requirements, along with dramatic warnings about plagiarism. (“We WILL Copyscape!!!! Anything that does not pass Copyscape WILL BE REJECTED!!!!”). They seem to indicate that only people willing to plagiarize would be interested in writing for them because of their tiny fees.
Deborah Jeanne Sergeant has been freelance writing full time since 2000. She writes for several periodicals, writes websites, and provides editing services. Check out her book, The Big, Fat Answer, and her other writing at www.skilledquill.net.
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