My favorite thing about freelancing is that I get to call the shots about when, where, and how I work. If you’re used to working in an office where the boss makes all of your decisions for you, the freedom of freelancing can be a beautiful change of pace.
The problem with all of that freedom is that it also comes with responsibility. All of a sudden, you are in charge of your paycheck. You get to decide when it comes through and how it is earned.
Determining the details
As you talk with clients about their needs, inevitably you will have to discuss the dirty money details. While how much you’ll earn is probably the most pressing issue for you personally, you first must decide for what it is that you’ll be compensated. Will you be paid for every page you write? If so, how many words count as a “page”? Does it matter how large the font is?
Questions like this make things difficult, so it is best to have an idea of what you’ll mean when you start discussing price. Most freelance writers break down their price in one of two ways. They either charge by time or by project.
On one hand, there is the traditional per-hour payment method, common for employees, where you charge an hourly rate and the clock starts whenever you begin work on a specific client’s project. On the other hand, there is the per-project payment method where you charge a predetermined price for a completed project, no matter if it takes you minutes or days to complete.
Each has its ups and downs. Here are a few things that you’ll need to consider before deciding which is best for you.
Charging per project
Per-project pay is an attractive budgeting option for most of your clients. Understandably, it makes them comfortable to know how much they will be charged before they commission a writer. Nobody wants to be surprised with a huge bill when the project is done. For this reason, most of the clients you find are likely to operate under a per-project payment plan.
Many times, freelance writers will establish a base rate that they can use to calculate how much they should charge for a complete project. Often, that base rate is calculated per word. If you know what you charge for one word, then you’ll know what you charge for 100, 500, or 1000 words.
There is one major benefit to taking on per-project commissions for writers. When you are being paid for what you complete, and not how long it takes you to complete it, you are rewarded for working efficiently.
If you complete a project quickly, you can make money faster. Plus, you’ll have more time on your hands. Those extra hours can be spent with your friends or family, or they can be invested in a new project, earning you even more cash!
Charging per hour
While per-project pay makes clients happy, per-hour pay is usually comfortable for beginner writers. The main reason is that being paid for your time feels familiar. In the middle of big lifestyle and employment changes, hourly pay can be a huge comfort.
If you’re going to charge by time, you are going to need some sort of time-tracking software. Every client may not require it, but by tracking your time and submitting the reports to your client with your invoices, you can show them exactly how much time you spent on each of your tasks. There are many types of tracking software available, but I suggest using Toggl.
If you’re being paid hourly, then you know that you will always be paid for time you spend working. You will be compensated for every minute you spend researching, outlining, drafting, and editing.
Plus, you can easily calculate how many hours of work it will take each week (or month, or year) to satisfy your spending habits. Planning ahead and budgeting your money is easier when you can predict how much money you’ll make for a predetermined amount of work.
The secret about your pay
Some freelancers have clear preferences for how they charge their clients. No matter what method they prefer, however, this truth remains: they’re really charging for their time.
If you’re charging hourly, you are already accounting for this simple fact. If you’re charging on a per-project basis, then you need to get comfortable with it immediately.
No method is perfect. There will be drawbacks regardless of the method you select.
Per-project pricing suffers because there is so much uncertainty. First, you need to estimate how long it will take you to complete the project. When you do that, you need to take into account research time, outlining time, and the time it will take to actually complete the crafting of your sentences. How much you charge will depend largely on the length of time you can expect to spend on the project. If any of your predictions are wrong, you risk getting underpaid.
Another difficulty is that you don’t know ahead of time whether or not your client will request edits. When you charge per-project, those edits are free, even though they require you to work.
The biggest problem with charging hourly is that it can be difficult to find jobs like this at all. For one, print outlets (such as magazines) pay on a per-project basis. Because magazines are the cream of the crop,” they are imitated by your other would-be clients. As good as hourly pay may be for you, you could have a hard time finding it.
Another issue is that conflict that hourly pay can cause with your clients. If you spend more time on a project than your client thinks you ought to have spent, they may get upset or refuse to pay.
Which do you prefer?
It’s important to have a base method for charging your clients. If someone asks you how you charge, you need to know. That said, it’s important to remain flexible. If a good gig falls into your lap, you shouldn’t turn it down just because it pays differently than you would prefer.
What way would you prefer to be paid? Share in the comments below!
Next week I’ll talk about how much you should charge!