Freelance pricing revisited, again

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In the past week, I’ve received three different questions about freelance pricing that were essentially the same: new freelancers who want to know “How much should I charge?”

I don’t mean to be dismissive to respond, “It depends.” Pricing is one of the tougher items to figure out when you’re breaking in, but the main thing to remember is that you can always go lower—raising your price after cutting a deal is very difficult.

But where to start?

  • There are a few websites out there with “average” price ranges that people charge, such as Writers Market’s and Editorial Freelancers Association’s “Editorial Rates” chart, among many others.
  • Folks like Lori Widmer at Words on the Page and Jenn Mattern at All Indie Writers have a wealth of posts about pricing and estimating freelance jobs. Anyway, search “pricing” and you’ll have more than enough fodder.
  • At the risk of hat-tipping myself, I’ve blogged on several occasions about freelance pricing and estimating here on Dr. Freelance, such as here, here, here, and here. And past Freelance Forecasts might give you some ideas, too.

It’s worth looking at any or all them to determine the ballpark you want to be in. At some point, you just need to dive in. Even within my own business, there’s a lot of variability: Depending on the project specifications, the timeline and the client, for example, I might charge as little as $200 or as much as $1500 for 500 words. It also depends on how busy I am. On the other hand, there are some things that I do for free if I think it makes business sense.

I know that’s kind of a broad-if-not-wishy-washy answer to “How Much Should I Charge?” but ultimately the best deals are the ones that make you and the client feel like you’re getting value from it. It gets easier with time to figure out your sweet spot in freelance pricing, and you also become more confident about negotiating.

A belated Happy New Year to everyone. I hope that 2012 is your most successful freelancing campaign yet!

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  1. says

    My pricing shrinks and expands in relation to the non-writing part of assignments – if the client likes to have a lot of meetings and chatting, or is unable to supply me with any background material or marketing research for his field, up goes my fee.

    In general, I like to build some wiggle room into my estimate in case difficulties crop up… and it’s always nice to bring a project in lower than the client was expecting.

  2. Dr. Freelance says

    @Valerie, those are both excellent points–and you really have to develop a sixth sense about the potential “chatty” ones in the early negotiating stages or you’ll regret it later. Thanks for commenting!

  3. says

    Ah, the question that never ends and everyone asks. 🙂 Good job of responding and great references. I totally agree with how the circumstances change the fee. That’s what makes the question so hard to respond to.

    For example, I do a lot of ghostwriting for the healthcare industry. Some topics require a lot of research and referencing and others I can write based off my 30+ years in the business.

    To paraphrase what Jenn Mattern (and others) have often said, it really boils down to the time you spend and no matter how you choose to bill, you need a bottom-line hourly figure that you do not compromise.

    Great post, Jake.

  4. Dr. Freelance says

    @Thanks, Cathy. It does come down to establishing an inviolable bottom line, doesn’t it? That’s why the content mills are so psychologically demoralizing: It’s a great deal of energy expended on something that can’t possibly be a living wage. Even if you triple or quadruple a “mill rate,” it’s still not enough—whereas I can increase my rate by 25% on an I’m-busy-right-now-but-I’ll-take-your-project whim and it’s pure gravy.

  5. says

    When I started freelancing, I underpriced everything – like most people do at first. After getting two or three clients, I raised my prices a bit on the next couple of clients. Still, no one complained, so on the next two or three, I raised my prices just a bit more. I did that until a prospect pushed back on price. Then I said, “Well, I often offer discounts for blah, blah.”

    Now, I raise my rates when people are irritating me. 🙂

  6. says

    You are so right! It does “just depend”…and creating value is important above all else. And value most often comes at a price tag that isn’t bargain basement!

    (And thanks very much for the mention!!!)

  7. MissyD says

    The pricing topic is indeed a pain in the butt because you need to consider a lot of factors before finalizing you list. Most of the freelancers price their service based on other peoples rate which is totally wrong, when we quote services we need to consider the 3 basin things, the work time, effort needed and how much you want that job. Price it fairly.

  8. Dr. Freelance says

    Hadn’t thought about it from that perspective, MissyD, but I think you’re right: It’s a huge mistake to price yourself based only on someone else’s numbers or a chart in a book. You can use it as part of the whole equation, but it’s only one of several factors. Thanks for commenting!