The need for speed [in freelance writing]

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freelance writing speedDr. Freelance: I’ve been offered $0.10 a word, for a total of $9350, between now and December 30 to provide writing content for five different websites. No two sentences can be the same. I’m trying to decide if this is physically possible.—Karin

I’ll be honest: When I first read this, I was thinking you’d been offered a freelance writing job for 9,350 words, which is physically possible. But after our follow-up conversation, I understand that the project is actually a headier 93,500 words. I wrote a bit about writing speed in “How much time will it take to write the copy?” a while back, but let’s break your particular situation into its component parts—because it’s not just about the need for speed. It’s about math.

Is it physically possible?

If the clock started today, that would give you two months of writing around 1,500 words a day. One way you could look at it is doing back-to-back NaNoWriMo projects. (I tried NaNoWriMo a few years back, and waved the white flag after 4 days.) Therefore, yes, it’s physically possible, but it would be a slog. Which brings us to the more important question…

Does the pay rate make sense?

What you should or shouldn’t accept for freelance writing rates is a highly individual decision. That said, 10 cents a word is painfully low, regardless of how easy the content is to write or how fast you are. For the sake of empirical evidence, that’s considerably below the low end of both the Editorial Freelancers Association and Writers Market published rates—which are appallingly low anyway, in my view.

What’s the opportunity cost?

Here’s where you’re really getting punished. Generating 1,500 words a day, you’re not going to have the mental or physical capacity to do much of anything else. You won’t be able to work on better client projects or market yourself to secure higher-paying freelance jobs. That’s a bad business decision.

My conclusion?

Given the sheer volume required, what this client really wants (or needs) is a project manager. The problem with that? When you run the numbers, you’d likely need to manage four or five writers to get this done. Even if you wrote some of it yourself, and therefore got the full 10 cents, you’d have to find other writers to do the rest for even less. For the sake of argument, you find someone willing to do it for 5 cents. (Ugh!) So, you get 5 cents for the pleasure of managing them, and undoubtedly still having to edit their copy. Because, let’s face it, you aren’t going to get high-quality work at those bargain-basement levels.

The deceptive part of this situation is that it sure would be nice to have $9,350 roll into your bank account by the turn of the holidays. I understand that. But when you do the math, it’s clear that you’d pay a serious price to get it.

Science Art Voodoo of Getting PaidThe Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid offers more detailed explanations of how to crunch the numbers, formulate persuasive estimates, and give yourself more leverage in negotiations with potential freelance clients.

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  1. says

    It’s easy to be tempted and fooled by what looks like a good fee – and $9,350 sure looks good as a dollar amount. What matters is (a) 10 cents/word sucks unless you can dash off all those words in no time flat, which is unlikely, and (2) how long it would take you to crank out all those words, as Jake suggests. You’d be immersed in this project to an extent that would probably mean not being able to take, or even look for, better-paying work. By the time you finished, that $9,350 might not feel so great.

    You also have to make sure the client would actually pay. If you take this on, structure interim payments. Almost $10,ooo is a lot of money for the client to come up with all at once.

    • says

      That’s an excellent follow-on point, Ruth. The risk of non-payment escalates with the dollar amount AND the questionable business practices of the prospect (as exhibited by the low fee).