One of the most common questions I see beginner freelance writers ask is “how do I figure out my rates?” It’s a fair question, and one I agonised over for quite a while when I was also starting out. So in this guide, I thought I’d pass along my experience for pricing up my freelance writing services.
I’ll be answering some of the following questions:
- How do I figure out my starting rate as a freelance writer?
- Should I charge per word, per hour, or per project?
- How often should I increase my rates?
- How do I tell potential clients about my rates?
- How to tell existing clients about rate increases?
So let’s jump right in!
How do I figure out my starting rate as a freelance writer?
To answer this question you’ll need to do a bit of math. But to put it simply, you need to figure out what the core monthly expenses are for both your business and your personal life (people typically forget they need to cover business expenses too!)
Given that newer freelancers typically have minimal business expenses, it’s better to start there. For example, my business expenses include:
- Google Workspace
- Peak Freelance Membership
- Super (web hosting)
- Authory (portfolio manager)
- Monzo Business Pro (banking)
- Policy Bee business insurance
All of which total about £118. After that, you need to factor in taxes which will differ depending on the country you’re a tax resident in (which is to say, please check the tax requirements of your country, I’m not a financial advisor).
In my case, I used to set aside 20% of each invoice to be ready to pay my taxes at the end of the tax year, but now I pay HMRC a set amount every month, which I find easier to manage. However, I imagine this will change when I decide to opt to become a limited company instead of a sole trader.
After figuring out your business expenses, you’ll need to figure out the personal expenses you also need to cover, e.g. rent, other household bills, groceries, quality of life spending, and childcare costs if applicable.
Once you’ve totalled everything up, put together your business and personal expenses, then add another 10–20% on top to account for things like inflation, unexpected costs, and savings. The total you come up with is the minimum you’ll need for income on a monthly basis.
So let’s say you have total monthly expenses of around £2000 as an example (including personal and business expenses), you know you need to make that a minimum for your income. From there, you need to figure out how much work you’re able to do each month e.g. two blog posts a week. You take your minimum required income and divide that by the amount of work, so:
2000 / 8 = 250
You know you need to charge at least £250 per blog post. This simple calculation also works for other types of projects, you just need to be honest about how much work you can do in any given week or month.
Should I charge per word, per hour, or per project?
There are a lot of opinions about this question online, for good reason! Charging per word was an industry standard for a very long time. However, there are pros and cons to each method of charging for your freelance writing.
Charging per word
There’s one main (very good) argument against freelance writers charging per word: value.
When you charge per word, you’re turning your words into a simple commodity without factoring in the value those words can bring to the business you’re writing for. Another factor about charging per word is that it can inadvertently encourage you to care more about quantity rather than the quality of your writing.
However, it can be a good metric for understanding how your rate measures up against others (when figuring out how much to charge at your experience level). You’ll also find a lot of freelance writing job posts that will quote per-word pricing.
Charging per hour
As a quick disclaimer, I’ve never charged any client with hourly rates, so my experience here is limited (but I do know others who have charged this way). The main reason I personally have never charged per hour is that I think of myself as a fairly slow writer. As a result, I may end up ‘overcharging’ based on my writing speed.
That being said, the coin also flips the other way: if you provide great value writing, and you’re pretty fast with it, you can end up undervaluing your work, or punishing your wallet for being good at what you do. Another issue I have with charging per hour is the micromanagement that can sometimes happen with clients—sometimes they want everything itemised, or for you to be very detailed about your time-tracking, and they can question how long you spent on a particular task.
However, one good reason I can see for charging per hour is that it discourages scope creep (where the client asks for more than what you originally agreed to). And if you write at an average pace, you get paid fairly for the time spent on your projects.
Charging per project
Charging a flat see per project is my preferred method of charging clients for several reasons. First, it lets clients know upfront exactly how much you’ll be charging them before any work begins, which is better for budgeting for both you and your clients.
Second, you can more easily integrate the value of your work into your pricing, which doesn’t punish you for writing smaller projects. For example, if you’re a talented copywriter and work on marketing emails (which typically have much smaller word counts) you can bake the value your work will bring the company into the pricing as opposed to per word or per hour.
Lastly, you can factor in the amount of time it’ll take to complete the whole project, plus any extra time just in case, which is always good practice. This gives you a certain amount of freedom to take your time and think about the quality of your writing.
But the main downside to charging per project is that it’s easier for your clients to scope creep—agreeing to a certain amount of work for the price you quote, only to ask for more work during the project, e.g. extra editing rounds or more sections to a blog post. One way I get around this is by adding a contract clause limiting the number of revisions, and adding an hourly rate for “additional” work.
How often should I increase my rates?
There’s a lot of pretty good advice floating around (particularly on Twitter) about the frequency of rate increases for freelance writing work. In my experience, I typically increase my rates across the board every six months or two financial quarters. This method works for me as I don’t have to keep track of varying rates for different clients.
However, another great way to get your rates up more quickly (as you start out) is to increase your rates every time you get a new client—since more experience = more value. This is a method that my more senior peers (in Peak Freelance) recommend.
Though a general rule of thumb most experienced freelancers go by is this: if every potential client is saying “yes!” to your rates, it’s time to increase them. Clients that are worth working for will accept higher rates, and clients not worth working for will argue against you.
The key aspect to remember when it comes to rate increases is although you’re factoring in increasing costs of living etc., you do need to make sure you’re worth the increased value. This means you should always be working on improving the quality of your writing and knowledge of your niche, especially when your pricing eventually reaches higher figures.
How do I tell potential clients about my rates?
This one is super simple: just tell them. It can be nerve-wracking at first, especially as your rates get higher. But as you gain experience, you’ll become quite comfortable knowing your worth and asking for it.
In terms of practicality, I have a professional freelance writing website that publicly discloses my minimum price per project. Not every freelancer is comfortable with disclosing prices this way, but I’ve found it much easier to direct potential clients to my pricing page when they’re asking about them.
Another method you can use is to have a handy pricing cheat sheet privately (using Notion for example) and refer to it when you’re dealing with a new potential client.
How do I tell existing clients about rate increases?
This question can be a little trickier (and more nerve-wracking) to deal with. However, the answer is the same as the previous question: just tell them. The worst thing that can happen is they’ll say they can no longer afford you—which is also a good thing as it frees you up to look for higher-paying clients.
In my experience, all of my clients have agreed to price increases without complaint. It was only when my very first client (whom I’d stopped working with because I didn’t do the kind of writing they wanted anymore) reached out recently and found my rates had increased by almost 250% since I’d worked with them that they agreed I was now out of their price range.
As an example, here’s a snippet of a real client email I wrote relatively recently:
Before sending this email, I hadn’t done any projects for this client in several months and they’d reached out to ask for more work. As you can see, it’s firm but still polite, and leaves room for the client to think about it (they did agree to the new rate afterwards).
In summary, while figuring out your freelance writing rates as a newbie can be quite intimidating, the worst thing you can do is spend too much time agonising over it and not getting started. Once you start, the only way is up!
If you enjoyed reading this or you have any other questions you’d like to ask, let me know either by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @alexbboswell!