Figuring Out Your Rates as a Freelance Writer

Whatever field you write in, as a freelancer you control your ability to earn. You control what jobs you take, and you can ignore any client or project where your rates aren’t met. But if you want to make more as a freelancer, you have to do more work and try for more jobs. You’ll have carefully choose where you compete for work.

In order to determine if you should take a particular client at a given rate, you need to know how much money you need to earn.

Calculate your expenses so that you know how much your writing needs to earn you in a year. Make sure that you include all of your expenses. Don’t leave anything out. Here is a list of common household expenses:

– Mortgage/Rent. – Groceries – Transportation – Personal care expenses (toiletries, clothing, shoes, etc.) – Health insurance – Retirement savings – Credit card and other loan payments – Office supplies and Internet connection – Utility bills – Marketing and personal development costs

Add of these expenses and add anything else your family needs that wasn’t on the list. Calculate for 12 months. Then divide this number by 1,000 hours. This way, you can find how much you need to earn in about 21 billable hours every week.

These billable hours are the time you spend actually working on paying assignments. This work might be actual writing, research, conceptualizing and thinking, editing, and proofreading.

That doesn’t mean you only work 21 hours a week. It means you spend the rest of your time on non-billable administrative tasks. Most freelancers split their time fifty/fifty between billable and non-billable hours.

Administrative tasks include sending out query letters, putting in bids, promoting and marketing your website, tracking expenses, sending out invoices, etc.

Depending on the contracts you negotiated and the topics you are discussing, talking with clients on the phone or through email may or may not be considered billable hours. For example, time you spend negotiating a price would not be billable hours, but consulting time would be, if this is discussed in your contract.

If you’re only a part-time freelancer, you will need to adjust the figures. If you have a job while starting out as a freelancer, you can adjust your necessary earnings to allow for what you bring in from your job and reduce the available billable hours. Or you might choose to work just part-time as a freelancer without another job.

Some freelancers never move to full time. A parent staying home with children, for example, especially when supplemented by spousal income, doesn’t need or want to work a full forty hours. But by earning more each hour that you do work, you can turn part-time freelancing into full-time pay.

Once you start marketing your pieces or applying for writing positions, you will need to have an idea of how long certain types of writing take you to finish.

Let’s say you can write and edit an 800 word article in around 3 hours, with the research for this article taking you about 2 hours. This gives you five billable hours for 800 words.

Then if you find a magazine which publishes 1,600 word pieces, you know it will take you 10 hours to produce one article. That’s $1600 in 10 hours. That’s $160 per billable hour. While publishers don’t pay freelance writers by the hour, you would need to work out an hourly rate for your budget.

If you’re trying to reach an annual earnings goal of $40,000, and you are a full-time freelancer, you need to be making about $40 per billable hour. If you can sell articles to that publication, you would be making four times what you need. Some publishers pay more, and some pay less. In the end, the important part is that it all balances out.

None of this is set in stone. As your portfolio gets larger and your skill set increases, you can earn more money and have more fun with your writing.


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