I got my start as a content marketer in 2001, before it was called content marketing. A few organizations I worked with had begun blogging, but it was difficult to quantify the business value, and so the practice was not widespread. The question at that time was not “How much does it cost to outsource a blog?” so much as “What is the point of blogging?”
It didn’t take long, however, for blogging to prove its worth even to skeptical business owners. The first blog entry I ever wrote for a client, a B2B data storage reseller, netted them a sale of several hundred thousand dollars within a week. They were convinced, and the question flipped from how much it would cost to outsource their blogging, to how to maintain the momentum.
In our increasingly competitive content marketing environment, most companies now have the same question—not what is the value, but how do we gain and maintain momentum? We now know that among many other benefits, a well-maintained blog can:
- Ratchet up a website’s SEO rankings.
- Drive quality traffic.
- Convert website visitors into sales leads.
- Build an authoritative position in the industry.
- Increase perceived relevance and expertise among buyers and partners.
- Become a library of valuable content for sales teams to nurture leads and validate the organization’s expertise.
- Increase in value over time.
But, of course, doing it well takes time and resources, and that’s great news for writers. While video and other types of content are growing in popularity, companies still need written blogs to feed the content marketing engine, and that means they need writers.
In many cases, a blogging gig is a writer’s first professional opportunity. Even for established writers, blogging contracts often form the core of their monthly income. In both cases, pricing the work effectively can be a challenge.
Pricing guides from places like The Writer’s Market can provide some guidance, but most writers still suffer significant anxiety around this question, and for good reason. Charge too much, and you lose the opportunity. Charge too little, and your hourly take-home suffers.
Finding the sweet spot can be hard.
That’s why I developed a formula to help writers determine how much to charge their clients for blogging. Let’s get started.
What Not to Charge
Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way. If you’re charging $5, $10, $25, or even $50 for a blog entry, you are either taking irresponsible shortcuts (like cutting and pasting with minor tweaks; i.e., stealing other people’s work), or you are headed straight to the poor house. I hope you don’t need a lot of food to survive.
There are lots of so-called “opportunities” out there where businesses are seeking writers who can churn out content quickly and cheaply, and it may feel like this is the only place you can find work. Hogwash. Unless your writing is absolute crap, you not only deserve to get paid a living wage, you can get paid a living wage.
So let’s all vow to stop supporting the predatory clearinghouse industry, and demand that we get paid what we’re worth.
Steps To Pricing Your Work
Price sheets that promise to tell you what you should charge for your writing services can provide a helpful starting point, but ultimately they fail because there are too many variables. Instead of relying on a price sheet, here are ten steps to take to find your sweet spot.
One: Evaluate Your Experience and Portfolio
Reasonable blogging rates can run from a low of around $75 per entry to $2000+, and the largest difference at each end of the spectrum is experience and portfolio. If you are just getting started in the industry, you may want to offer your services in the lower end at first until you’ve built a nice portfolio.
Be aware that the low end will keep you poor if you stay there. I encourage you to get out of “poor writer” jail as fast as possible. The longer you stay at the lower end, the more you will train your clients and your own brain that this is where you belong. Do it to get your feet wet, then immediately start working your way up.
A note on building portfolio: This will form the most important element of your professional profile, so it is worth taking some time to nurture this. For ideas on building a portfolio from scratch, check out this article from a few weeks ago.
Two: Consider the Match Between Your Expertise and the Project
There’s a reason I recommend writers develop a niche. In general, companies are willing to pay more for writers with specific industry expertise, and there’s a very good reason for that as well. When you bring specific expertise, you reduce the amount of time they have to spend training you, increase the amount of value you bring to the project, and decrease the amount of time you spend on the project as well. This latter point is important only to you, because it means that while you’re charging higher rates than you otherwise could, you’re spending less time delivering on the contract. That translates to a higher per hour return for you.
Three: Establish the Scope of the Project
All blogging is not created equal. As of this writing, I have clients who pay me $770 a month and clients who pay me $2800 a month to blog (Note: These rates refer only to blogging; many of my retainer clients bundle other services in with their blogging and so their total amount is higher, while one legacy client uses only some services I no longer offer anyone else, and their retainer is lower), and several in between. Most of the variation is due to wildly different scopes. At the low end, I produce two medium-length blog posts based on topics provided by the client. At the high end, I produce four in-depth thought leadership pieces in the 1,000-1500 word range, along with some related services including blog topic consultation.
When determining scope, the key questions to ask are:
- What type of blogging will I be doing?
- How many words on average do the blogs need to be?
- Who will be responsible for generating blog topics?
- What other blogging services are included?
The type of blog matters because different types require different levels of investment from you. Thought leadership articles are among the most challenging to write because you will likely need to speak with a subject matter expert (or several) and/or conduct research. They may also require that you have some expertise of your own to contribute. Listicles and content repurposing blogs can be among the easiest and fastest to produce.
Of course, longer articles, in general, will take longer to produce and can be priced higher, and if you are responsible for helping with topics, that also brings the price up.
Other common blogging services that may be included are staging the blog on the website, choosing images, selecting backlinks, keyword optimization, keyword research, and posting on social. You don’t have to offer any of these services (I offer link suggestions and keyword optimization, but none of the others in this list). If you do offer them, make sure to incorporate them into your pricing.
Four: Research Industry Expectations
Some industries are willing and able to pay more than others. If you’re writing for small mom-and-pop type businesses, the odds are high that they cannot afford to pay you a lot. On the other hand, if you’re writing for a multi-billion-dollar construction software behemoth, odds are they can. While it may feel weird to base your pricing on this factor, the reality is that the reason large companies pay more for content is because they know its value and they’re willing and able to pay for it. If your passion is small businesses, then by all means write for them, but be aware that you will likely never make as much money as you can writing for the larger organizations.
Besides the size of the company, other factors impact this as well. In general, B2B (business to business) companies expect to pay more for quality content than B2C (business to consumer); companies in technical sectors, healthcare, finance, and pharmaceuticals also tend to pay better.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It pays to familiarize yourself with expectations and standards in the industries you’re considering specializing in. As a general rule, businesses that have high profit margins combined with a strong need for quality written content are going to have higher pay scales than those with thin profit margins and little need for quality written content.
Five: Consider the Value to the Client
While this is closely related to the question of industry expectations, it’s not necessarily the same thing, and is related more to the individual client than the industry as a whole. Thus, you might encounter someone in an industry that would ordinarily not pay as much, such as a solo entrepreneur, who nevertheless is willing to pay premium prices because they have made it a priority to build their reputation as a thought leader. Likewise, you might encounter prospects in an industry with higher standard rates who view content as just “something to fill up space” on their website, and that client is unlikely to be willing to pay premium rates even if they can afford it.
Six: Length of Contract
When you work with the same client over a long period, three wonderful things happen. You get better at producing higher quality work that fits their audience and goals; you do it in less time; you spend more time delivering and less time looking for new clients. For this reason, I always advocate for longer contracts. On the other hand, most clients want a short trial contract first, and that’s fine too. To balance this out, plan to charge more for a short contract, and then offer small discounts for longer contracts. You can let prospects know up front that initial pricing on a short-term contract is higher to account for the cost to you of ramp-up, and that they can expect a slightly lower price for a longer contract if things work out.
To be clear, I never hold a client to a contract if it’s not working out (so long as I get paid for work already done). A poor fit engagement is not productive for either of us. But an upfront contract for a set time period sets an expectation of longevity and generally works out better for both parties, assuming an otherwise good fit.
Seven: Nature of the Package
Besides the length of the contract and the scope of the blogging work, your client may have other content needs. If you’re also delivering ebooks, white papers, case studies, landing pages, emails, and other work, you may be able to do it more efficiently than when offering them separately. This is especially true if the items are related. For instance, you may produce a case study or ebook, and then break that premium piece down into smaller chunks for the blog and add some landing page and email content on the same topic. This is more efficient than writing a blog and a separate, unrelated ebook. When packaging content in this way, I will usually charge full price for the premium content piece, and then discount the blogging and associated materials to account for my time savings in packaging them together.
Eight: Desired Hourly Wage
Okay, so all of that and we haven’t even discussed any concrete numbers. Let’s get down to it.
Start with your desired hourly wage. Go ahead and go crazy here. Want to make $200/hour? Great. Write it down. $500? Fabulous. $2500? Well, aren’t you the go-getter. I love it.
I mean, if you’re just starting out, $50/hour is more reasonable, but go ahead and dream big, my friend.
Next, figure out how long you think it will take to produce each blog entry, based on all of the details outlined above.
Multiply those two numbers together. This is the amount you are going to charge for blogging in about 5 years, when you have an incredible portfolio, a stellar reputation, and connections with top people in the industries you’ve targeted.
Write it down and believe in it.
Now go back to step one. If you are just now starting out with little or no portfolio, consider an hourly range between $25 and $45 an hour, and plan to raise it very quickly when your portfolio is a little beefier. When you’re at the top of your industry, you can expect to earn $150-250/hour. To charge much more than that, you’ll need some sort of celebrity status, but if that’s what you want, make a plan and go for it!
Now you have an hourly number, but you are not going to actually charge your client by the hour. There are a number of reasons for this, which are outlined in more detail in my quick-and-dirty pricing guide. Instead, you’re going to give them a flat rate based on the number you just calculated, plus:
- Add some if you have specific expertise in the industry, even if it’s not writing-related. For instance, if you’re a plumber writing for a plumbing contractor, you bring extra value even if you’ve never written for a plumbing company before.
- Add and subtract based on the scope.
- Add and subtract based on the industry and the value to the client.
- Calculate a small percentage discount for 3-month or more contract. Calculate a small surcharge for a one-off or very short term contract.
- Add some if you’re offering services beyond only the writing.
- Calculate discounts if you’ve packaged the blogging with other content.
Ta-da. You now have a serviceable number to work with. Check it again against industry expectations and reason. Check it against a reasonable hourly wage. And then run with it.
Finding the Sweet Spot: Summon Often and Banish Early
The famous ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley claimed that, when summoning spirits and angels to assist oneself, it was best to “summon often and banish early.” Most of what you summon, he said, would be useless or meaningless, but some of it would be immensely powerful. To get to the powerful stuff, you need to summon lots of the less important stuff and banish it early.
“Summoning” clients isn’t magic. It’s process and working the system. Okay, and maybe a little bit of magic. But the principle remains the same: Many of those you “summon” will prove to be less desirable than others. The key to “summoning” the best clients is to summon often and banish early.
What that means for you is that you want to build lots of relationships, meet lots of people, and develop systems for “banishing” them as early in the process as you effectively can. In sales talk, we call this “disqualifying” the prospect, and it’s critical to efficiency.
Summoning often has an advantage for you in pricing, as well. When you have plenty of prospects in your pipeline, you can afford to lose a few. And when you can afford to lose a few, you can test your pricing against the market. To do that, on each new client, try raising your pricing.
- If clients consistently say, “That sounds great! Let’s get started!” there’s a good chance you’re pricing below your worth.
- If clients drop off the radar or outright tell you they can’t afford your rate, then you’re probably pricing too high for where you are in your career.
- When clients start saying, “That’s more than I was hoping, but I can tell that you’re worth it” (or some variation thereof), you know you’ve hit your sweet spot…
- For now. Periodically test your pricing. As your experience and skills increase, so will your value to the market.
Pricing is hard. It’s so hard that there are entire industries built around helping companies to do it. It’s also critical. I wish I could just give you a price sheet and tell you what to charge, but it’s just not that simple. I hope this guide is some help to you, and I’d love to hear your questions and thoughts on it.
Enjoy, and happy pricing!
P.S. If you’re just getting started and want a more comprehensive guide to “summoning often and banishing early” and other techniques for getting your first clients, check out my quick start guide.