The Quick-and-Dirty Pricing Guide for New Writers

Finally! You’ve got a live one. A marketer or other professional who wants you to write something for them, and now they want to know how much it’s going to cost. ACK.

Is there anything anyone hates more than deciding what to charge? No, no there is not. If it’s any help at all, everyone struggles with this. And not just writers—everyone. There are entire industries built around “pricing strategy,” which is just a fancy way of saying, “Nobody really knows what to charge.”

So the good news is, you’re not alone. The bad new is, there’s not going to be a simple chart for figuring it out. However, it doesn’t have to be all that. Here’s a quick and dirty guide to get you started.

One: Decide How Badly You Need This Particular Job

In the early stages of your writing career, you may just need some quick cash or to build your portfolio. In this case, you really don’t want to lose that first or second job opportunity because of too-high pricing.

However, once you have your sales engine cranked up (for more on that, download the free Quick Start ebook), each individual job becomes less important than maximizing your time and profits.

Either way, step two applies.

Two: Charge More Than You Think You Should

If you’ve decided that you need the quick cash and don’t mind undercharging, then go ahead and charge a low easy-to-swallow amount. Be sure to let the client know these are “introductory” rates, so you can raise them later. Even so, aim a little higher than you think you should. For instance:

  • If you’ll be blogging and you want to charge $25 per blog entry, charge $50.
  • If you’ll be writing a white paper and you want to charge $150, charge $300.

For most established businesses and agencies, these rates are still low and easy to accommodate. Trust me. I charge many multiples of those numbers (granted, I have experience and awards and portfolio and process and much more to support my rates, and I write for challenging B2B markets, but the point is that businesses have budget to spend, and these numbers are not painful numbers to them).

If, on the other hand, you’ve decided that you want to get paid what you’re worth even if it means losing the specific client (and I recommend this strategy over the other, unless you’re truly desperate and/or really need to build your portfolio), then charge a lot more than you think you should.

For more on pricing individual types of content, try these articles:

Blog Pricing

Press Release Pricing

Case Studies and White Paper Pricing

Three: Don’t Base Your Price on What You Make per Hour at Your Job

If you make $15 an hour, you may think you can charge $25 an hour freelancing and give yourself a $10-an-hour “raise.” It’s not a raise. You must take into account the unpaid hours you spend finding the work, marketing your business, managing your business, and building your personal and professional skills for the job, plus the healthcare, social security, and other expenses that you will be covering on your own without an employer. Trust me when I tell you: No reasonable company expects to pay a freelancer per hour what they would pay an employee. If you must base your pricing on your W2 hourly rate, use a multiple of at least three times, and raise it regularly as you gain experience and build your portfolio.

Four: Don’t Charge Hourly

Think of it this way. As you get better, you’re also going to get faster. Who should get the benefit of your efficiency? You should. So, give yourself an automatic raise in exchange for increased skill, by charging by the project rather than the hour. This is also better for the client, most of whom prefer to know in advance what their cost will be.

Sure, sometimes you’ll end up eating a loss when a project takes longer than you think. It even happens to me occasionally. But in the long run, you’ll be better off, and your clients will too. Win. Win.

Keep in mind, however, that this approach will require you to manage your clients to avoid scope creep. There’s more on that in the free ebook I keep shamelessly pushing at you.

Five: Track Your Time

Even though you’re not charging by the hour, you need to know whether you’re making a good hourly rate. Track “unpaid” time (marketing, sales activities, managing your finances, etc.) as well as “paid” time, paying special attention to how long certain types of work take. This will help you in pricing future projects more effectively.

Six: Adjust Pricing Based on Feedback

Remember your goal. It’s not to make a ton of money, necessarily (though that might be nice), but to free yourself to do the things you want to do with your life. This means you need to make enough money on less work, in order to have that free time.

Toward that end, you want to continually optimize your pricing. As you get better at your work and become more recognized, you’ll be more in demand, and can command a larger amount for your work. So, keep raising your rates, and test them against the market. Here’s what you can look for:

  • When you state your pricing and clients consistently drop off the radar (or tell you point blank they can’t afford it), you may be asking too much. Look for ways to raise their perception of your value and/or drop your pricing back down a smidge.
  • When clients consistently say, “Great! Let’s do it!” without any pricing resistance, you’re probably charging too little.
  • When clients start saying, “Wow, that’s more than I was expecting, but I can see that you’re worth it,” BINGO. That’s where you want to be.

Several years ago, I had a client who was referred to me by a friend. At that time, I thought a gig making $600/month was a good deal, and I liked most of the people at this company. They gave me free office space that I could use at any time, in exchange for being available to them most of the week.

Unfortunately, as often happens, we began to wade into scope creep territory. The client wanted more and more in exchange for the same amount of money. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept giving them “little” extra things that didn’t seem like a big deal. But over time, they became a burden.

I didn’t want to upset them, though, so I kept doing the work, and kept letting the scope creep. I was scared that if I let them go, I wouldn’t be able to replace the income.

Finally, after much agonizing and a lot of work with my coach (I highly recommend coaching), I cut them loose. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Here’s the thing. As you get good at running your sales engine, the jobs are going to be easy to find. So keeping finding them until you find the good ones, and then hang on to those. Cut the less profitable clients on a regular basis.

It’s true that you’ll probably never be able to charge a million dollars for a single white paper (maybe? lemme know if you get there), but you can, and you deserve to, get paid what you’re worth.

Go on. Try it.

Pssss…. The answer is “more than you ever dreamed.”

Fen Druadìn Head
Fen Druadìn Head is an award-winning freelance writer and coach. Her work can be found all over the internet in publications as diverse as Redshift Magazine and Grit. Fen's fiction is represented by Ethan Ellenberg.