The Practical Guide: Freelancing (Part Four)

Check out our previous sessions of this Freelancing mini-series:

Part One: Gaining Experience

Part Two: Building and Preparing Your Business

Part Three: Finding Work

Part Four: Freelancing Fees

When you first become a freelancer (whether it’s in writing and editing or something else entirely), one of the trickiest parts to figure out is what to charge your clients. If you charge a fee that is too low, you won’t be able to make enough money to pay the bills and you might give the impression that your work is low-quality; if you charge too high, you won’t get any clients at all. Clearly, the answer is to charge something in the middle range.

But what is “the middle range”? I have found recommendations on the Internet that went anywhere from “charge $20 an hour” to “charge $200 an hour”; some experts say that you should only ever charge by the word and others have impressive lists detailing how much you should charge for every stage of the process (one fee for research, another for writing, another for proofreading, another for copy editing, etc etc).

Something else to take into consideration is where you are located. If you’re working in New York, your services are probably in much higher demand and therefore you can afford to charge a higher fee. More important is your level of skill and experience: you need to prove yourself by being able to show prospective clients the type of work that you’ve done in the past so that they can see the quality of your work.

This means that before you begin charging, you often have to work for free, as discussed in Part One: Gaining Experience. When prospective clients view your work, it gives them two key pieces of information: first, it allows them to see your style, and second, it allows them to see your dedication and passion to your craft that you were willing to start out for free.

But none of this really answers that all-important question, how much do I charge?

After much indecision, I finally asked my boss, the president of a communications company, for his opinion. “Fifty dollars an hour,” he said. “No less than $45.” I asked about word counts and about having different fees for different types of work, but he waved them off. His reasoning was that having different fees can often make things more complicated. Having one set fee as an hourly wage is easier to track. Why make things more difficult for yourself and more complicated for your client?

At first I had some misgivings and wondered if it might be too high of a fee to charge. I was nervous the first time I told my fees to a prospective client. To my pleasant surprise, I received a positive response with regards to my rate. Fifty dollars is a very reasonable fee for someone just starting their freelancing career. You can always ask what your prospective client is offering, too, and go from there. They might even make you an offer higher than you would have originally charged, as what happened to me for my first real freelancing gig (a two-week writing project).

Most projects will likely be small, writing some website content or editing newsletters, which means that you might only need to work for a few hours and your client pays the low fee of a few hundred dollars for the work you provide them. Considering the quality of the work that you do, and considering that your client likely doesn’t have the time to do it themselves nor the same sort of skills to market themselves, it is well worth the price.

The lesson here is this: do research to see what other freelancers are recommending, get some advice from an expert you trust, evaluate how much experience you have and identify your skill level, and then tell your client what your fee is. Depending on how important the job is to you, you can always re-negotiate fees if your client tells you that they cannot afford you. But if you don’t ask for the price that you are worth, you won’t receive it! Certainly don’t over-price yourself – but never sell yourself short, either.