3 Mistakes to Avoid When Setting Freelance Writing Rates

Money tree

When quoting by the hour can work — and when it can backfire

Today I have a guilty confession for you. Or actually two, depending on how you feel like slicing it.

I also want to let you know about an insanely useful tool that might change the way you set your rates forever.

But let’s get the guilt outta the way first, shall we?

I let you all down

I’m going to put forth a new axiom. Let’s call it Sammer’s Law, because why not take the opportunity to name something after myself, right?

Sammer’s Law: She who fails to consider subtleties and exceptions shall be swiftly forced to confront them.

To put that somewhat less-succintly: The principle that the act of pontificating about any one topic, especially on a blog, and especially using the words “always” or “never,” will be closely followed by the appearance of evidence that weakens the point you just spent 1000 words shooting your mouth off about.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I caution against working for hourly rates.

So guess what I went ahead and did? Yep.

Twice. <wince>

The time that the bad thing turned out kinda good

Things worked out really well with one quote and … uh, as for the other one … well, you’ll see.

So here’s what happened. Two pretty sweet potential clients showed up on my doorstep. Unsolicited work? Hell to the yeah.

Company #1 has some very important but very outdated web pages they need rewritten — actually, a little more than rewritten. They need them re-imagined.

But there’s a lot of info to go through. If information were laundry, it would be like someone dumping 10 loads of clothes on your floor and asking “How many outfits can you make out of this?”

Obviously, I can’t know that until I dig in. Also, this company is not accustomed to hiring professional writers. The person who was going to hire me thought it would be an easier sell on her side if she could quote an hourly rate. Since she’s an old friend/former colleague, I wanted to make it easy for her.

So I created an hourly rate with the help of the AWESOME TOOL that I mentioned above. My friend got approvals, the company agreed to a fixed amount of hours and now I’m tasked with getting through as much that laundry pile as I can. Pretty painless so far.

Score one for the hourly rate method.

The time that the bad thing didn’t turn out so good

Then there’s Company #2. Sigh. They are doing some really awesome things. I want to do awesome things with them.

But to make a really long story short, let’s just say that if Company #1 has 10 loads of laundry, Company #2 has 100.

At first they wanted to me to do one specific project — in laundry terms, they wanted me to concentrate on the whites. No problem. I wrote them a proposal and gave them a project rate to do the whites.

But then they said, “Hey, can you do the brights, too?” There were a lotta brights. And some of them were dry clean only. And some were hand-wash and some were cold-wash. And did I mention there were a LOT?

With a shifting scope of work, a massive assignment, and the wild card of getting through their corporate approval process — which could be easy or could be the opposite of that — quoting a project rate felt like taking a shot in the dark. If I ended up miscalculating, I could end up working well below my targeted rate.

So I thought, “That hourly rate thangity worked pretty well with Company #1. Maybe I’ve been wrong all this time! Let’s see if it would work again!”

They were game … but … (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) they also wanted an estimate of how many hours I thought the project would take from start to finish.

I thought we were getting married!

We’d come this far. I’d already spent about seven or so hours meeting with them, getting familiar with their content, and writing a very, very detailed proposal. I was invested. So I went back to the drawing board to see what I could come up with.

But here’s the thing: There were probably over 100 completely unique pieces of content to go through. Some would’ve taken me 20-30 minutes to rewrite. Some would’ve taken me four hours. I went through what can accurately be described as a “shitload” of documents, trying to find something to hang my hat on — some way to quantify or group content so I could look at it as a whole.

It was an impossible task. In laundry terms, I was going to have to read every label on every piece of clothing in those 10 loads of laundry.

By that point, I’d easily spent about 10 hours on their material.

Finally, I ended up back where I started: I proposed a monthly retainer to get started on the project.

They’re kicking it around. We shall see.

Life is one silly teacher, yes?

It’s entirely possible I won’t get that gig. And if so, oh well. That sometimes happens in Freelance World. I didn’t need the job, although I sure would’ve liked it. In any case, those 10 hours I spent sweating over proposals for them were certainly instructive.

Let’s break this experience down into some handy “lessons learned” bullets, shall we?

  1. Time box proposal time. Yes, do your homework and let your effort show in your proposal. But keep in mind that that time may never have an ROI. Decide what you’re OK with.
  2. Don’t work for free, even if the work is fun. Did I give away too much in the proposal — like, stuff that I probably should’ve charged a consulting fee for? Maybe. (Or “yes.”) But to be fair: They did not specifically ask for all of the information that I gave them. I got excited about the gig and went to town on it.
  3. Don’t get pressured into saying how long something will take. Keep in mind, I’m not saying this as a way to get something over on a client. Rather, I’m saying that freelancers need to protect their own interests. It’s all too common that a job that looks very simple on the surface is a lot more complicated once you dig in. Clients will want to know turnaround times. Stick to ranges and be sure to explain that turnaround times may be heavily dependent on the availability of source material/subject matter experts and especially on approvals.

The amazing tool I promised you

One other valuable thing I learned from this experience is that WRITER’S MARKET IS THE BOMB DIGGIDY. Someone mentioned it on LinkedIN, and I was blown off my rocker to find that this really useful book contains pages and pages of rate comparisons for different kinds of writing work.

And my downtrodden little writer friends who think that my post on charging $67 an hour was nuts … well guess where the rates in this book land? #justified

We have a lot talk about the next few posts, including:

  • A big pep talk from your friend Trish (hey! that’s me!) on why you probably need to charge more — and how you should go about it
  • How to construct a monthly deal with a client, including determining scope of work and monthly fees
  • Why ghostwriting is such an incredibly valuable skill to have in your pocket — and how it can take your writing career to the next level
  • How to network without feeling like an idiot
  • Answers to your important questions

Your homework for this week: Send me your questions at trish@writeworks.co.

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How to Get Paid to Blog for Companies: The No-Gimmick Strategy for Serious Writers

NoGimmicks

You can make a living as a paid blogger (spoiler alert: but maybe not in the way that you think)

Believe it or not, making money as a blogger is probably easier now than it ever was.

As I mentioned in my last post, where I told you how to take charge of your pathetic freelance writing career, regular monthly blogging contracts are how I make my baseline income.

I’m very, very happy to share with you how I do this. But first, let’s be very clear about what kind of work we’re talking about here and what kind of work we’re not talking about.

It’s time for some tough love from one writer to another.

We are not talking about you pursuing your dreams of creative writing while companies and/or your adoring public send you money every month for the pleasure of reading the words that you’ve strung together in only the way that you can. (Patrons of the arts can be hard to come by in the digital world, yo.)

Rather, what we’re talking about is you showing up like a grown-up professional person, learning someone’s business, and then creating content for them in a way that solves their business needs.

What we’re talking about is you becoming a business person.

But I don’t have business skills!

I know, I know. You’re a writer. You’re creative. You’re not a business type. You just want to write and get paid for your talent. Is that too much to ask?

Well for right now, yes, it probably is for most of you. Because no one wants to pay you to wax poetic about your morning meditation — that is, unless doing so can accomplish a business objective.

And therein lies a big key to what we’re going to talk about: Finding the intersection between what you already know about/are passionate about and what someone will pay you to write about.

How to match your skills to business needs

The 30,000-foot view is this: You pick something you’re interested in and then find someone to pay you to blog about it.

So let’s go back to that morning meditation for a sec. If that’s something that really interests you and you’re spending a lot of time thinking about it, I’d tell you to go find a yoga studio that needs a blogger.

Interested in holistic health? Find a healthfood store or a company that sells herbal remedies.

Interested in beer? Blog for a company that sells home-brew supplies.

Easy enough equation, right?

Now let’s drill down a little bit …

Did you do your homework from last week? That is, you were supposed to make a list of all the seemingly worthless knowledge you have and every industry you’ve ever worked in.

If you haven’t already made your list, make it now. Here are some things you should include:

  • Every industry you’ve ever worked in
  • Any topic you consistently google just for the fun of it
  • Any volunteer work you do/have ever done
  • Any sort of business that you feel you understand well, because you patronize it, grew up around it, or follow it for another reason

This is your starting point. Pick an industry associated with something on your list and start checking out websites. Notice which businesses have really great blogs, which ones have horrible blogs, which fall somewhere in between … and which don’t have any blogs.

Spend some time determining what separates the good from the bad.

Which ones are more fun to read? Which ones are a chore?

Which blogs seem more likely to build trust with current and potential customers?

Which blogs seem to have a personality behind them?

The upshot is this: That list is full of a number of opportunities that you could pursue.

However … I must caution you before you start pounding the cyber pavement too much.

Not every opportunity is a good opportunity

Once I realized that companies would pay me to blog, I saw opportunity everywhere: from the coffee shop down the street to any business owner I’d interviewed for stories or rubbed elbows with in the past year.

However, it’s really important to remember that all clients are not created equal. You want to build your client list with a certain amount of precision. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a roster of clients that are going to waste your time and drive you nuts.

So how can you narrow your focus and decide who to approach?

Go back to your list and ask yourself if you have any specialized knowledge about any of the industries listed there. Because while you could probably write about any category on the list, you’re going to make a whole lot more money if you have something to offer that other writers don’t have.

What this looks like

As one example, I was the editor-in-chief of an employment law newsletter for 10 years. Blogging for an employment law firm makes a lot of sense for me. I’m already intimately familiar with employment law so I’m able to fill a need that other writers just walking in off the street might not be able to meet. I’m valuable to my client because I can come up with story ideas, do research, and write blog posts with very little input from their side. Basically, I’m saving them a ton of time that they can then use to work on their core business.

But I don’t just blog for them. I also blog about technology and higher education — both fields that I’ve written about in other capacities over the past few years. The knowledge base that I’ve built up means that I can ask for more money than a writer who isn’t familiar with those fields because I’m bringing more value to the table.

Separating the good and bad clients

Once you have an idea of what industry you’d like to target, go back and check out the websites associated with that industry a little more. You can save yourself a lot of time pitching clients if you’re strategic about who you want to work with.

Here’s what I do: I look for the company that’s already blogging, but is doing a poor job of it. Usually that means they’re not posting regularly, what they’re posting is poorly written, or the content is too high- or low-level for their potential client base.

If I see that, I can surmise a few things:

1. They understand the value of blogging enough to have given it a try, so I’m not going to have to sell them on why blogging is important

2. They’ve probably already figured out that blogging is more work than they thought it would be, so they may be frustrated enough to consider farming it out

Avoid these companies at all costs

Never, ever, ever pitch a company that has never attempted blogging. Even if they understand the value of blogging, they’re likely to be so far behind on the technology curve that they’re going to ask you to do all kinds of things you shouldn’t be doing. Next thing you know, you’ll be re-writing their entire website and trying to hunt down designers and programmers to fix all the other little issues they don’t like about their site. You’re there to write, not to be the website handyman.

I also avoid big companies because I assume they have writers in-house or that I won’t be able to get to the right decisionmaker. Pitching can be time consuming, so I want to focus my energies where I’m more likely to see a payoff sooner.

Yes, you have homework

It may be a snow day here in the greater Philly area, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have homework, suckas. (And you have to do it because I wrote this with two elementary school kids vying for my attention — you kind of owe me now.)

Your assignment: Take the PAYlance Pledge if you haven’t already done so! Then, dig into your list and start researching companies you’d like to blog for. Next week we’re going to talk about how to approach these companies so they’ll not only meet with you, but they’ll see your value.

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See you next week!