Setting the rate for our work is the most challenging task to do as a freelancer. It feels like we are torn between the desire to charge what we are worth and the urge to stand out from the competition with low prices. This often adds up to us not charging clients for some essential elements to our work. And in turn, we end up giving away our work for less.
I started my career as a freelance journalist right after graduating from a top ivy league school. Despite all the criticism I got for making this choice at so early stage of my career, I believe that was the right decision as it helped me explore myself as a professional and understand all the options I have to make a career.
The most important skill I learned from my freelance career is how to get paid for appropriately for my work. This had less to do with my academic credibility, but because I was confident about my work. Whether you are a fresher just out of college, an experienced professional, expert in your field of study, or a person really passionate about writing and storytelling. You need to know your value and realise that it’s perfectly reasonable to charge for everything that you do.
Here are the top things that we should be charging for and how to weave them into our quotes without upsetting our client.
Meetings are important and chargeable. We tend to ignore the meeting times as it easily slips through the cracks while we quote a new project. We are still working for our clients during the hour or two that we are on the phone with them. If we don’t charge for it, then that’s the work we’re doing for free.
If you work at an hourly rate, you can simply track the time spent on the phone or video calls and add it to your invoice at the end of the billing period. Usually it is about 5% to 10% of the total cost of the project. For flat-rate projects, you can keep a track of the time you spent in meetings and include that in your total quote or you can separately charge hourly for the meetings.
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Personally, this was the most challenging part to charge as a freelancer. Research makes up just as much, if not more of the time spent on a project as the actual writing does. Writing a blog would take me an hour of dedicated writing time, but what about the 3 hours that I spend on finding the right experts, credible sources and precise data to support the story? All of a sudden, the project gets stretched to 3 times of the time that was originally estimated.
Getting around this part is tricky. Your client will not pay you thrice of what they thought they would if you charge hourly. Similarly, if you’re charging a flat rate, you accidentally end up giving your client a gigantic and unfortunate discount. Neither one is going to help you become a profitable freelancer. The only solution is to be mindful and considering this research time before you give out your quote. Keep in mind that research does not depend on the per word or hourly rate that you are charging, but on the topic that you are writing on.
There is a recent trend in the editorial world where you are asked to send freshly written work samples pertaining to your client. The idea behind it is wise, but it again falls under free work, that we should care as freelancers. By providing fresh samples, we are putting in time, effort and skills that we would for a legitimate paid project, just that it isn’t paid in this case as it has to serve to prove your credibility.
Be specific about the samples that you send. If you are asked to send samples before making the deal, then inform your clients that you would send your original work that you have already produced. Tell them that you are more than willing to write fresh samples specific to them, as long as they consider it as your first submission and pay you for the same. At times, it is acceptable to send free fresh samples in case you are asked to write about a topic you have not covered already. But even in this case, make sure that your clients does not publish that piece without your permission, and pays you appropriately if they choose to. If need be, explain your motive behind the demand to make them understand.
Revisions are a crucial and indispensable part of the editorial world. Whether that is adding a sentence or two to the article or completely restructuring the story, revisions take up time, just like research.
The best I figured for myself is to allow for an hour of revision time per article, even for clients who rarely request edits. This way, there is a built-in cushion in case someone wanted me to revise a story before publishing, which was included in the quote and the deadline. I usually charged a 40% revision charge for cases that I had to redo the entire article or if the revision took more than a days worth of work. I choose this proportion based on the quality of my work and experience in the industry.
Find a time range that fits best for you and make sure your clients are aware of your working methodology. This will also help to limit the revisions allowed in your contract. Set a threshold for how many edit rounds you offer and propose extended rates if a client wants more.
Although a management term by origin, scope creep is very common in freelance writing and should be accounted for. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, this happens when a client requests more work than what was decided in the original contract. It usually happens when the client is unsure of what to ask you for, and hence it is their responsibility to consider its offsets.
It seems like a few tiny tasks of adding a couple more post into the social media calendar or giving supplementary social media captions to go with your article, but before you know it, it snowballs out of control and you end up doing free work again.
Mitigate this by having a set rate for scope creep, so that when and if the situation arises, you are ready for it. You can charge an hourly rate for the extra work and add it to the cost of your quote, or charge an extra percentage of the original project specifically for the scope creep. Be sure that you include an allowance for this in your contract and remind your clients of the fee when they request the extra work to eliminate unpleasantries when you send in your invoice.
Access and Tools
I have worked on photo stories that need Adobe Photoshop, interactive stories that require coding, and data stories that require paid access to data sources. Although these were supplementary to my story, I had to put in resources to get access to these tools.
Charge a fee for these elements that you use to complete your clients’ project. Know what you would require for the project, and quote accordingly. Remember that every freelance story does not need this, hence only charge when and where absolutely necessary.
Plenty of times, I have struggled to get paid on time, and so have all the other freelancers. Late payments are default considerations in the freelancing world. However, we ought to do something to fix it.
A late payment fee comes handy in such cases. Be sure to include such fees in the contract and invoice. Mention it to the clients when signing the contract so that both parties are on board about expectations and consequences. After getting too many hits to my bank account, I decided to charge a 10% late payment penalty on all my projects. Since adopting the policy, I haven’t had one client who sent in a late payment, and that’s how I know it works.
Cancellations rarely happen. But at worst, you might get a client who cancels your project out of the blue. It happened to me thrice and took a hit on my efforts, time, resources and finances. When you don’t have a cushion of savings, a client cancelling can leave you between a rock and a financial hard place.
Cancellation fees do not fix this completely, but it helps to the monetary recovery. Include a section on cancellation in your contract specifying the notice period that your client must give before cancelling, and charge a fee if they cancel within that time frame. A business would ideally have a 30 day notice period for a monthly contract, and major publication houses usually have a weeks’ notice before cancelling a story. They additionally charge a cancellation fee of 50% to 60% of the total contract which offers a cushion time to find a replacement client without having to worry about projected income. Alternatively, ask for an advance fees of about 20% of the total charge to offset the chances of cancellation. Even though you are freelance, treat yourself as a business!
I have often gotten clients asking me for time-critical stories or to fill in for urgent projects. Most of the time, such projects come during the festival season when one hopes to spend time with family and loved ones. At times, I’ve been asked to deliver something in rush time even on public holidays
Work-life balance is important, not just for corporates, but equally or even more for freelancers. If a client asks you to complete work faster than your standard turnaround time or over a weekend or holiday, you are well within your rights to charge them a rush fee. You’re working more than usual and even make sacrifices for such a project. At first, decide whether the project is worth making the compromise and if you still wish to pursue it, then be sure to get paid appropriately for the efforts and time you put in. The rush fee does not make up for your sacrifices, but it does help in giving you an incentive to go above and beyond for your client.
Freelance writing isn’t an easy or alternate career option. It definitely isn’t FREE. Know your value, set your worth and confidently stick to your merits to get the most out of your freelancing career.