Whether you’re just dipping your toes into the freelance writer world or you’ve established yourself with set of regular clients, you will always find yourself learning new things and that means that you will always have questions. It’s just a fact of life. However, another fact of life is that you have access to the Internet and an entire world of expert professionals who answer questions online for free.
Enter: this post, where you can tap into the insight of 10 writing pros as they give final answers to the toughest freelance writer questions out there.
The answer might not be perfect for your situation — and there may even be other answers — but based on the reputation and experience of these established writers and my own experience replacing my full-time income as a writer, their answers are definitely worth thinking about. And if you disagree, you should definitely voice your perspective in the comments below.
1. How much should I charge? Do I charge by the hour or by the project?
If you need to make ends meet after a layoff or you want to feel out what it’s like to run your own freelance writing business, figure out your bottom line and build an hourly around that. Men With Pens writing expert James Chartrand insists that the minimum hourly rate freelance writers should charge is $50.
This may seem high — especially if you’re transitioning from a salaried position — but it’s known as a loaded rate and it allows you to take care of all the things an employer would usually do for you (retirement benefits, days off, healthcare, etc). Linda Formichelli goes into this concept in depth in her fantastic post here.
However, when the time comes that you want to make a lot of money writing, experts all over the place recommend you switch to project rates. The master of billing, Mike McDerment of Freshbooks, can get you started with the why and the how behind this idea in his eBook “Breaking the Time Barrier.”
To elaborate on what McDerment shares in the eBook, it’s all about value. If you write something that helps a company earn $10,000 (an ad or a press release, say), do you think it’s fair to be paid $50 for one hour of your time?
If you write something that helps a company earn $10,000 (an ad or a press release, say), do you think it’s fair to be paid $50 for one hour of your time?
Charging by project allows you to tap into the long-term value of what you do. Charging by project also means you don’t have to waste time tracking time, and you can make more money when you work quickly (instead of less). The ultimate reward is that you’re the one who benefits when you get better at what you do…. not someone who is paying you hourly.
2. Should I write for free?
Alexis Grant, a very successful journalist turned marketing and publishing consultant, says “Definitely.” She is emphatic that writing for free scores much-needed boosts in visibility and networking, and that writers should focus on self-branded eBooks and courses instead of getting paid to write.
But just to make things difficult, let’s get another specialist to weigh in: Joshua Foust of JoshuaFoust.com (and the New York Times, for that matter) says “No.” While Foust has written for free or for exposure in the past, he doesn’t think it’s worth it overall and he recommends writers fight to get paid for the work they do.
The answer lies somewhere in the middle, but the point is that you need to carefully evaluate every opportunity and make sure there’s some benefit to you, whether that’s link-building, list-building, or exposure.
If you’re taking on so much free work that you can’t pay your bills, there’s a deeper problem you need to address.
If you’re taking on so much free work that you can’t pay your bills, there’s a deeper problem you need to address. Either you need to expand your offerings to monetize these opportunities or you need to realize your target market isn’t buying and find a new one.
3. How do I budget an irregular income?
Carrie from Careful Cents is here to the rescue with detailed tips for making an irregular income work. She encourages you to focus on creating a few versions of your budget (for lean months and heavy months) and getting your habits in check.
As a personal finance writer, I can offer my own two cents here, too: save enough money to make your income regular. It will take a little time and patience (and sacrifice), but once you set up a bare bones minimum budget, do what you need to do to store up two or three times that in a savings account.
Do what you need to do to store up two or three times your minimum monthly income in a savings account.
That way — as you wait on net 30 invoices and checks in the mail — you can make sure you have a “regular” pay check when you need it.
4. How do I connect with better paying clients?
High-earning writers skip the content mills and $10-per-post blogs to hunt for high-paying clients. But sometimes it seems like they’re few and far between.
Have you ever stopped to consider that it’s not about where you’re looking… it’s about what you’re putting out there? The problem might be that you aren’t ready for high-paying clients.
The first thing you should do is go to the library or hop onto Amazon for client-getting expert Michael Port’s book, Book Yourself Solid. In this book, he lays out the concept of how to build your freelance service business in a way that attracts red carpet clients, He walks you through the things you need to think about and do to create an environment where the clients you want meet you and say, “Yes, please!”.
Once your business is ready for business, so to speak, that’s when you can start taking action toward finding well-paying clients. Start by reviewing your typical writing job boards like Problogger, Blogging Pro, and Morning Coffee Newsletter once per week, but be on the lookout for warning signs that indicate a low-paying or disrespectful job:
- The listing requests a resume (There are some exceptions, but often this indicates a “Hire and Fire” attitude that won’t pay well)
- The listing has weird requirements (“In exactly 45 words, tell us why you’re a good writer” or “We’ll have you take five writing tests before we consider hiring you”)
- The listing shares low payment terms (If they share straight-out that they don’t pay well, don’t waste your time thinking you can talk them up)
Once you land a client that pays well, your work isn’t over.
Once you land a client that pays well, your work isn’t over. The final, ultimate step is to do amazing work for this client… and then ask for referrals. Since like attracts like, your clients have friends, family, and business partners who might need your services and who likely are willing to pay the same rates if not more. Tap into your network of happy customers to dig up opportunities with like-minded people.
5. How do I tell a client bad news? (I’m raising my prices, I’m charging a rush fee, etc)
If you stay in business for any period of time, you will eventually have to deliver some bad news. It might be really bad news, like “I missed a deadline” (which means you need to follow these steps from Careful Cents). Or it could be kind of good bad news, like “I am raising my rates” (which Marie Forleo and Ramit Sethi cover in this video). Or it might be sanity (and business) saving bad news like “I’m now charging a rush rate” (which Millo.co can help you establish in this post).
If you stay in business for any period of time, you will eventually have to deliver some bad news.
But the theme that all of this expert advice has in common can stand on its own to help you address any situation that comes along: it’s not about the bad news you deliver, it’s about how you deliver it.
It’s not about the bad news you deliver, it’s about how you deliver it.
When you communicate bad news, your tone and style is the most important part. If you deliver the news with consideration, outrageous honesty, and a long-term implementation period, you can alleviate almost any tense situation.
Here’s an example of part of an email I sent to a client to announce a raise in my rates:
That’s quite a jump, I know, but it’s because I’ve maintained the same rate for almost two years now! To make up for the sudden change, I wanted to provide a good pad of time: this rate change won’t go into effect until July 1st of this year and you’re welcome to pre-pay as many posts as you plan to need through the rest of the year at the current rate.
Are These Your Final Answers?
Now, it’s your turn! Are these the final answers to these questions, or do you have another opinion? And if you have another tough question, be sure to leave it in the comments below!