I have been a freelance writer for over 12 years. My first real, paid writing “gig” was as the Managing Editor of my college’s small literary magazine. I was also a writer for our college newspaper – a pretty big deal to 20-year-old me. My stipend was only $100/month, but as I typically write in my discovery emails to potential new clients: “not bad for a college kid.”
Since those collegiate years, I’ve worked in-house for large-scale corporations, like Hautelook (a division of Nordstrom), worked as a ghosteditor for a client via The Huffington Post, worked remotely as a freelance writer, and started my own writing and consulting agency, Girl.Copy.
Wearing so many hats over the past 12 years means I have both raised and lowered my rates. I like to think I’m not precious about rates and that I don’t nickel-and-dime my clients, but I also understand the need for writers and artists to charge what they’re worth – and I try to do the same! I know where my weaknesses lie, and I know what I’m good at.
But here’s the thing that writers don’t often talk about: there aren’t really any “industry standards” when it comes to charging as a freelance writer. Anyone who tells you otherwise is basing their opinion on 1.) what they’ve seen others charge or 2.) advertising rates (i.e., copywriting rates). But not every freelance writer is a copywriter per se – in 2019, the term “copywriter” is almost a generalized term. This is why I state that there aren’t really any industry rates – because if you’re a specialized writer, you’re kind of a unicorn in the biz.
But I digress! You clicked on this post because you’re probably just starting out as an entry-level writer, or wondering how you can gracefully raise your rates. Never fear! Below is a step-by-step instructional on how to charge what you’re worth, and/or how you can raise your rates without scaring away your current clients, including links to credible websites you can send your clients to if they question your rates (hint: they’re not the right clients if they question your rates!).
You’ll also notice that many writers have varying opinions on what to charge for which experience level – the below rates based on experience level and what I consider to be beginner, intermediate, professional, expert is simply my own opinions after spending several years in various industries as a writer, so feel free to read on and ultimately, draw your own conclusions!
Let me know your thoughts in the comments post-read.
Entry-Level Freelancer: 1-6 Years of Experience
If you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, you’ll want to keep your rates fairly low to build up your business – but not too low. Don’t work for free! It doesn’t matter if you have barely anything in your portfolio; you likely got into this business because you’re a good writer, so charge for it!
You can even look on craigslist for remote writing work – the rates may be low, but they can help you build up your resume. And if you have an official writing business or agency, even if it’s just you, register at least as a sole proprietorship, get a dba (Doing Business As), and an EIN. This will help you come tax time, and make you look more official/legitimate.
What to Charge:
Per word: .10c-.15c per word
Per hour: $15-$25/hour
Why: You’ll find resources all over the Internet citing that you can charge as low as .01c/word or $9/hour for freelance writing services – if you’re a beginner. I say that’s bunk! Unless you’re in the middle-of-nowhere America, $9/hour isn’t going to cover the cost of your overheard, meaning: your rent/mortgage, utilities bills, groceries, insurance, or car payment.
Like I stated above, demand what you’re worth, even if your portfolio is wanting.
Intermediate Freelancer: 7-10 Years of Experience
I know I felt a deep sense of relief when I got past the five-year mark as a writer – or at least, I would have, if I had officially started my business at that point (which I hadn’t)! Once you’re mid-level, you can raise your rates, because you’ve likely garnered enough experience to do so.
Don’t have a fancy resume with the New York Times as a “client”? It doesn’t matter – as long as you have the work experience to backup your rates, name brands don’t really affect what you charge. Remember, this is all made up, so charge what makes the most sense for you.
Again, think about your overhead and how much money you want to make this year. Factor in not only time spent writing, but time spent researching and going back-and-forth with clients on edits. How many edits are you providing? One? Two? Three? Make sure it’s fair for both you and them.
Also, ask for reviews from your happiest clients! A Yelp, Facebook, or Google review goes a long way, believe me. Once you start getting noticed on those platforms, chances are news outlets will reach out to feature you – which can lead to even more business.
What to Charge:
Per word: .20c-.40c/word
Per hour: $30-$45/hour
Why: You’ve likely built up a decent portfolio at this point, so why not charge for it? Businesses need writers to sell services. If what you write generates $100,000 in business for a company, then they shouldn’t be turning up their noses at rates like the ones above!
Professional Freelancer: 10+ Years of Experience
Once you hit the professional stage of freelancing – and in this case, I’m counting “professional” as more than 10 years of paid writing experience – you can start setting your rates much higher than before.
If you haven’t already started a business at this point, I would advise that you do so! You can even turn your LLC or sole proprietorship into a S-corp, which will save you a ton of money on taxes. Find an awesome accountant, and ask him or her about the aforementioned. They’ll be impressed that you did your research!
But even if you’re in a good spot, rates-wise, don’t stop hustling. Building your business and saving smartly is key to having a long-lasting career as a writer.
What to Charge:
Per word: .50c-$1/word
Per hour: $50-$100/hour
Why: This is the primo spot to be in, in my opinion. As a writer on a professional level, you have the flexibility of charging premium rates because again, your portfolio is probably pretty robust; but you also are able to raise and lower rates as needed. That “as needed” part is paramount, as remote writers go through so many transient periods – you’re either fully flush or living paycheck-to-paycheck a lot of the time as a freelancer, so being flexible on your rates is key.
Expert Freelancer: 20+ Years of Experience
Once of my former clients was a hiring firm, and we had a term for folks with over 20 years of experience: eagles. It wasn’t a commentary on receding hairlines so much as they were A-players in their field, hence the term. I, for one, cannot wait to be an eagle. Having that level of expertise, and thinking about all of the cool stuff I’m going to write and great clients I’m going to continue to work for is thrilling! And – not going to lie – increasing my rates is always appealing.
Think about increasing your rates in terms of simply changing with the economic times. If other businesses can do it, why can’t yours?
What to Charge:
Per word: $1+/hour
Per hour: $120+/hour
Why: Man, I am stoked for Future Me, because she’s going to charge $120/hour (and not have to work in a highly technical field, like medicine, because that’s not the writing genre for me!)! But seriously, many writers do charge these higher rates, and as well they should.
Even if you have less than 20 years of experience, you can certainly charge rates above $120/hour or above $1/word, especially if you work in a field like tech, medicine, or pharmaceuticals. People do pay the big bucks for subjects that no one else wants to – or can – write about, so keep that in mind when setting your rates – and happy writing!
P.S. – Need Some Freelance Writing Niche Ideas?
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