The Type Of Freelance Writing Clients You Encounter At Various Price Points
How the market changes at various price points on the way up the pricing ladder
I’ve written previously about the various ways you can charge for freelance writing work.
My Guides To Finding Clients and Pricing Freelance Writing Work
To continue with the process of indexing I initiated yesterday, here’s an ordered list to some bits of information I…
The common options are:
- Pricing per word
- Pricing per project
- Pricing per hour
- Retainer pricing
Pricing per word and pricing per project are both charging based upon an output. Pricing per hour is pricing based upon a unit of time. Retainer pricing, when you think about it, is really just a kind of project pricing: you get paid a recurring amount for a fixed set of deliverables (typically).
I (personally) don’t recommend pricing per word unless you’re churning out lots and lots of low-rate content (and the brute force method is also an approach that I don’t recommend). But I do think that it makes for a good yardstick of comparison.
I charge project rates which I put together based on a time estimate for each job. I can calculate a per-word equivalent (PWE?) based on these to see where what I’m charging stacks up against the market.
Recently, I completed my first freelance content writing project for which my PWE was slightly above $1 per word — a traditional benchmark in the publishing industry for reasonably well-compensated work.
Having finally made it all the way from near the bottom of the scale to a significant milestone, I thought I’d throw together my quick thoughts on the type of work you’re likely to attract at various price points along the ladder.
For those who retain their own clients, and are working from countries with reasonably expensive costs of living, $0-$0.10 (cents per word / CPW in USD) represents the bottom of the market.
Of course even here there’s a ten-fold difference (between $0.01 CPW and $0.10 CPW). My very first rate, for anybody wondering, was $0.08 CPW. I charged this to put together the video descriptions about how to microwave burgers that provided my ignominious entry to the world of freelance writing. Those were interesting days.
At this rate, most writers would need to rely on pretty serious volume in order to make a full-time living from their writing.
Clients at this price are typically SEO buyers: affiliate marketing sites with bulk needs and the like. Quantity and the speed at which writers can turnaround passable text is typically the concern rather than quality.
Let’s take a look at the next decile on the way up the ladder.
To get a sense for what kind of rate we’re talking about here, I like to quote a number based on a 1,000 word blog post — because it makes it easy to see what kind of money these numbers actually work out to.
At $0.14/word a 1,000 word blog post would net you $140.
For most writers, $70/hour isn’t a bad hourly rate. Sure it’s not top tier, but it’s enough to amount to a reasonable annual income.
Assuming that’s your hourly, you’d be able to allow yourself two hours for this blog project. Don’t forget that that would also need to include revisions and the back and forth with the client — and I’d subtract 20 minutes for the latter alone.
As the above makes clear, I think it’s fair to say that at this rate you’re still looking at “churnalism” being the only way to make these kind of rates work.
(Often) the SEO buyers who think that they’re paying generously for “content.” Many writers can make this kind of rate work but speed and quantity are going to be prerequisites.
At $0.25 CPW our 1,000 word blog post is now netting us $250 in revenue.
At our $70/hour hourly rate, we now have (rounding) 3.5 hours to complete the project.
These kind of rates still aren’t what I would consider top tier (or close to it). But for simple blogging projects (and the like) that don’t require much in the way of revision (or any at all) these rates can actually be pretty solid.
3.5 hours — roughly half a workday — should be enough for most writers to complete basic blog posts. You could probably even squeeze in one revision if you could get the first draft turned around in under 3 hours.
At this kind of rate, we’re starting to see non-SEO buyers enter the picture. Of course, everybody buying writing tends to be concerned about SEO. But other objectives for writing — like actually creating useful information for humans — tend to become part of the picture here as well. Non-pure SEO buyers might be a better term of art.
If you asked me to name the price point at which freelance writing clients are the most difficult to work with, guess which one I’d pick (based on my five years’ experience to date)?
The market’s bottom at $0.08/word?
Actually no. Expectations there tend to be low and if you can drink enough coffee and type sufficiently quickly these can get you going in the market and building up a portfolio.
The most difficult clients I have encountered have all — not coincidentally — been in this range at $0.30-$0.40/word.
For what it’s worth, I still do a significant chunk of work at this price bracket. But my experience has been my experience.
Why do the thirties seem to attract a disproportionate share of bad clients? I think the reason is that at this price point clients feel like they’re paying an awful lot for writing and feel entitled to be extremely demanding. If you hear the “we’ll pay it, but for this price it better good” line then you’re probably in for trouble.
At these kind of budgets, we’re beginning to have enough time to actually work on quality writing. At the middle of this range — $0.35/word — our 1,000 word blog post is now netting us $350 in revenue. Using our $70/hour target, we now have exactly 5 hours to turn around the job.
That’s enough, if you ask me, to put together something halfway decent with time for one decent round of revisions. But it’s still — in my opinion — reasonably tight.
Small organizations and startups that are investing in writing for the first time. They tend to choose these kind of numbers deliberately to get themselves beyond the rookie levels.
Where do the quality freelance writing clients start cropping up in the pricing table?
I’d argue you need to get into the forties before you start feeling like you’re out of the range of the price buyers. And out of that range — and into the fiefdom of the value buyers — is really where you want to get.
At these kind of prices, organizations are starting to allocate some decent budget to writing deliverables. Which communicates that they value writing and are prepared to invest in quality.
Based on my experience, you’ll see a lot of medium-sized organizations at this price point. Ironically, the enterprise clients of this world tend to farm out an enormous volume of work though sprawling agency networks who often need to squeeze down the writers to preserve their profit margins. Which means that you can find yourself in the odd position of writing for household name clients for crummy rates.
I like the forties. At these rates, it’s beginning to not feel like a frantic rush to put together quality writing deliverables while keeping one eye on the clock. I have time to actually spend an hour poring over a draft outline to make sure that what I’m going to write flows in a cohesive order. Clients tend to be decent to work with too. Overall, a win-win situation.
As above, medium sized orgs that want to actually create something halfway decent to impress prospects. We’re already typically past the range of the pure SEO buyers.
I’m wrapping up my pricing observations with a range that encompasses half the scale towards the $1/word rate for a specific reason:
Most of my blogging work — even these days, as I write this — is in the $0.30-$0.50/word range.
I’ve done projects for more. But I typically don’t stray too far beyond that. So I don’t have enough datapoints to make conclusive observations about the type of clients you encounter at each price point.
Most of my work in this range also isn’t blogging. It’s case studies and white papers. These tend to be research and process-heavy such that — if you’re not careful — even $1/word can end up not being such a great rate from a time perspective.
When would I quote $0.60-$0.70/word for, say, that 1,000 word blog? The type of buyer here would be an organization looking for something really good on a complicated topic that’s going to be sent to people with domain expertise (think B2B sales and the like).
They might insist that I budget for two rounds of revisions so I’d have to work this into the quote. And I’m also making sure that I’m budgeting enough time for an outline revision process as well as my own desk research. Possibly an SME interview too.
To run the breakdown one more time: at $0.65/word the 1,000 word blog nets us $650 in revenue. That gets us 9 hours (roughly) at $70/hour. So these kind of rates aren’t as astronomically high as they may appear to some. Breaking down the numbers in this manner is one way to see that.
A lot of B2B organizations who realize that they need to allocate decent budgets in order to get important “content” assets like white papers and e-books produced professionally. Higher-end blog buyers too.
Finally, the best kept secret in the freelance writing business (I kid, it’s not really a secret):
As you begin charging more you find that — to your amazement — clients actually get easier and more pleasant to work with and are less demanding.
Of course you want to do your best possible work at all levels on the pricing ladder.
But it’s worth charging more just to work with organizations and people who value what you do and are prepared to back it with reasonable budget.