Let’s talk about rates, baby!

Sharing the knowledge at our February seminar

By Suzanne (Sue) Bowness

Talking about money may be taboo to some people, but I love it. I think knowledge is power when it comes to this topic, and the more we, as individual writers and editors, share information, the more confident we can be in our negotiations with clients and publications.

I’m moderating this month’s seminar, Let’s Talk Rates! How to Ask for What You’re Worth and Get Paid on Time, and I’m looking forward to hearing the perspectives of three long-time freelancers on pricing, negotiating and getting paid. I’m also hoping to crowd source some of the same from the audience. If you can bring some real examples, I’d love to compare rates on everything from how much various publications pay to what writers at various career stages charge. It would be especially interesting to see the variations across sectors or changes over the years.

Here are three tips I’ve embraced over the years to help you in your thinking about rates:

Start with your desired income and work back to your rate

I think of this as the Paul Lima (www.paullima.ca) calculation, because that’s who I heard it from first. It’s the idea of deciding you want to make $X per year and then calculating how much you need to charge per billable hour. So, if you want to make $50,000 annually, divide that by 52 weeks in a year (or give yourself a couple of weeks off and make it mathematically easier to say 50 weeks). Then, decide how many hours can be billable per week. If you say 20 (which doesn’t include your marketing/invoicing/other business task time),  then $1,000 per week divided by 20 means you need to charge $50 per hour. I think this is a great starting point, with a small amount of consideration for what the market will bear (I’ve always wanted to make $500,000 annually, but I’m not sure that’s realistic!).

Charge on a per project basis

This is a tip I’ve heard from other successful seasoned freelancers and one I use most often: rather than charging hourly, give clients a flat-rate quote. It makes their outlay predictable, and it helps with transparency on both sides. Remember to add in details about what the price includes (I usually note a draft and two revisions) and then suggest an hourly billing rate if the project goes beyond the original scope.

Think hourly

This tip is sort of the reverse of the per project rate. If you are being paid by the antiquated yet persistent per-word rate of the publishing industry, try to think in terms of how long it will take you to complete the task. Compare the time outlay in an assignment that pays $1 per word but requires 15 interviews, versus another that pays 50 cents a word but only requires two interviews. At the same time, it’s helpful to set benchmarks for yourself in terms of a minimum payment. For instance, I try to stick to asking for at least 50 cents a word.

Hopefully, these tips whet your appetite for our February 25 panel! Please come out and share your rates and tips. Together, we will be stronger!

Suzanne (Sue) Bowness is a longtime freelance writer/editor online at www.codeword.ca. She also serves as Ontario Regional Director on PWAC’s national board and as a board member and editor of the Networds blog for PWAC Toronto.