Talking about both time and money is difficult for many writers and other artists. The difficulty is not one that only newbies face. Even experienced professionals may find that bidding on a project that is out of the norm in some way can throw a wrench into their normal estimating procedure.
If you are just starting, or if you are bidding for an opportunity to stretch yourself, knowing what to charge can be a challenge. Price yourself too low and your doormat status broadcasts your desperation for the job. Pricing yourself too high, however, can backfire if you‚re branching out into new territory. If people pay top prices, they expect premium service. Failing to deliver when working for top dollar can cripple your career.
Some ideas for dealing with money issues:
- Know your hourly rate. Too many writers know only what they must make per piece or per diem. I argue that it behooves every professional to know his or her hourly rate. This is not necessarily the “going rate.” It is the number you know ahead of time that will make it worth your while if someone agrees to put you on the clock. Your rate may not be the same for all jobs. If you hate to proofread but love to edit, your proofing rate may be significantly higher than your editing rate.
- Frequently evaluate your rate. This is easy. If you have more work than you can handle, raise your rates. If the world is not beating a path to your door, you may need to reconsider your rates or run a temporary “special” to drum up business.
- Make your invoice work harder. Draft an all-purpose invoice form. In addition to essentials such as your name and contact information (clients must know where to send checks), be sure you include a place to itemize services rendered and the total amount owed. Furthermore, don’t overlook an invoice’s advertising potential. If you proofread, consult, ghost, coach, or edit, mentioning such services on your billing may encourage clients to come to you for more than just writing assignments.
- Count on catastrophe. When estimating how long a project will take, assume that everything possible will go wrong. If you think it will take you 8 hours to edit a screenplay, plan for 12. Or 16. If you think it will take you an hour to write a 500-word article, allow yourself two.
- The client ALWAYS wins. Keep track of the real time you spend on a job. If you over-estimated, bill the client only for the actual time you worked. This shows the client that you are trustworthy (and quick). I also adhere to a rule of “Not-to-Exceed Estimates.” If ˆ God forbid ˆ I underestimate how long a project will take to complete, I don’t make the client pay for my mistake. My clients know up front that as long as a project’s parameters do not change, they will never receive a bill for more than the original estimate. (This rule does not hold true if the client changes his mind in the middle of an assignment, however. Make certain everyone understands that parameter changes mean additional billing.)
- Be prompt and professional. Provide written estimates in a timely manner. When you land the job, do not fail to maintain a regular billing cycle. Don’t ever apologize for sending an invoice. Just get the thing sent out!
Remember, people are accustomed to paying for services rendered. It behooves all working writers to become equally accustomed to estimating and billing for those services in a businesslike, efficient manner.
Ami Hendrickson is a bestselling author, award-winning screenwriter, and educator. She has written for some of the leading horsemen in the world including the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA), hunter trainer and judge Geoff Teall, neurosurgeon Dr. James Warson, and Clinton Anderson of Downunder Horsemanship. Her most recent book is “Beyond a Whisper” for horse trainer Ryan Gingerich, slated for release this spring. She is currently working on “Against the Wind,” an independent feature film on the life of marathon running legend Dick Beardsley. To learn more about her work, visit www.amihendrickson.com.