Sticking to Your Rate in a Market With Writers Willing to Work for Peanuts By Lindsay Pietroluongo

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It is my personal opinion that, when you set your mind to it, you can buy anything for less. Some things are pretty much the same when costs are cut. Store brand bottled water, secondhand books and 99 cent clear nail polish are just as good for me as their fancier, pricier counterparts. This line of thinking does not hold true for writing. To look at the market, though, you’d be skeptical. “Why should I pay Writer A $40 for an article when Writer B will do it for $4?” There seem to be more writers willing to work for bare bones payment than those who clearly view their writing with some esteem. The solution is simple: with writing, you get what you pay for. Now, how do you set a rate that goes against the masses and still attract consumers?

Reinforce Your Rate

How to determine an hourly or per-project rate could take up a whole other blog post. Assuming that you’ve written out your budget, factored in taxes, padded your price just to play it safe and come up with a number after also accounting for vacation time and yearly billable hours, most of your job is done. The only things left to do are answer these three questions:

  1. 1. Am I charging what I’m worth? If you’ve been a content writer for three years, you can charge more than a college graduate who’s just penning their first few articles.
  2. Am I charging what the piece is worth? You may only be asking for $75 for a press release, but this integral piece of business writing should maybe be valued higher.
  3. Do my rates fairly compare with the market? You can find rates for just about any writing project, including what’s high, what’s low, hourly charges and complete project prices. Ignore the embarrassingly low rates ($1 per 100 words, for example) and look at what seems reasonable.

You’re really doing this all for yourself, not your clients. In the end, the price you set for a bio, brochure or blog post is your price, bottom line. However, having the answers to those three questions will boost your confidence as you negotiate with clients and arm you with the knowledge you’ll undoubtedly need when you’re being pressured to cut your quote in half.

Choose Quality Over Quantity

You can’t try to sell your clients on recognizing quality when they see it if you don’t do the same thing. You have to state your rate and then wait for a response. Saying, “I charge ten cents per word,” and then filling in the awkward silence with, “B-b-but for you, five cents per word!” will A) make you look unsure of your writing ability and B) push you into a deal you’re no longer going to benefit from. You’re advising potential customers to invest the money necessary to get back something worthy, right? As a writer, you also have to spend the time necessary to reel in quality clients. That could mean more hours wheeling and dealing and a higher percentage of projects that never make it past the negotiation stage. But it also means that you’ll eventually find clients who are willing to pay your asking price for your services. The more of these clients you get, the more efficient you’ll be as a professional writer.

Arrange for Backup

As a freelance writer, you’re also a contractor, which means that slow weeks or months are inevitable. No matter how many jobs you have lined up at one point, your career is going to see its winter sooner or later. You need a backup plan you can live with and live off. Here’s the catch: you probably won’t be able to earn your regular asking price for this work. That’s why you really have to be okay with whatever it is you choose to do when clients are sparse. The good news is that when you know you have a temporary job waiting in the wings when you need to save your budget, you won’t have to take other crummy jobs in the meantime.

For me, my backup is a website with a bottomless pool of articles. It’s no fun making one-third of my normal rate, but the work and pay are both reliable, the website takes care of its writers by making it difficult for clients to take advantage and I can make ends meet with my earnings. There are two secrets to this arrangement:

  1. I only use my backup when I really need it. That way, I don’t get stressed and overwhelmed by working so much more for so much less pay.
  2. I don’t waste my time looking for an endless supply of clients to fall back on. I have my main backup website and a second one just in case the first goes down. Otherwise, my free time is spent finding high paying clients, not trying to replace my the low paying clients I already have.

Lindsay Pietroluongo is a full time Freelance Writer in the Hudson Valley, New York. Since 2007, her nightlife column NightSpots has been published in the Poughkeepsie Journal. Her work has also been featured in various newspapers, magazines and websites across the country. Lindsay works with both professional and creative clients on projects ranging from business profiles to Internet video scripts. Visit her website at lindsayontherocks.com.