What To Charge if You Are a Freelancer: Advice from Laurie Lewis

Wednesday, February 01, 2012
A problem freelance writers and editors often have when clients approach them or they answer an ad is what to charge. If you're a freelancer, how much is your writing expertise worth? If you charge too much, you might lose the client. If you charge too little, then you are working for pennies and not paying your bills.

Luckily, we have a solution, and it's Laurie Lewis! She has written two books about this common problem. She is here with us today to tell us all about her books and how freelancers can use them to figure out what to charge or even to discover if your clients are offering you a fair fee for your work!

Even better, Laurie is giving away one copy of What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants! If you are interested in winning this book, in either print or digital form, then leave a comment or question below by Monday, February 6.

Here's a little about Laurie: she has enjoyed life as a freelance medical writer and editor since 1985. Her freelance business has been so successful that she can live comfortably in New York, one of the most expensive cities in the country. She has shared her expertise in editing and freelance fee setting in workshops and presentations from coast to coast. We are lucky enough to get to pick her brain right on The Muffin today!So, let's go.

WOW: Welcome, Laurie, to The Muffin. We are so glad you are here with us today to talk about your books. Your subject is one that many freelancers need to know. Tell us, who do you recommend should read What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants?

Laurie: Every freelancer, whether she is just starting out or has been in business for many years, will find What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants a useful, even an eye-opening book. I'm not being immodest. This is what readers have told me. I'm especially moved when I hear this from writers who have been freelancing for decades. They'll often say something like, "I wish I had this book when I started out;" or "Thanks to your strategies, my business has really taken off."

WOW: That's great news! No matter what your level of freelancing is, you can find value in this book. Why do you think freelancers have such a hard time knowing how much to charge?

Laurie: If you ask most freelance writers for a one-word definition of themselves, they'll say "writer," not "freelancer." We emphasize our interest and ability in putting words together, not in managing a business. Some freelancers are even surprised when you point out that freelancing is a business. Part of running a business, of course, is making money and figuring out what to charge.
WOW: You really know your audience. It sometimes takes us years to learn that writing is not just creative--you have to have a business mind, too. When a freelance writer or editor is applying for a job and the client wants them to quote a price, what are three things the freelancer should consider when preparing the quote?

Laurie: Funny you should ask that, because my new e-book, Freelance Fee Setting: Quick Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOW, focuses on this very point: the three things freelancers should consider when pricing a job. The first thing a freelancer should do is to gather as much information as possible about the job. That includes nailing down the specifics of the job and finding out the going rate for this type of assignment. The second thing to consider is the pricing method. What will work best in this situation: an hourly fee, a project rate, or some other method? The final thing to have in mind before naming your price is your negotiating strategy. Too often when a client objects to a fee and suggests a lower price, the freelancer gives in immediately--not a good idea.

WOW: I always think, "My time is worth it!" But sometimes, I give in too easily, too. Thank you for pointing that out. There are probably several of us that need to hear that advice. Does your book actually tell freelancers what to charge, depending on the job or their experience?

Laurie: No, neither of my books gives freelancers the exact dollar figure to charge. That would be impossible because of all the variables. What to Charge, offers pricing strategies that help freelancers determine the best price for the circumstances. My little e-book, Freelance Fee Setting, guides the freelancer with lists of items to consider when pricing.

WOW: Sounds very helpful! Are things changing for freelancers because we are in the middle of a recession? How can freelancers still make a decent living?

Laurie: The recession has greatly affected freelancers. For one thing, the freelance pool has expanded tremendously with people who were laid off from staff jobs. The deepening of the pool, filled with new freelancers who are willing to work at any price, has resulted in lower rates and more competition for jobs. Fewer jobs are available because those who might hire freelancers are holding back to keep their budgets under control, often doing the work themselves or bringing in interns or others who will work for next to nothing.

Despite these forces, many freelancers are still making a decent living. Some with specialized niches are doing very well, although specialization can backfire if the industry segment is hard hit. Think financial writers. Freelancers willing to explore new avenues and expand beyond their usual area stand to do best in the recession. Isn't that entrepreneurial spirit what freelancing is about?

WOW: In other words, you may have to change with the times, but you can still have success! How does your e-book, Freelance Fee-Setting: Quick Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOW, differ from your book, What to Charge?

Laurie: What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants covers the entire scope of freelance pricing: what to consider before quoting a fee, what to do while on the job, and how to analyze your pricing experience when the work is done. Freelance Fee Setting: Quick Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOW looks only at the first part of the picture. I wrote it because I am often approached by panicky freelancers who need help pricing a job ASAP. They feel the client breathing down their necks. They need quick guidance, not an entire book on freelance pricing from A to Z. Freelance Fee Setting uses a quick-access format: questions, pros and cons lists, and bullet points. What to Charge is filled with detailed examples that illustrate pricing strategies and offers templates that freelancers can adapt to their own needs.

WOW: Thank you for that very clear explanation. I think Muffin readers will now know exactly which book will help them with their careers--or maybe they need both. Where can freelancers find your books?

Laurie: What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants is available in print and electronic format from online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Outskirts Press. Freelance Fee Setting: Quick Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOW is available in electronic format only because a freelancer in need of quick help doesn't have time to wait for a print copy. It is debuting this month on Smashwords, which both sells directly to readers and distributes to vendors of all e-book devices.

WOW: Remember, Muffin readers, we are also giving a copy away of What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants. Anyone can enter to win the book by leaving a comment or question for Laurie below by Monday, February 6. We will randomly choose a winner on Tuesday, February 7 and post the winner here, in the comments section. Please include your e-mail address with your comment, so we can easily contact you.

Laurie, thank you for giving away a copy. Is there anything else you'd like to add to help freelancers?

Laurie: I could go on forever! But I know your readers are anxious to get back to their writing, so let's stop here.

WOW: Thank you, Laurie, for sharing your wisdom with us! I know these are two handbooks that freelancers NEED on their shelves--physical and electronic. (smiles)

Leave your comments and questions below for a chance to win. . .

interview by Margo L. Dill


Unknown said...

This sounds like a great resource book for my electronic library -- and perfect information for where I am in my writing career. Please enter me in the random drawing.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Thanks for the helpful advice, Laurie, and the great questions, Margo.

On occasion it's taken months to receive payment after a freelance job is finished. My method of requesting payment after fees are negotiated and the job is completed is an e-mail, then a follow-up, and a third if needed. It's frustrating to wait as long as three or four months to get paid for a job. I'm thinking there's a better way.

My question is: How do you bill for services--e-mail, invoice, some other method?

Oh, and I would love to receive a print copy of Laurie's book on what to charge/price strategies.

Donna Volkenannt

allena said...

I'm asked this question constantly at freelancewrite.about.com! In fact, if I don't win the contest, I'd love to talk to Laurie about reviewing the book anyway. I've got a huge audience of freelancers and can send traffic specs via email. Contact me, Laurie, at Allena at gardenwallpublications dot come or at my About.com addy.

Anonymous said...

I would love to win a copy of What to Charge. I find myself holding back from jobs when I'm not sure of what to charge--this would be a wonderful birthday present (on the 7th) and perhaps make my next year more productive!

Margo Dill said...

Donna, great question! I would love to hear the answer, too. Since I'm not eligible for the drawing, I think I am going to have to get myself a copy of this book! Laurie's interview is so great, and I can only imagine her book will be that much more informative.

Karen B said...

Finally a book we can take some solid advice from. It is surely to be informative and helpful for us! Thanks Laurie for writing this book, as I know it will be of great use to me. For those starting out, it can be a struggle and a challenge to find your self-financial worth and at the same time your courage to state your needs to cover your efforts. Please accept my congratulations on this publishing accomplishment!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Hi Donna,

When I was working full time as a freelance graphic designer I experienced that problem all the time because I worked for billion dollar corporations in the action sports industry. First you HAVE to submit a professional printed invoice, clearly stating your payment terms (30 days is the standard). Their accounting departments will receive it and do a little song and dance to put off paying invoices for as long as they can. It's not unusual for them to start *thinking* about paying for an invoice 3 months after it's due! So, in my experience, the ONLY thing that lights a fire is a phone call to accounting. Actually, persistent phone calls. I got to know everyone who worked in the accounting departments of companies I contracted for. Everything else (like e-mail) can be ignored. But after a little while, they began paying regularly, and on time because they didn't want me to follow up with a call. ;)

(Laurie, if there is an easier way, please let us know!)

Meg Karydes said...

Great information. I started freelancing writing and consulting several years ago and I did research before I started quoting clients. Another approach is to ask friends who hire people like you what they expect to pay for certain services. Before I branched out on my own I had been in the hiring position so not only did I have a general idea of rates, but how to ASK a potential client about their budget, timeline, etc. Books like these help lessen that learning curve and we are all learning how to do our jobs better as well as service our clients better! -Megy; email: Megy (at) karydesconsulting (dot) com.

Ruth said...

Hi Laurie,
What if you request $300 for an article, and the magazine says their budget is $275. Do you still negociate?
Your book sounds good for people without business skills.

Maryann said...

Thank you for this insight, Laurie! I'm wondering how much weight credentials (e.g. degrees) have in pricing? Maryann (roebuck_mary@hotmail.com).

Anonymous said...

This is Laurie Lewis, not Anonymous. For some reason, I can't post a comment under my own name without getting an error message.

Donna, you asked about collecting from slow-paying clients. Angela's response is right on target. What it boils down to is that you sometimes need to make a pest of yourself to get what you are rightfully due. Some other nudges for slow payers: (1) Inform the client, and include on every email and repeat invoice, that you will tack on an interest charge for late payment. You might want to start at 10% after 45 days have passed since you invoiced. (2)Hold up any work you still have for the client until the old bill is paid. I tell clients my policy is not to do additional work for a client who is $X in arrears. (The value of X depends on the size of the arrears.) You'd be amazed how fast a check comes if you're sitting on more work the client needs. (3) Embarass the deadbeat! I wouldn't do this until after the third or fourth attempt to collect. Send a fax to the company's main number. Faxes are seen by anyone within eyeshot of the machine! It's mean, but so is the non-payer.

Ruth, you asked about negotiating if you're $25 over the client's budget. That's not a lot, and you may want to do it for the client's price. But try to get something in return for the lower fee. In the case of a magazine article, ask for a by-line or listing of your email address, which may bring in more clients with bigger budgets.

Maryann, credentials sometimes make a difference. In my field---medical writing---MDs can charge a lot more than I do. On the other hand, a continuing education certificate issued by a professional organization like the American Medical Writers Association, to my knowledge, has rarely or never meant more money for the freelancer.

One more thing. At the last minute, I decided to produce my new e-book, Freelance Fee Setting: Quick
Guide for When a Client Demands a Price NOW through BookBaby rather than Smashwords. It should receive wider distribution to more e-book devices. Look for it later this month.

Laurie Lewis

Bethany F. Brengan said...

This sounds like such a helpful book! Many of us are afraid to think about the business end of "this writing business."
bfbrengan at gmail.com.

Penny J. Leisch said...

This leans to the tech side of writing, but here's the question. Do you address the pricing of paid subscriptions for jobs, contests, etc? There are some undoubtedly some experienced writers that want to move into that area.

You are so right that the market has changed dramatically. It's great timing for a book on the subject of pricing, and I'd love to have your book.

Joanie said...

Great interview. And the times definitely are changing. We so have to value ourselves if we want to be valued by others. Knowing the make-up of why we need to charge what we do is validating for freelancers. I'm always asked by business people if I write for outfits like Constant Content, and when I say I can't afford to write for such a low fee too many people are amazed. There's such a mental image, I think, of the writer in the garret. Too many people, writers included (as you noted) forget that writing is a business and should be treated as such.

Thanks for the great interview!


nurseangel44 said...

This sounds like a resource book that would benefit me in my writing career; helping answer many of the worrisome questions I have. Writing my first novel along with poetry and other freelance writing is exciting, and freeing to me. How to proceed after it is complete is where I get concerned. I am skeptical who can and cannot trust with my work. I have had a couple people approach me about helping them write their story; because they love how I am detailed with my emotions when I write. This is a new and exciting adventure, but I am not I don't feel I have a strong business head. I would love to have this book; thank you for the opportunity to win one.

Ellie Crangle said...

When an editor mentions an "honorarium" for an article they;ve accepted for publication, how do you then negotiate for a higher offer? Somehow it seems cheesy to push for more money and I don't want them to change their mind about publishing the work.
Ellie http://homeonprairie.blogspot.com/

Saraven Tura said...

Great interview. Thank you so much for the tips. I'm just getting started but I have hope!

LuAnn Schindler said...

Great advice! Don't you also have to take a look at the size of the market and the geographic location of the publisher? I know when I sold an article to a Canadian publication, I was able to negotiate and get more than I do when I write for a regional magazine.
For those who don't always enjoy the business side of writing, this will be a wonderful asset!

erma said...

How did you get started?

Anonymous said...

Once again, this is Laurie Lewis, not anonymous. I don't know why I keep getting the error message that my url contains illegal characters.

Ellie, you asked about getting a higher honorarium after the editor has accepted your article for publication. The time to find out and try to negotiate for a higher honorarium is BEFORE you have submitted the article. If the honorium is too low and the client won't increase it, don't submit your work.

LuAnn, yes, the market and region may affect the fee. That's part of the reason why there is no one "correct" fee for a particular assignment.

Erma asked how I got started. Like most freelancers, I lost a job and decided to freelance until I found another. That was 26 years and many job offers ago. I'll never go back to a staff assignment. I love the freelance life!


Angela Mackintosh said...

Laurie, great advice on charging a late fee percentage! It's been so long I forgot about that. :) Holding up work is a great idea, too. Thanks for your help!

WOW! said...

Thank you for all your comments! What a lively and much needed discussion. :)

We held a random drawing via random.org and it picked Joanie's comment as the winner!

Congratulations, Joanie! You won a copy of What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants by Laurie Lewis.

I don't see an email address on your profile and you didn't leave one in the comment, so please send an e-mail to editors@wow-womenonwriting.com and let us know whether you'd like an e-book copy or print copy. Please include your mailing address if you're requesting a print copy. Please respond by Friday, February 10, 2012.

If you didn't win, consider purchasing Laurie's book to help your freelance career. We highly recommend it!

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