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How To Price Your Freelance Writing (And Start Earning More)

Last updated
8
Mar
2024
min read

Pricing your freelance writing can feel a bit like navigating a maze. 

Is it best to stick to the market rate? Should you charge per word or per project? And how can you ensure you’re earning enough to meet your financial goals? 

I’ve been in your shoes. When I started as a freelance writer nearly 13 years ago, I struggled to price my work in a way that made sense for my life. In the years since, though, I’ve cracked the code — and taught dozens of other writers how to do it, too. 

In this article, you’ll learn how to establish freelance writing rates that make sense for you. Plus, we cover the different ways you can charge for work, some simple formulas you can use to figure out your rates, and how to price your writing to earn $5,000 per month or more.

Set your freelance writing rate in 7 steps

Follow these seven simple steps to set your freelance writing rate quickly and easily. 

1. Research the going rates

First, you’ll want to take a look at how other writers are pricing their work—especially those with the same level of experience as you and who cover the same topics. 

There are a few places to find average rates for freelance writers based on experience, physical location, and more. Have a look at these resources as a starting point:

You’ll find that rates vary widely and there’s no universal consensus—either from freelance writers or those that hire them. 

At the very least, it gives you a good starting point for figuring out your rates and helps ensure they’re both competitive and fair. 

2. Figure out how much money you need to make in a month

Next, figure out how much you need to earn each month from writing. 

Start by adding up your monthly expenses, including rent or mortgage payment, bills, groceries, transportation, insurance, healthcare, and entertainment. Then, factor in additional costs — e.g., 401k contributions, investments, education expenses, and anything you’re saving for.

Also, think about whether you're freelancing on the side or relying on it as your main income. If you already have a part- or full-time job, you might not need to earn as much from writing (though you might want to 😉).

Finally, as a freelancer, you’re responsible for deducting taxes from your earnings. Don’t forget to factor in the money you’ll need to set aside each month for tax contributions.

Pro Tip

Taxes vary widely between states and countries, and tax brackets can make it difficult to come up with an exact figure to subtract each month.

One surprisingly useful tool for this is ChatGPT.

Start by finding your state or country’s freelance tax rates online (including social contributions in countries with social security), and then feed this data to ChatGPT.

Then, for however much money you’ve calculated you need to make each month, ask ChatGPT to figure out how much you would need to earn before taxes to be left with this amount.

Use this new figure moving forward.

3. Choose the type of rate you’ll use

Many writers price their work by the word, but it’s not the only way. In fact, there are many different ways of charging for your work! Here are the five most common types of rates:

Per word

How it works: With this rate, ​​you get paid for every word you write. It’s practical for articles or blog posts where you know the target word count beforehand. 

Why it’s good: Per-word pricing makes it super easy to calculate how much you’ll earn from an article or series of articles. Plus, you get paid more for longer pieces of content. 

What to watch out for: It can be difficult to know exactly how much work an article will take beforehand. Different articles involve different levels of research, planning, and thinking. You’ll need to think carefully beforehand about what will make the most sense for you. On the plus side, if you’re working regularly with a client, these small variations can easily ‘average out.’

Per project (aka flat rate)

How it works: A flat rate is set for the entire project, no matter the word count or time involved. Writers also often use flat rates when working on research articles, email campaigns, social media content, and white papers.

Why it’s good: It’s ideal for projects with a clear start and end, like writing a brochure or an ebook, especially when you know how much work it will involve. Plus, people are often more willing to pay a higher rate for a finished product than per-word or hourly rates which can come off as very steep—even if in the end, they pay the same amount. 

What to watch out for: As with per-word rates, you need to carefully calculate all the work you’ll do for the project, including research, planning and structuring your article, etc. 

Pro Tip

It’s a good idea to provide an estimate for the project and let the client know that you’ll check in after e.g. two weeks to ensure everything still makes sense. Also, don’t be afraid to come back to the client to re-evaluate your rates if the scope of the project changes (i.e., they start asking you to do additional work).

Per hour

You’re paid based on the time it takes to complete a project. It’s typically best for jobs that involve detailed research or where the scope might change.

Pro Tip

Pro Tip: Has a client asked for a “day rate”? This means they want to know how much it costs to “hire” you for a full day of work. Simply multiply your hourly rate by 8 to get your day rate.

Why it’s good: It’s one of the fairest ways to price, since you get paid fairly for the time you spend on an article, regardless of how much research or planning it takes. 

What to watch out for: You’ll need to become an expert at managing your time and providing clear and accurate estimates to clients. Your clients won’t appreciate it if you estimate an article at 10 hours of work and present a bill for 30 without good justification.

Per page

How it works: With this rate, you receive payment for each page you write — regardless of how many words are on each page. It’s common for writers who work on white papers, grant proposals, and reports, as well as in fiction writing and sales-driven copywriting. 

Why it’s good: As with per-word pricing, you get paid more for longer pieces.

What to watch out for: Likewise, it doesn’t take into account variations in time for research and other tasks. Also, be sure to specify with your client the font set and size you’ll use, such as Times New Roman, Size 12.

Retainer fee

How it works: Lastly, a retainer fee is a set amount you charge a client on a regular basis, typically every month. It’s best for long-term contracts, especially when the amount of work is the same each month (e.g., five articles that are 2,000 words each).

Why it’s good: You know exactly how much money your getting each month, making it very easy to budget. Plus, as with per-project pricing, you can often arrange a higher overall rate than with per-hour or per-word pricing. 

What to watch out for: Watch out for “project creep”, aka, additional tasks “creeping” their way into the scope of your work with the client. If the details of your arrangement change, be sure to update your retainer. 

4. Determine how quickly you can comfortably write on average

Understanding your writing speed will help you estimate how much time is needed for different projects. Regardless of how you choose to charge for your work, this makes it much easier to set rates that are fair for both you and your clients.

To figure this out, spend a week or two tracking your writing sessions. Note the time you spent writing — plus any research and self-editing time — and the total words or pages..

You’ll want to base your speed on how many words or pages you can produce in an hour or how many hours it takes to complete a single project, such as a blog article. 

Use these formulas for your calculations:

  • Total words ÷ Total hours = Average words per hour
  • Total pages ÷ Total hours = Average pages per hour

5. Decide on your monthly commitment 

A big part of effectively pricing your freelance writing is figuring out how much time you can dedicate to writing each month. 

First, look at your schedule and see where freelance writing can fit into it. This will be different for everyone and will depend on personal commitments, childcare responsibilities, physical and mental well-being, whether you work another job, etc.

For example, maybe you work part-time and have two children. You might dedicate two hours a day during the workweek to writing, plus three hours on the weekend. That’s five hours per week — about 20 hours per month.  Alternatively, if freelance writing is your primary activity, then you can simply estimate 35-40 hours per week, as a “standard” work-week.

Use your average writing speed (Step 4) to estimate how many words you can write in your available monthly hours.

For instance, say you can usually complete one 1,500-word article in 5 hours. If you commit to writing 20 hours per month, that’s four articles or 6,000 words per month.

6. Calculate your base rate

The second-to-last step is figuring out your base writing rate. This is the rate that covers your financial needs and ​​​​reflects the value of your time

There’s a simple formula you can use no matter which rate type you’ve picked. 

Per word

Desired monthly income ÷ Words you can write in a month = Rate per word

For example: $3,500 ÷ 30,000 words = $0.12 per word

Per project (flat rate)

Desired monthly income ÷ Projects per month you can complete = Rate per project

For example: $2,500 ÷ 6 projects = $417 per project

Of course, individual projects can vary widely depending on the scope. It’s often more practical to figure out how many hours you need to work per month (below), and then take on projects that will help you meet this requirement. 

Per hour

Desired monthly income ÷ Hours per month you can work = Hourly rate

For example: $4,000 ÷ 160 hours = $25 per hour

Per page

Desired monthly income ÷ Pages per month you can write = Rate per page

For example: $2,000 ÷ 50 pages = $40 per page

Retainer fee

For retainer fees, you’ll first need to set an hourly rate. This is because retainer fees are based on the expected amount of work, usually measured in hours. 

To figure out your hourly rate, use the formula shared earlier:

Desired monthly income ÷ Hours per month you can work

For example: $3,600 ÷ 120 = $40 per hour 

Then, factor in the number of words, articles, or other deliverables your client needs each month and the time it takes you to complete each one. Use this formula to calculate an appropriate retainer fee

​​​​​​​​​​​​Pages or deliverables per month x Time per page or deliverable x Hourly rate = Retainer fee

For example: 4 articles per month x 8 hours per article x $40 hourly rate = $1,280 retainer fee

Pro Tip

Remember that retainer fees depend on the unique project(s) you’re working on with each client. In most cases, you can’t simply take your desired monthly income and charge that as your retainer fee.

7. Adjust continuously for experience and expertise

Writing rates can vary a lot based on experience and expertise. So, once you have your base rate, adjust it based on your writing experience and knowledge in specific subjects or genres. 

If you're new to freelance writing or don’t consider yourself an expert in any one subject, you might want to start off charging your base rate and gradually increase it as you gain experience and expand your portfolio.

On the flip side, if you’re new to writing but highly specialized in a particular field (such as HR or tech), you can generally charge more for that expertise. The same applies if you have excellent writing skills and can show this to clients through samples — e.g., published articles, blog posts, etc. 

In practice, this might look like adding a couple of extra cents to your base per-word rate or bumping up your base hourly rate by a few dollars. 

How to set your freelance writing rate to make $5k/month

Want to bring in $5,000 per month from freelance writing? Here’s how to set your rate accordingly, depending on the rate type you’ve chosen:

Per word

Let’s assume you can write about 30,000 words per month (about 7000 per week):

$5,000 per month ÷ 30,000 words per month = $0.16 per word.

Per project (flat rate)

Assuming you can complete roughly 10 client projects per month:

$5,000 per month ÷ 10 projects per month = $500 per project

Per hour

Assuming you can work about 150 hours per month (about 35 per week)

$5,000 per month ÷ 150 hours per month = $33 per hour

Per page

Assuming you can write about 125 pages per month (28 per week)

$5,000 per month ÷ 125 pages per month = $40 per page

Retainer fee

There are two formulas you can use to set a retainer fee high enough to earn you $5,000 per month.

You can base it either on the number of clients you can work with each month (depending on how many pages or projects you’ll provide each) or the hourly rate you need to charge (based on workload across all clients). 

Assuming you can manage four clients’ worth of workload per month:

  1. $5,000 per month ÷ 4 clients per month = $1,250 per client

Assuming you can can write 20 articles per month at 5 hours per article:

  1. $5,000 per month ÷ ​​(20 articles per month x 5 hours per article) = $50 per hour

Summary

By following the seven simple steps above, you can price your work strategically and confidently. 

Start by checking out the current market rates, then decide the type of rate you’ll use: per word, project, hour, or page, or a retainer fee. Next, determine how much you plan to work each month and how quickly you write on average.

Next, calculate a base freelance writing rate by dividing your desired monthly income by the words, projects, hours, or pages you plan to complete each month. If you opt to charge a retainer fee, calculate an hourly rate and then multiply it by the pages/projects per month and the time per page/project required.

Finally, consider your writing experience and topic expertise and adjust your rate accordingly. The more experience you have, the more you can increase your rate.

Want to level up as a freelance writer? Sign up for early access to Eleven’s Freelance Writing Mastery Course, launching soon.

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