Q&A: How do I figure out what to charge?

Q:

How do I figure out what to charge?

A potential client has asked me my rate for a 500-word blog post. I’ve heard of freelancers making $30/hour and others making $250/hour.

What should I ask for?

A:

I’ve figured out my answer to this by trial and error over my decade as a freelancer: Always ask for project fees as opposed to hourly rates, and decide what to ask for based on the details of the situation at hand.

So, to be brief, there’s no set answer to this question. Pricing is more an art than a science.

(I see you banging your head against the keyboard, frustrated that I won’t just tell you what to charge, but the honest truth is dealing with this is part of what it means to be a freelancer. The better you get at it, the more successful you’ll be.)

Let me shed some light on the subject.

Unless you’re a very slow worker, setting flat rates is how you’ll end up making the most money. Those who are making $250/hour probably aren’t quoting that as an hourly rate to clients — they’re setting project or per-piece fees that end up making them that much.

For example, I once made $500/hour on a project because I set what seemed like a reasonable fee for the work, the client agreed to pay it, and then it took me a fraction of the time I thought it would.

The key is to realize that the client doesn’t care how long things take you; they just want to the work done well and on time at the fee they’ve agreed to.

Dispense with the idea of thinking in terms of time, except as far as ensuring that the price you quote is going to make you at least your desired hourly amount (see a post about how to do that here).

Try instead thinking in terms of value when considering how much to ask for. How much does the client value you and the content you’re providing?

Let’s take a blog post as an example. Say a client wants a 800-word article on a topic that will take some moderate amount of research, including a couple interviews. You predict that two half-hour interviews, an hour of internet research, and two hours of actually writing the thing will total four hours.

Thinking only in terms of how long things will take, you might say “I want to make $100/hour so I will ask for $400.” Now, that is a reasonable rate to ask for and maybe you’d be happy with it.

But let’s say the client is a major research institution and the article is part of a high-profile series about climate change that will be going up on its website soon. They’re in a rush and really need to content to be ready on time and for it to be really good. They’re hiring you because they’ve heard you produce really good things on time.

They are placing a high value on this particular piece of work and on you as the worker they want to hire.

Knowing this, you decide to charge $800 instead of your $400 baseline, and they immediately accept. (Darn, the fact that they immediately accepted means you may have been able to get $1,000 or even more.)

So, if this takes you four hours you’ll be making $200/hour, which is something you may never have dared to ask for if you were thinking in terms of hourly rates.

The goal is always to see if you can figure out the highest amount a client is willing to pay, which you do by taking a guess about how much they value you and the content (how quickly and desperately do they need it and how high-profile is it for them?) and how much they value you (are they looking to hire you specifically or are they asking a bunch of random freelancers for rates?).

Once you’ve sussed out these particulars — or any aspects of them that you can guess at — ask for an amount that feels somewhat too high for the situation (to provide a chance for them to negotiate you down) and see how they respond.

The exception to this rule of always asking for a flat rate is when the project is open-ended or hard-to-pin-down in a way that makes you suspect it’ll be way more work than it seems at the outset. But those types of jobs should raise red flags to begin with, so it’s best to try to get things defined better before you start. Try to get a very specific scope of work at the outset and then set a flat rate for the project.

Over time you’ll get a sense of what certain types of clients might consider fair pay. But ultimately it’s always a guessing game no matter how long you’ve been doing it.

Does that sufficiently NOT answer your question?

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