After weeks of marketing, you finally land a call with a potential client. Before the call, your heart races, your mind is full of questions and you’re extremely hopeful. However, you also feel a sense of dread as you realize that they’re going to ask about rates — and you do not know what to quote.
Quoting rates is a challenge for many freelancers, but what’s more, it’s a gateway to fear. Many new freelancers have a big fear of chasing off clients because they want to build their new businesses so badly. Making things worse is the fact that rates are all over the board, anywhere from $30 per hour to upward of $100 per hour. So what is the right rate?
I’ve found there is no right rate, but there is a rate that will help your business become a full-time profitable venture and not a side hustle that fizzles out. Here is my process for quoting rates and figuring out what to charge.
Hourly, flat fee or by the word — which is best?
There are three main ways that freelancers charge, which are hourly, flat fee and by the word, and many people wonder which method is the best. I can tell you that I’ve tried all three, and the most profitable strategy for me has been flat fee. Here is a breakdown of each.
Hourly. Without exception, every time I’ve charged hourly I’ve regretted it. As you get to know a client better, you will write faster. As a result, you will make less over time, not more.
Paid by the word. When I charge by the word, I’m thinking too much about how many words I’m writing. I also prefer a value-based approach to pricing, where I’m focused on the value of what I’m delivering versus how many words are written.
Flat project rate. I use this pricing structure 100 percent of the time and, personally, I find it to be the most profitable. It’s also good for the client. He or she doesn’t have to have an “open checkbook” but instead can budget exactly what a project will cost.
Once you figure out which pricing structure to use, it helps to figure out a ballpark range of what to charge for each project. But what should you charge? Let’s dive in and figure out ranges for various project types to get you started.
Ballpark rates by project
If I could travel back in time and give myself one piece of advice, it would be to charge more! I was charging a mere $50 for a blog post a decade ago, and that doesn’t go very far in paying the bills or building a sustainable business.
Create an internal rate sheet, not something that your clients see but something for you to use as a guide for quoting your work. Having rates written down makes them somehow feel more real and helps you stick to your pricing. Get started by using a guide, such as the Writer’s Market, to build out your guide. This provides average ranges (hourly, flat fee and by the word) for various project types. As you work with more clients, you can modify your internal rate sheet based on feedback and experience. Here are several common project types and their averages to get you started.
Advertising copywriting: $2,278 / $92 per hour
Press releases: $475 / $97 per hour
Annual reports: $6,147 / $87 per hour
Brochures, flyers: $2,777 / $86 per hour
Sales letters: $762 / $81 per hour
Newsletters: $2,000 / $82 per hour
Email copywriting: $73 per hour (they don’t list project pricing here)
White papers: $107 per hour (no average project cost available via WM, but I find these range anywhere from $2,000 on up, depending on the scope)
Webpage writing: $1,251 / $83 per hour
A couple of projects that I don’t see on the WM list that are common for B2B writers include the following. This is my internal pricing for each.
Case studies: starting at $1,200 / $100+ per hour
Blog posts: starting at $375 / $80+ per hour
But at the end of the day, it comes down to your internal hourly rate. What do you want to make per hour? Even if you don’t disclose that to your client (which I don’t), use that to guide you in your pricing and ensure that you’re charging enough.
How I determine a budget in 15 minutes flat
In my early years, I can’t tell you how much time I spent with clients, only to learn they didn’t have a budget to pay professional rates. At this point, I was already invested in their projects and more likely to take them on. Over the years, I’ve developed a system that helps me quickly determine fit and budget, so if a prospect isn’t a fit, I can move on. Here is a list of questions that I ask to quickly determine a budget:
- What are your project needs? (White paper, case study, blog posts, etc.)
- What is your deadline? This will affect pricing. If they need the project delivered in 72 hours, you should charge more for that. I typically charge at least 20 percent more to rush work.
- What is the budget for this project? At this point, many clients will say, “I’m not sure, I was hoping you could give me a sense of your rates.”
- Ballpark the project. I provide a range of what I would charge to ensure we’re on the same page with the budget. For example, I’ll say, “For the case study you’ve described, I would typically charge anywhere from $1,200 to $1,800, depending on how many interviews we need. Once we finalize project details, I’ll get you a more detailed quote. Are we in the same ballpark with the budget?”
At this point, one of two things will happen. The client will say, “Yes, that is about what we were expecting to pay.” Or the client will say, “That is a little more than our budget.”
If my pricing is too high, I say “No worries, I totally understand — what did you have in mind?”
If they say their budget is $300 and my ballpark starts at $1,200, it won’t work, and I say so and get off the phone. I might say, “OK, got it. I think in this case, we’re too far apart, but I’d love to work together in the future if your budget changes. Please don’t hesitate to reach out in the future.” And I quickly exit the phone call.
If we are a match on the budget, then I close the call by offering to write an estimate for the project, setting expectations on when that estimate will be delivered and thanking the prospect for their time.
The one question that’s landed me thousands of dollars more
I can’t talk about rates without mentioning the one question that has earned me thousands of additional dollars over the years. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, I’ve found that I nearly left hundreds of dollars — and even thousands — on the table. The secret? Ask the client for their budget BEFORE you quote rates. Let me give you a real example of how this worked.
I was speaking with a new prospect, an agency that found me on LinkedIn and had several projects coming up. After listening to the project details, I figured I would charge around $650 per item, so $2,600 total. But before ballparking the project, I asked the client:
“Do you have a budget in mind for this project?”
Turns out they did — and it was over 30 percent higher than my quote. They budgeted $1,000 per item, compared with my $650, for a total budget of $4,000. And just like that, I earned $1,400 more.
The lesson? Always ask about a budget first. Many times, the prospect won’t have a specific budget, and that’s OK. But if they do, you might land more revenue just by asking.
Every prospect is not a client — and that’s OK
When I first started out, I went into every new prospect call thinking that a company would become a client. Some might call it hopeful, but today I would call it the wrong mindset. I might love a client, but if their budget is dangerously low, I can’t afford to bring them on board. And I need to find out quickly.
What’s more, pricing is about a mindset. It’s about getting out of that scarcity mindset and finding clients who can afford to pay professional rates. So be patient (even when it’s hard and you need work!). Passing on clients who aren’t a fit and holding out and investing time in marketing will build a roster of clients that will pay off for years to come. And you deserve it!
Create an internal rate card. Make a list of what you charge for each project type to reference during a new prospect call.
Create a bid template for quoting work. I used Bidsketch in my early years, but today I just use my accounting software, which is QuickBooks. What do you want to use? Decide now.
Design a script for quoting work. For example, I typically say “My ballpark range for XYZ project is $XXX. Are we in the same ballpark budget wise?”
“Great! I’ll get you a formal quote within 24 hours, and if everything works well, we can launch upon agreement.”
Do you need help finding more clients? I recently shared the email template that generated over $24,500 in new revenue. Enjoy!