Beginning writers (and those still not up to their earning potential), this is for you.
The eternal dilemma: how little is too little payment for any job? When you’re starting out especially, the problem becomes how to build a credible list of accomplishments and make decent money. That’s how some get locked into writing for content mills (Let’s clear this up one more time – writing Web content is NOT the same as writing for content mills – your clips do indeed end up on the Web, but the difference is the content mills pay low prices for high volumes. Web content writing – articles, website copy, online brochures, advertisements, etc. – for any other client pays quite a bit more. Big difference.)
So how low is too low? That depends. I’m not saying you go into business today and start charging $100/hr. I’m saying start smart. Locate credible sources that will pay you a good starting wage. The easy way to figure this – does the amount of time you’ll put into that copy amount to a per-hour rate above minimum wage? Yes? And does that source hold weight with future clients – meaning are they going to see work that’s landed somewhere familiar or at least respectable? If yes, then go for it.
The more accurate way to gauge this is to do some math (stop groaning – that’s why calculators were invented). Get some paper, a calculator, and set aside a little time for you to consider your goals. How much money do you need to make this year in order to be profitable? Start with what you need in order to avoid driving to an office every day. Let’s say $30K.
Take that hypothetical $30K and factor in the things an employer is no longer offering you. Remember, you’re paying your own taxes and 401(k) now, and you could be paying for your own healthcare. How much per month for each of those? The IRS is ultra-helpful in helping you determine tax on your estimated amount, as are any number of tax applications.
Okay, now what about your office supplies? That ink costs you close to $100 every few months, doesn’t it? Business expense. Paper, tape recorders, phone lines, fax lines – count it all. Don’t forget any travel expenses if you expect to attend conferences or visit clients.
So how much of that $30K is left? That little, huh? Sounds like a real job, doesn’t it? But you’re not finished. Let’s put aside the expenses for a minute and go back to the original $30K.
How much per month do you need to make in order to reach that $30K? There’s your monthly goal – $2,500. Keep that number in mind. It’s how you’re going to measure each month your progress toward your own $30K annual benchmark.
Okay, now how much per hour? There’s your number. If you take less, you’ll be chasing your own tail in an attempt to reach that monthly goal. By my calculations, a $30K annual goal requires an hourly rate of no less than $15.625.
If you’re working for a content mill and cranking out four or more articles an hour, you’re probably feeling pretty smart right now because some of you may be making a bit more. However, that’s $15 and change per HOUR based on a 40-hour work week. Can you keep up that pace? Yea, no. You can’t. Try instead looking for magazines that pay you 10-50 cents a word. If you conduct two interviews per article and you can crank out that article in the same amount of time as four content mill articles, you’ll have quadrupled the rate-per-article of the higher-paying mills. And you’ll have a clip from a respected source that’s been vetted and edited.
Also, remember that your per-hour rate is going to be of the hit-and-miss variety. Precious few of us actually work a week in which we bill all 40 hours. So consider how many hours of work you’ll actually have in that week – if you’re starting out, figure about 10-15 as a high estimate. Now what’s your per-hour rate? If you work a 10-hour week, that’s about $62.50 per hour. The less you work, the more you need to charge.
But remember – you have to pay your taxes and benefits, too. Ugh.
While knowing what you need to charge is great, here’s another consideration; if you work for a client who needs website copy, etc., there’s an industry-accepted price that writers charge. If you come in somewhere around that price, you’ll have increased your income significantly. Example – I wrote website copy for a new website (the home page copy, landing pages, etc.). The client expected to pay around $2,500 for the project. I bid $2,200 and got the job. If I had bid based on the $30K expected hourly rate of $15.625, I’d have lost the bid by bidding just over $345. That would have branded me an amateur. Bid the value of the job, not the value in your head. The latter will keep you in your rut. The former will advance you beyond your target and help you set higher goals next year.
How low would you go? How far along in your career are you? And if you can share, what’s your ballpark annual goal?