Why Freelance Pricing Guides Aren’t Helping You

What I’m listening to: Wrong by The Airborne Toxic Event

We’ve all done it.

We’ve asked the question: “How much should I charge for …?”

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with asking other writers “How much do you charge for…?”, by asking how much we should be charging, we are, once again, putting control of our businesses in the hands of others. It’s a good way to be led in the wrong direction, even by well-meaning friends.

Still, that’s not the bigger problem with determining our price for a particular freelance project. To me, the honor of Worst Possible Way to Set Freelance Writing Rates goes to pricing guides.

We’ve all done that too, haven’t we?

Why pricing guides are so bad:

  • They’re entirely too general — possibly based on average rates across the country
  • The methodology is missing (where are the numbers coming from? Who did they ask?)
  • They don’t account for specialty rates
  • They assume control over your ability to determine your own rate

There’s no reason to use a pricing guide, either. In fact, there’s a surefire way for freelance writers to get to the project rate easily without every having to look at another pricing guide.

Set your own hourly rate.

Yup. That’s it.

Ah, but you’re not sure how to come to your rate, are you?

The good news: it’s not much tougher than deciding to set that rate.

It does require about 10 minutes of your time.

But it will change your business dramatically if you do so.

For years I’ve been sending people directly to Jenn Mattern’s Freelance Hourly Rate Calculatorwhich is a simple, five-step questionnaire that calculates it for you once you fill in the desired income level and work hours.

Once you determine that rate, you can use an even simpler method to determine a project rate:

How long will it take me to finish the job?

Get to that price by looking closely at what the client wants.

Then assign a time value to each item or requirement.


Then add 20% to that total.

There’s your project rate.

However, not every project goes as planned (most don’t, in fact). Edits, revisions, additional input from this person or that person… welcome to the feeling of a snowball rolling down the side of the Alps. It’s fast, frenetic, and growing by the second.

Stop that snowball with contracts.

State the price and how many hours of your time that includes.

State hourly rate for any additional work over that time limit.

Limit revisions to two or three (and work that price in as though they’re full-out rewrites).

Ask to know the editorial players to eliminate a committee when you were assuming two people. Put those names in your contract before you start.

Don’t be afraid to mention that the work has gone beyond the contracted limits.


Writers, have you used pricing guides? What has been your experience with them?
How did you come to your hourly rate? How do you calculate your project rate?

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  • Anne Wayman December 12, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Yes, I’ve used pricing guides. I just don’t take them very seriously for all the reasons you state. I like to charge flat fees for most projects. I generally start with my hourly rate, add at least 10 percent (think I”ll change it to 20 per your suggestion, look at the total and decide if it’s too high, too low or just right. Adjust as necessary.

    • lwidmer December 12, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Good system, Anne. That 20 percent may sometimes just feel too high, so it’s good to adjust as you see fit.

  • Paula Hendrickson December 12, 2017 at 11:34 am

    One other big problem with a lot of pricing guidelines? Some of the data may be old.

    There’s one online price guide I know some of that still includes some rates that are at least 10 years old. I know because they came from me. Anyone peddling a rate guide should update it every couple of years to purge outdated info, but that would require tracking entries and putting in a bit more effort.

    • lwidmer December 12, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Good observation, Paula.

      Personally, I’ve never seen any explanation as to how these guides come to that particular price range. Is someone guessing? Are they actually interviewing writers? Clients? What about writers who specialize? Are they included? Where are these numbers coming from?

      • Paula Hendrickson December 13, 2017 at 4:47 pm

        The one I’m talking about is part of a subscription website that allows members to share information about types of writing they do and the rates they’re paid. And then they show the range.

        I’m making this example up, but let’s say under “business blog posts” the rate might range from $10 per post to $500 per post. Or maybe “trade magazine articles” might range from 10-cents/word to $2/word. So I’m hoping the lower rates are really old, LOL!