Wednesday, April 30, 2008

When You Don't Know What to Charge

Every so often, especially in your first year, you'll get someone asking for a quote on a type of project you've never handled before. If you've never written a video script or a landing page before, it might be difficult to figure out how to quote one--but there are still some concrete steps you can follow to get to the right price.

Know what you're writing. What is a case study or a white paper supposed to look like? Your first step should be to do some research on the type of project you'll be doing. The Internet can help you out here; I've found some great resources on how to write good press releases, white papers, and other projects that were new to me at the time. There are also plenty of offline resources that will help; I recommend Bob Bly's The Copywriter's Handbook.

Just to get you started on your research, here are some sites on various kinds of writing that have helped me in the past:

Press releases
Case studies
White papers
Email marketing
Radio commercials

Break it down. Okay, maybe you've never written a case study before. But now that you've done your research, you have a general idea of the steps you need to take. Break the project down into a series of tasks. You'll find that even though you've never handled a project of this type before, you've probably done a lot of things on the task list plenty of times--things like research, outlining, and interviewing. You should probably have a good idea of how long each task will take. Estimate the timeline, add on a few days or weeks (depending on the size of the project) to account for your learning curve, and base your price quote on that.

Estimate based on similar projects. So maybe you've never done an e-book before--but you've easily written over a hundred content articles for a certain client; enough to fill an e-book. How long would it take you to write those hundred? If you can, base your estimate on a similar project you've done.

Consider technicalities, length, and people involved. Certain things make projects more time consuming and worth more money. Remember that the technical level of the copy will add to the time and difficulty involved in the project. Whether the project is commercial or educational can also make a difference; I find commercial copy is a bit more involved and requires more back-and-forth with the client. Some writers might find informational copy more difficult because of the research involved. Interviews will always add time and effort to anything you're writing; the price should go up depending on the number of interviews involved. Length can also affect the price you'll want to charge, although I usually consider other factors first.

There are many different types of writing projects. But in the end, it's all writing. If you can handle the tone they're looking for, chances are you can handle the format--whether it's a brochure, website, sales letter, or white paper. Do your research, and you should be able to come up with a spot-on estimate even if it's your first time with this type of project.


Anonymous said...

I just purchased a subscription to Writer's Market Online, and one of the nifty features I discovered yesterday was a rate sheet with suggested pricing for a vast array of writing projects. I've only begun to explore the document, but it looks like pure gold for freelancers.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget research time. Too often, writers take on article jobs at low rates without factoring in research time. Research time should be factored at your normal hourly rate, or a "research rate" you set where you don't feel like you're not being paid for the time spent on research.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jennifer,

Coincidentally, I just got a newsletter this morning from Steve Slaunwhite talking about his guide to setting prices. Thought I might send you the link:


Anonymous said...

Hey, awesome post. I love your blog too - I just realized you linked to me ages ago and I never came by to say thanks. Sorry! Wordpress didn't ping me so it wasn't until one of my commenters mentioned you sent her over that I found out about it. Thank you thank you!

Jennifer Williamson said...

@William: I've been using Writer's Market for a while now too. It's a great resource!

@Devon: Very true. I always consider at least a half hour of research on those little article gigs, even if it's a topic I know backwards and forwards--you always ought to double check your facts.

@Graham: Thanks for the resource!

@Tei: Don't worry--I know we all have lives :-) Love your blog, and thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Doesn't that Slaunwhite thing cost $80 or something? I have heard the Writers Digest listing is low, does anyone have the latest on this?