What’s it worth? The mysterious world of freelance pricing…

Writer, designer, social media or video whizz, we all get paid for our content.

So when it was my turn to host everyone’s favourite Twitter chat*, #ContentClubUK (Tuesdays, 11am, open to all who make content. Disclaimer: *may not be everyone’s favourite chat), I decided it was about time we broached that icky tricky topic of PRICING. I’m a copywriter, but pricing is important to anyone working in the world of content, no matter their focus.

And what a wonderful chat it was! SO MUCH great advice, so much honesty, so much sharing of tips, tricks and ideas. With so much excellence in one place, I’d have been mad not to pull it together into a blog post. And I’m not (that) mad. In this post you will find:

  • A bit of an intro to the chat.
  • Summaries of the responses to the first two questions.
  • Every single answer I could find to the third question (what advice you’d give to someone new to thinking about pricing). Big apologies if a reply you posted during the chat isn’t there – let me know and I’ll add it in. These answers are brilliant.
  • The results of the three anonymous polls we ran.
  • Useful freelance pricing resources people signposted during the chat.

Pricing’s a REALLY important topic, especially for the freelancers among us.

It’s also a bit of an awkward one to discuss out in the open on social media, or even in private with your friends. After lots of pondering I’d settled on a set of not-too-deep-and-delvy questions, complemented by a series of anonymous polls so we could get to the hard topics without giving too much away.

First things first, though. We always kick off with the most important topic so, as ever, the chat started with a thorough look at the food and drink sustaining us through our half hour together. As well as our ever-trusty biscuit chat, I noted:

  • some controversial toast talk from Thomas, Geoff and Alice (butter, marmite, marmalade, peanut butter, Nutella – opinions were divided), and
  • a risky side-chat about the status of Jaffa Cakes – always a potentially incendiary debate, but thankfully Cat, Dee and the rest of the content pros on the chat are exactly that – pros – and allowed the controversy to pass without picking it up and running with it. Another week perhaps…

With that out of the way, we moved on to other, no less serious questions… and as I worked my way through the threads, I saw new friendships being formed right there and then, and existing support networks growing stronger. Seriously, it was an honour to host this one.

First Question: How did you set your pricing when you first started out? What resources did you use? How did you benchmark yourself with your industry?

Firstly, THANK YOU ALL for your honesty. There was a general consensus around how difficult this is. I feel like seeing well-established names sharing what they charged in their early days really brought the group together, collapsing the gap between themselves and new freelancers who are waiting to find their first client and reiterating that we all start somewhere.

A few themes emerged. There were plenty of people who’d previously held jobs either in the freelance role they now found themselves in, or in commissioning those types of services.

Naturally, they used that knowledge of industry norms to position themselves in a sensible part of the market. Not everyone was lucky enough to have that information in their back pocket, though.

For those people, one option was to ask around and see if people would share pricing tips with them (something this post hopefully helps with for new freelancers working out what to charge). André had his mentor to thank for some great advice, and Lisa showed that you shouldn’t just look to other professionals for help!

Some (myself included) sat down with a spreadsheet and worked out what, realistically, they needed to charge as a minimum. A lot of guesswork seems to be involved, some of it more educated than others.

And lots of resources were shared, which I’ve included at the end of the post.

Second Question: Value-based pricing, time-based pricing, project pricing, pricing by the word (for writers at least). Which of these do you use and why?

A real mix of answers here, but in general (although not universally) pricing by project was the most common approach, taking into account the time and value of that project to an extent when setting that price.

There was also a fair bit of love out there for time-based pricing, whether by the hour or the week. Depending on the project, it can make more sense than a fixed price.

On the whole, those in the group who work as copywriters shied away from pricing by the word as an unhelpful approach, but Jake showed that you don’t just have to stick to one method.

And Glenn reminded us all that there’s something you should consider before even thinking about what price you might charge.

Third Question: What’s your biggest tip to someone setting out on their pricing adventures? It can be for setting prices, getting paid, raising your prices, dealing with retainers – anything pricey goes.

  • Nik: Immerse yourself in your chosen industry, get a feel for what the averages are, don’t be an island (points at self) 😀
  • Andra: 1. Ask other freelancers how they do it. 2. Charge more than you’re comfortable with (+30%). 3. Set limits (for both the client & yourself – this is the hardest for me). 4. Have a professional onboarding process that puts you in a good position for negotiations.
  • Glenn: Be wary of any business that talks about price before ideas. Chances are there’ll be trouble down the line if the focus starts out with cost over content.
  • Louise (replying to Glenn): And anyone who uses the word ‘just’ – ‘just a few pages of copy’, ‘just something simple’, ‘just taking what we’ve written and turning it into something that makes sense’ – uh, no. Just is code for ‘I hope this is cheap’.
  • Masooma: Don’t undervalue your skill. Research and polish your skills first, offer your services next. Also, when raising prices, show what value you offer instead of making hollow claims.
  • Helen: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised that setting rates and asking for raises have been met positively. (Though it doesn’t stop me having a mini-breakdown whenever I have to talk money).
  • Annie: If everyone says yes, you’re too cheap. If everyone umms and aahs, consider offering alternatives (such as working client-supplied content instead of working from scratch) rather than lowering your price/ self worth.
  • Craig: Find out the going rates. You’d be surprised how many writers are willing to help other writers Seek and ye shall find.
  • Jake: Add a dickhead tax, if needed. Ask for what you’re worth. £50 might sound good when you’re first starting off, but what does that £50 become after tax and after it takes two days to finish the work and an extra day for revisions…? Be realistic.
  • Thomas: Use info out there to guide you, but pricing is personal. Don’t undersell, but get it right for your business, based on experience, value and what you need to earn. Get busy, do good work, then you can justify increased rates.
  • Terry: Charge based on how long it will take you and add a little more to make a profit. You may start smaller but the more experience you get the more you learn how long certain projects take and value/expertise you bring.
  • Dave: Don’t write-off a client because their budget is way-off what you would normally expect. Clients often don’t know the costs or work involved, so it’s a chance to demonstrate your value/expertise. There are 4 possible outcomes: 1) It doesn’t work out 2) The budget could be used for a smaller task 3) They return later with a more appropriate budget 4) The find the extra funds for this work Only 1 is a ‘negative’ but might lead to 2, 3 or 3 in future.
  • Amy: Know that pricing is tough. I thought everyone else found pricing simple and yet here we are with the pros of #ContentClubUK discussing it. And set a price that means you won’t feel resentful 30 mins in.
  • Howard: Research deeply using whatever you can find. Ask questions. Use trusted network (public and private sources). Be flexible. Think carefully about value to the client and pitch accordingly. Never sell yourself short.
  • Sophie: Make sure you’re charging an amount that you’re motivated to do great work for. If you’re not, you’re not charging enough.
  • Jonathan: Put 25% in a savings account for the tax man. Don’t work for a price that means you’ll end up resenting doing the work, it’ll end in tears.
  • Richard: Be flexible. One rate doesn’t fit all. Ask what value the work adds to your portfolio or experience. And, if you don’t get the work, make sure you find out why – it might not have been the money.
  • Nick: 1. If you’re fully booked all the time, you’re too cheap. 2. Every new client is an opportunity to re-think your rates. 3. Practice talking about money in front of the mirror. (Srsly) 4. Use an accounting package (Xero, Quickbooks etc) to handle invoicing.
  • Jo: ASK FOR WHAT YOU’RE WORTH and (I think it was @tomcopy who said this on LinkedIn) ask for what makes the project COMFORTABLE so you’re never under financial pressure. Genius.
  • Coverage Studio: Take into account what your overhead costs are when setting out the price.
  • Roxanne: For getting paid, always make sure there’s a deposit and a clear contract in place before you invest valuable time in the project. Also explaining my pricing to clients in relation to what the work will entail often helps.
  • Dee: Don’t be shy asking for deposits/money up front. All my best clients have been happy to commit to the project by making a down-payment on my time and expertise. A couple even offer to pay upfront every time!
  • Graeme: Personally(!), I’d say don’t drop your rate for the promise of “more work further down the line”. I’ve no issue with charging slightly less for ongoing work if it’s contracted and guaranteed (eg. a retainer), but don’t take a prospective client’s word for it.
  • Stephen: That it’s all made up – you’re just plucking a number and justifying it, really. So stick to the only rule that matters: how much would make you feel happy to do the work? Another one – if someone doesn’t pay up, know when to write it off. I have spent time and money chasing someone on a principal long after it became bad for my business and my brain.
  • Emma: Use a contract on EVERY project Say no if your gut tells you to do so Use free software like Wave for invoices/receipts/estimates Take ‘The Well-Paid Freelancer’ course or similar Talk to other Copywriters Read the ProCopywriters annual survey.
  • Matt: Always get a client to sign a contract agreeing to price terms, with a pay date and include a line about a late-payment fee – otherwise people will just take the piss.
  • Erin: When raising prices, keep your note simple and concise, don’t overexplain. At the end of the day, busy clients want to know the bottom line, not the 400 reasons why you’re increasing freelance rates now.
  • Social INK: You work out how much you need to live comfortably, determine how many hours/projects you want to work per month. Divide money by hours/projects, and charge based on that. You know what your worth is within your industry and you set your pricing relative/competitive to the service you are offering.
  • Alice: ask for help. There are some incredible freelance communities who are always there to help and offer advice because we all struggle with the same things. It took me 3 years to get involved with them and I bitterly regret not doing it sooner.
  • André: It sounds counter-intuitive, but you must be prepared to walk away. It’s only once you’re in that headspace that you can command the prices you want. At least, that’s how it works for me.

Three handy polls about freelance pricing

You’ve heard of the pie chart. Now meet the biscuit chart.

Oh yes. Charts. On biscuits (yeah, I know that first one is a macaron, but finding biscuit pictures was tough).

Poll number one:

Happily, the first poll showed the theme for the chat (which revolved around setting pricing) is indeed the hardest for many of us. Despite the fact that there’s a lot of chat in freelance circles about not getting paid or money arriving late, that only won 10% of the vote. It seems we actually struggle with setting and raising prices much more than we do with the practicalities of getting the money in.

Poll number two:

The second poll probably covered the most sensitive of the questions. It wasn’t posed with any particular profession in mind, but I hoped it might encourage some of those at the lower end of the pay range to think about their pricing and feel more confident when it’s time to raise their prices. There’s nothing wrong with charging low prices if that’s where your training and experience place you, but it is important to charge what you’re worth.

Poll number three:

The third poll looked at how we feel about our pricing, rather than exactly what we charge. Seeing that more than three quarters of us are either happy or ‘OK’ with what we charge was excellent. And I hope that the remaining 14% will be able to put into practice some tips and ideas they picked up in the chat so that they can raise their prices to a level they feel better about.

And finally, every resource on freelance pricing that was mentioned during the chat or sent to me as a result of it.

At least I think it’s every resource… don’t shoot me if it isn’t.

Surveys and suggested rates for freelancer designers, writers and illustrators

Freelance pricing calculators

Articles and posts about setting pricing

Articles and posts about getting paid

Articles and posts about putting your prices up

Enjoyed this? Explore the rest of the How To series.

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