Freelance Writer: Your Worth

Mahesh Raj Mohan

Mahesh Raj Mohan

I am a full-time Portland freelance copywriter, editor, and content marketing specialist. I help companies with white papers, case studies, technical writing, product copy, and more.

I should clarify something.  In previous blog posts, I’ve said that I started freelancing full-time last year, but it’s more accurate to say that I went back to freelancing.  I’ve been a professional copywriter/editor since I was 21, and have been sending out my work since I was 16.   So I have experience seeking work, markets, and clients.

Like any freelancer, I’ve faced a dilemma over the years:   what do I charge for my services?

I currently price a project by the amount of work involved (including research), and my time.

Time is a freelance writer’s most precious resource.  Talent, creativity, and skills aren’t worth much if you spend your time working for wages that cannot support you (and/or your family).

Okay, so what happens if business is slow?  There are two schools of thought:

1.  Take any job

2.  Don’t take job below your usual rate, because you end up losing money by spending time on low paying gigs.

I’ve done both.  My first paying job as a writer/editor was as a news editor for the Collage, the newspaper of The Claremont Colleges.  The job paid a lump sum at the end of the semester, and it was far from princely.   But it was good writing, editing, and managing experience, so it ended up being worth it.

Fast forward several years.   I took freelance work that was much less than my hourly rate.   I ended up working more than 60 hours that week.  You can argue that it was worth it, but the stress and knowledge of the lower pay rate made it a fairly miserable week.

“Okay Mahesh,” you might say, “that’s all well and good, but the recovery is still sluggish and I need to keep my kids clothed and fed.”

I totally understand.  If you lock in a sure gig and it’s less than market rate, but you have a bill coming due … by all mean’s, take the job.   Who am I to say different?

But if you’ve hit a dry spell and your bank account can weather it, you may be better off marketing your skills to clients who need you.

And, let’s be honest, writers don’t charge doctorly or even lawyerly rates.   I have a good idea what my peers charge.  We’re all affordable.

So holding out for fair pay means running the risk of walking a tight-rope, but think about the potential rewards:  clients who are willing to pay you what you are worth and appreciate your time.

Do you take any gig at any price?  Or do you hunker down and market to clients who will meet your rate?

7 thoughts on “Freelance Writer: Your Worth”

  1. Pingback: Weight Loss and Business Secrets Revealed! « Knock Out Words

  2. I do both depending on the client. Figuring out rates is really one of the most challenging parts pf being a freelance copywriter. I never give an estimate on the spot. That can get you into trouble. Especially if the work you're asked to do ends up being more than originally stated.

    I prefer to market to clients/prospects who can pay what the work is worth and that's where I spend the majority of my time now. When I'm not worried about paying for my daily life, it's easy. When I am worried, it's not.

    If being a freelancer were an easy to understand hard and fast science I'm sure there would be more of us…or less, now that I think about it.

  3. Melissa Crytzer Fry

    I never, ever accepted jobs for lower than my regular rate – until the economy took a nose-dive. But even then, I wouldn't take jobs that were, say, half my regular rate. A bit lower, yes. There are lots of opportunists out there who are using the "economy" as their excuse to take advantage of professional writers. In fact, I had such a client (who, mind you, prides themselves on a 'code of ethics') who suggested I become a part-time employee instead of a 'contracted' writer. What that equated to was working for HALF my rate, plus the client got a nice old write-off from Uncle Sam for "employing" a "new" individual. Can we say "double dip"? I said thankyouverymuch and walked – I mean HUFFED – away. I won't be abused that way. And if others DO allow it to happen, it only waters down the entire market and makes it harder for all of us to make a living.

    1. You pretty much said everything I was thinking, Melissa. I totally agree that a lot of folks out there, especially on gladiatorial sites like eLance try to use the economy as an excuse. Your ex-client's behavior is appalling.

      And you and Amber hit on a point about the folks who do let themselves be taken advantage of … they help to degrade the rest of us. I don't see software engineers doing it, but I see it in the arts all the time, and it does piss you off.

  4. I love reading about your journey Mahesh! When I first started I did the first one. Nowadays, I find a good middle. There has to be a good reason (IMHO) for taking a lower paying job. Sometimes you do it because you love the work or believe this will be the right step toward your dream job. But even your lower paying jobs increase in rate over time. I definitely wouldn't consider jobs that are less than minimum wage or are so low that it makes it hard for me to do my job right.

    1. Hi Brandi! Thanks for your input, 🙂 I definitely agree that there should be a good reason to take lower pay. I did take a job last year where I negotiated the per-article rate, and it was a highly rewarding project.

      This is a cool discussion, 🙂

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