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You may also find our page How to Become a Freelance Writer helpful.

The best approach is to firstly find out what other agencies and freelancers charge, which means carrying out a bit of a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise. Call various freelancers and agencies (or ask friends to help you if you feel the need to remain anonymous) and ask what their hourly rate is – and then maybe ask for a typical price for a specific project. For example – writing an article from scratch including research, or editing a 20 page document.

The ideal would be to have a pricing structure that is high enough for you to be able to live on. However in the early days you may need to compromise your rate to attract business, and you’ll also need to set aside around 30% of all income for tax. Remember of course that not all your hours in a week will be chargeable, as you will need time for admin, marketing, attending meetings and so on.

Once you have all of this information, you can then make sure that you pitch your pricing correctly, but remember to take into consideration the following . . .

Charging based on experience

A junior copywriter, or one that has just left college, is of course not going to be able to command the same rates as somebody that has been working for 30 years and has an impressive portfolio of work. It is really just a case of being sensible and knowing what you are worth. It’s also true that some customers will pay more than others. As soon as you start talking to a prospect, you’ll instantly get a feel for whether they are expecting you to write War and Peace for a fiver, or have far more money to throw around!

Charge more for higher value services

The next thing to consider is that you might not want to charge the same rate for all your services. For example, many agencies charge one hourly rate for creative/conceptual writing – for example a new strap-line or some ad copy – but a lower rate for something less creative, or even for copy editing or proof reading.

As a rough guide, anything between £40 and £60 per hour seems to be around the right figure (Nov 2010) – maybe with conceptual work at around £75 and proof reading at around £30. But these are of course just rough ideas based on our own information. It is definitely worth doing your own research – as rates may also vary depending on where you are in the country. For example, a freelancer in London will undoubtedly charge more than one in rural Wiltshire.

Consider different rates for end clients vs agencies

Another thing to consider is whether you charge different rates depending on the type of client. For example, you may be able to charge a company’s marketing department £60 per hour as you are billing them directly, but an agency will need to mark up your rates and charge them on to the client, so they will expect a lower fee. The payback of this of course is that with an agency client, you are not just getting one customer, you are in effect getting potential business from all of their customers – with no marketing effort or ‘cost of sale’ to you once the relationship is established. So it’s only reasonable that you might need to charge a lower rate.

And what about the dreaded ‘author’s corrections’?

This is a complete minefield and you need to be very clear in your Terms and Conditions what your policy is going to be. Most agencies and freelancers will quote what they call ‘reasonable’ edits – which usually means a few adjustments here and there to get the copy absolutely right, and then maybe a few tweaks at artwork stage. You just need to decide at what point you start charging for these.

In any quote, state how may sets of author’s corrections are included, and what your hourly rate will be for future work. This covers you for situations which are bound to occur, for example when a lengthy document is almost finished and suddenly the client decides it should be written in the first person instead of the third person – so you have to edit it throughout!

Formal quotations

It is easy to agree a price verbally and then never get round to formalising it, but it is essential that you do – as you need to avoid misunderstandings later. Be clear about the price you are quoting and how many hours of work that actually allows for. Ensure that your Ts & Cs include details of whether you charge for meeting time, travelling time, expenses and so on. Just so there are no issues when you send in your invoice.

Selling existing work

This is a slightly different approach. Instead of writing what a client asks for, some copywriters will also write pieces based on subjects of interest to them, then try to sell these on as complete pieces of work. This is hard to make money from in the early days and usually only works for established copywriters who have developed a reputation – usually in a specific industry. However, it is not impossible to make money this way, especially if you have expertise in writing for a specific industry sector – for example technology or travel.

On average, 500 to 750 words is about right for an article – something that will fit on a side of A4 and leave room for an image. It’s worth writing these for ‘practice’ and even if you do not get paid for them in the short term, any one that does get printed can include your contact details – which will act as a marketing tool to drive traffic to your website. So you are still being ‘paid’ in a way, just not in hard cash.

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