When you’re offered a juicy writing assignment, sometimes the fee seems less important than the experience, the enjoyment, or the byline you’re expecting to get out of it. But as you move along in your writing career, it’s important to consider what your time is worth. If you want to freelance full-time, you need to earn decent rates. And those rates should creep upwards year after year. But how do you know what your rates should be?

Keith Maskell, staff rep for the CMG, has some suggestions. At a recent freelance seminar in Vancouver, Maskell offered a four-point system for figuring out what to charge for your writing.

Maskell says there are four numbers you need to keep in your head when you’re engaged for a specific assignment:

1. What’s your overhead? What’s going to make it worth getting out of bed to do this piece of work? What’s going to cover your expenses?

2. What’s the going rate for this sort of work? There are resources to help you figure this out. If you’re working for CBC, for example, there’s a rate structure of minimum rates. “Freelancers can and should always try to network with their peers to find out what basic rates are like with other engagers,” says Maskell. “People who are members of associations like TMAC or PWAC or CMG Freelance can ask around about rates. Forewarned is forearmed,” says Maskell.

3. How much would you really like to get for this piece? In your wildest dreams, what would you like to earn for this assignment?

4. And most importantly… How much are you actually going to ask for? 

In a perfect world, says Maskell, the amount you get paid is going to be somewhere in the range of those four figures. Keeping these four numbers in mind will give you some idea of what your time and your expertise and your personal brand are worth in this situation for this engagement.

Maskell says it’s important to keep in mind that the other person — the engager — may not have these numbers in their head. They might have just come up with a number out of the blue (or have been told what the fee is by a superior) so you may need to have a conversation about it and explain your position.

But sometimes an engager will have a firm idea about what a job is worth.

“Sometimes you come across a cagey negotiator who has done their own estimation of overhead, value of the item etc., in which case the freelancer has to be fully prepared to talk up the value he/she brings to the transaction,” he says.

So what happens if you’re offered less than you’ve decided this assignment is worth? Maskell suggests you be upfront about what you need.

“You could say ‘I appreciate that that’s the amount you’d like to pay me for this piece but unfortunately that won’t even cover my gas money.’ Or you might want to put it less bluntly,” says Maskell.

The important thing is that you start to consider what you’re worth and what you need to earn in order to progress in your career and make a living as a freelancer.

 

Here are a couple of good resources to help you figure out what to charge for your writing:

• PWAC’s “What to Pay a Writer” page gives ranges of rates for all kinds of writing.

• Toronto freelance writer and self-published author Paul Lima has a good post on his blog about setting your corporate writing rate.

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