In my review of David Rodeck's professional website, one of the things I suggested was to publish his freelance writing rates (or, at the very least, remove the Rates page that really only had payment terms).
I've long advocated making your rates public. I've never had a newer writer I worked with tell me they regret adding rates to their site after I've prompted them to do so (quite the opposite). And I've never heard a good reason not to that doesn't have a simple solution.
Yet this is a perennial issue and question in the freelance writing community. So I want to go into more detail about why I think it's important for most freelance writers to make their rates public in some form.
This is a topic I covered here back in 2010. So rather than tackle it yet again in a separate post, I'm drastically updating and expanding upon my original arguments below (why you'll see some old feedback in the comments). While I'll touch on the points made in the original post, what you'll find below is mostly new.
The Client Perspective
A while back I asked another freelance writer who designed her logo because every time I saw it, it stood out. I loved it. Every now and then I need new logo work done, so I figured I'd take a look at the designer's site to see if they'd be a good match. One problem though -- they didn't list their rates.
As a buyer, I hate that. And I've been a frequent buyer of freelance services.
- I've hired freelance designers.
- I've hired freelance developers.
- I've hired freelance sub-contractors.
- I've hired freelance consultants.
- I've hired at least a couple dozen freelance writers for my own sites over the years.
- I've hired even more writers on behalf of clients who ran large sites when I worked in an editorial capacity.
And what I can tell you as someone who's hired quite a few freelance professionals is this: If you don't have some kind of rate information on your website, you aren't getting hired.
Why? Well, simply:
- No, I don't want to take time out of my day to request a custom quote with absolutely no expectations going in.
- No, I don't want you emailing me to pitch your services later just because you've heard from me once to ask for said quote.
- And no, I definitely do not want to give you my phone number so you can call me to do the same thing.
And when I would contact people who didn't go out of their way to make my life easier as a buyer, these things are exactly what happened.
My time was wasted (and not only because rates were sometimes out of my, or a client's, budget -- you're just as unlikely to get hired if I'm looking for a pro and your rates scream "amateur"). I'd turn someone down only to get repeated emails from them later, pitching me on services or offering to renegotiate because it turns out they really needed a gig after all. And I'd get phone calls (less often, but enough to be obnoxious) wanting to reconnect and talk about other projects (when I'd never hired them in the first place).
I'm sorry, but I don't have patience for that crap when you don't respect my time enough to give me the info I need up front or when your aim is to prompt me to contact you so you can add me to your marketing list when the reality is you aren't a good fit.
When I visit a freelancer's site because I'm interested in hiring them, I expect to find some very specific things:
- A list of the services they provide
- At least a general range of what they charge
- Some examples of past work in a portfolio
I prefer a well-thought-out About page giving me some background that helps me trust you and see if you're a good match for the project. But I'll settle for those three things when necessary.
If you don't give me those things as a prospect, I generally won't waste my time. I'll leave your site. And I won't be left hurting for it.
Whatever information you're not giving me to make my life easier as a buyer... you can be damn sure plenty of your competitors are. And unless you are the only person in your specialty area, or unless you are so good that your reputation precedes you (hint: for the vast majority of freelancers, it doesn't -- even if you're known among colleagues), you're not the only potential good fit for that (or any) gig.
Does that mean no clients will hire you if your site stays rate-less? Of course not. But think about purchases you make yourself. How many things would you walk away from if faced with the hassle of having no price information? Don't include it, and you miss out on opportunities you otherwise might jump at. If you need gigs right now, you can't afford to do that. And even if you don't... why not maximize prospects coming to you so you have even more choice in the projects you take on?
The Freelance Perspective
Obviously I've also worked as a freelancer -- both in freelance writing and consulting (mostly PR). And the benefits of publishing my freelance rates publicly have far outweighed keeping them off my site from this perspective as well.
Earlier in my career, I was pretty much the only PR professional offering certain writing services to a specific client base. There were some generic writers trying to compete, but there's a huge difference between working with a pro when you need help with media relations as opposed to hiring a writer with no experience or credentials in that area. So convincing clients I was their best option was easy. But those prospects were also seeing absurdly low rates from unskilled folks. So I'd get quite a lot of inquiries from prospects who were shocked to find out I could easily charge 10 times more than what they were seeing elsewhere.
Hearing from those prospects quickly became a pain in the ass. I was having the same conversations over and over again. Sometimes they'd hire me anyway. But I had a simple policy -- if they were vocally put off by my rates, I'd tell them to hire one of those ridiculously low-priced writers, good luck with it, and if they needed someone to clean up the mess they received, they were welcome to come back later. More did come back than you'd probably think (and a few of my longest client relationships started that way).
I got tired of having these similar conversations. So I put my rates up on my site.
Know what happened?
The tire-kickers who couldn't afford me quit wasting my time.
Know what else happened?
I saw an increase in total inquiries.
I learned from some of those clients that my higher rates were specifically why they chose me. If someone's advertising rates that amount to $10 per hour, that says something very different to buyers than seeing someone who charges $100+ per hour for the same services. And if you aren't publishing your rate information, prospects have no idea which of those camps you're in.
As a buyer, I wanted someone bright enough to know their own value. If you don't understand the actual value of the work you do (in terms of realistic ROI), how can you be expected to provide it? And what I learned from my own clients is I was far from the only buyer to feel that way.
So putting my rates on my website did nothing but improve my situation.
- I wasted less time with people who were never going to hire me.
- I saw more inquiries from clients who could afford me.
- It had a positive impact on my overall professional reputation.
Publishing my rates was one of the better decisions I made early in my career. But even that isn't the main reason I feel so strongly about the benefits of this decision.
I also work with newer writers. Sometimes they come to me for one-off advice. Sometimes I help them out here on the site. And while I don't do it often anymore, I used to spend a lot of time working one-on-one with newer writers, helping them either launch or improve their writing careers.
One of the first things I encourage them to do is get public rates on their site. And as I mentioned earlier in this post, I've not once had one of those writers tell me they regretted that choice after trying it.
Instead they saw similar benefits to what I did -- fewer lousy inquiries, suddenly getting better conversions from prospects visiting their site, and in a couple of cases that I'm aware of they were also outright told their rates were what made them stand out among the amateurs advertising to those similar markets (giving themselves away by undercharging).
Freelance writers aren't the only people I suggest this to.
Remember, my own specialty is working with independent and creative professionals. I've worked with a wide variety of small business owners and solopreneurs as a result. And clearly promoting fees has never led people I've helped, coached, or worked for to see less, or less relevant, work in a way that convinced them to remove those rates again later. I've not seen that happen even once.
So this isn't something that comes just from one person's experience. It comes from seeing this simple change pay off over, and over, and over again.
That doesn't mean I haven't heard every argument under the sun though...
Arguments Against Publishing Freelance Writing Rates
I mentioned earlier that I've never heard a good reason for hiding freelance writing fees because there's always a workaround to address concerns. So let's look at a few of the most common arguments I've heard (some of which were shared in the comments of the original version of this post, so you can see some direct back-and-forth there below).
Argument: If I make my rates public, not enough prospects will contact me.
This is one of the sillier arguments.
First, it's not necessarily true. As I mentioned, I'm not the only writer I know who's seen an increase in inquiries after publishing rates.
More important though, what's "enough?"
A great thing about freelancing is that we don't need a heck of a lot of clients to fill our billable hours each week. You don't need some massive number of prospects contacting you to land the gigs you need in order to reach your income targets.
The number of prospects contacting you to discuss their projects isn't what's important. What's important is reaching the right prospects -- not the time-wasters and tire-kickers who take your time away from the work you really want to be doing without any benefit.
Does that mean it's impossible to take an occasional low-budget prospect and convince them to hire you even after they find your rates shocking? No. Of course this is possible. But why spend time doing this if you can attract better-qualified leads up front, save time on having to sell yourself, and get busy booking those billable hours with less hassle?
Argument: Every project is a special little snowflake that's totally unique, so there's no way I can publish standard rates without getting project specs first.
If you have even a moderate amount of experience, you have some sense of how long different project types take you. You also have some idea about what clients most often ask you for.
Take a press release for example.
The vast majority of them are a single page. They involve asking the clients a similar set of questions for background regardless of what their unique news angle is. If I need to conduct interviews for quotes, I know how much info I need, and I'm skilled enough to know how to pull the kinds of quotes I want quickly. I know how long that will typically take. I know how long the entire project will typically take. So I have a standard rate for that.
Here's the thing though. A standard, or advertised, rate can have parameters. For example, my base rate for press releases covers up to 400 words. If a client wants a longer release (which might include an extra interview to pull a second quote, which might include helping with addenda, etc.), it's understood up front that they'll pay more.
Publicly sharing your rates on your website does not stop you from customizing quotes based on exact project specs later.
Let's say that again...
Publishing. Your. Rates. Does. Not. Stop. You. From. Negotiating.
It's not just press releases either.
If you're a freelance blogger, yes, blog posts can vary a lot. But you should have an idea of how long it takes you to write a 500 word post versus a 2000 word post. You have some idea of how long it takes you to source images, handle social media promotion, or take on any related tasks a client might request. You also know what your particular clients tend to ask for most often.
There's no good reason you can't publish a base rate, lay out the parameters of what that covers, and note that longer content or add-on services will cost extra. You can list a "starting at" rate for example for lower word count posts. Or you can offer a rate chart covering posts at different lengths (that's what I personally opt to do).
This applies to any freelance writing project you can think of. You know how long an 8-10 page white paper takes you to write on average. You know the extent of interviews you do before writing a case study. At the very least you have some idea of how long it typically takes you to write X words, or Y pages.
That's the kind of information that gives you a base rate. It's kind of like hourly rates and how I have a "get out of bed rate" -- the bare minimum a project has to pay for me to drag my ass out of bed and work on a client's project rather than my own. That's $150 per hour. If a client project won't pay that much, then I have better things to do with my time.
That doesn't, however, mean all of my projects pay $150 per hour. A regular client of mine has projects that pay $200+ per hour routinely. I've done blogging at my "get out of bed rate." But I've also taken on blogging gigs paying $400 per hour.
Publishing a rate, or building policies on a base rate, in no way limits you to it.
And that's where the unique aspect of every project comes in. Why would one of my blogging gigs pay $150 per hour and another pay $400 per hour?
- I was more of a subject matter expert in the higher-paying gig's area.
- I was literally being paid to offer my opinions because of that industry expertise, based on my own experience (as opposed to requiring much third party research).
- In the higher-paid gig, I'd been working with the client for years, knew them and their audience inside-out, and had been a major part of creating the editorial strategy from the start. (In other words, I was a decision-maker; I had immense freedom to choose what to write about and how to handle any given post or project.)
That's one of the perks of having base rates.
Sure, you might screw up and underestimate the time required for a project once in a while (though you'll learn from those mistakes). But it also means as you get more familiar with a client and their readers' expectations, and that work comes much faster, you aren't penalized for that because your time estimates become lower than they might be for a similar project elsewhere.
The work is faster. But you deserve to be paid more in an hourly sense because that relationship and personalized experience adds to your value.
So yes, projects might all be different. But that doesn't mean they're so different that you can't give prospects an idea of what to expect before making them contact you. Just make sure advertised rates are clearly starting rates, or lay out details of what those rates cover and what will trigger additional fees.
At a bare minimum, you can give a specific example or two. That might mean including rate info alongside a case study for something you did for a client. Or use a hypothetical example where you map out a project's specs and note how much it would cost. You're not over-committing in any way. But you are giving prospects some idea of where their budget needs to be in order to work with someone like you.
Public freelance writing rates are only as restrictive as you choose to make them.
Argument: If I publish my low(ish) rates, it might keep better clients from hiring me.
Yeah. It might.
But the solution isn't hiding your rates in this case. It's raising them.
Look. If you're essentially embarrassed by how low your freelance fees are, there's a reason for that. You know you should be charging more. So why aren't you?
If you're anything like writers I've worked with in the past, I can probably tell you why...
It's impostor syndrome rearing its ugly head.
"I'm not worth that much."
"I'm not good enough to be charging as much as so-and-so."
"Clients will feel like I screwed them over with my rates once they see my work."
So you stick with low rates for far too long because you'd rather condemn yourself to a life of playing the quantity game with cheap clients than have a little faith in yourself and see if better clients see more value in you than you currently see in yourself.
You figure if you keep your rates quiet publicly, you can just quote higher if a better client with a potentially-bigger budget comes along. They'll never know what you charged those cheaper clients, right?
That depends. I fell into an accidental niche of writing for directory owners early on. They just happened to be a group of solopreneurs that found me at the time, and they were often adding blogs to those sites then. I could have quietly charged any rate I wanted. They had bigger budgets than you might expect.
One problem though...
These clients tended to run in a fairly small circle. It's how my name got spread around. They hung out in the same communities. They didn't hesitate to ask each other about contractors when they saw us working for a similar site. And it wasn't uncommon for these owners to buy each other out. (One of my oldest clients ended up owning directories from two of my past clients at one point, and for one of those sites I'd been there longer than any of its three owners I'd worked for.)
The point is that you have no idea if your prospects know each other and might talk. And if they go to others in their industry for referrals, they very well might discuss rates.
Obviously this depends on the size of your specialized niche or industry, where and how you're marketing your services, and what kind of price variation we're talking about. But there's no guarantee word won't get around and you won't cause bitterness when someone finds out you're charging their colleague or competitor much less than you quoted them.
Why even risk that when you can always increase your public rates for new prospects and just tell existing clients you're keeping them at their old rate for X months?
Will you get fewer lower-paying prospects contacting you?
Probably. But if you already know you should be charging more, that isn't a bad thing. You have to weed out the low-payers to make room for better clients.
Will all of your existing clients agree to pay more after their rate grace period expires?
No. But in some cases you'll get a raise you might never have otherwise asked for. As for the rest, see my response to the previous question.
Look. Raising rates isn't a passive thing.
If you're raising those rates significantly, that can involve actively targeting an entirely different market. And you can get there faster by hanging out your shingle and being up front about the kinds of clients you're looking to work with (including in a budgetary sense).
If nothing else, publicly advertising your freelance rates can be a great way to test markets. See what kind of response you get, or if it even makes a difference in the industry or niche you focus on. But don't let the fear or losing lousy pay hold you back from more actively pursuing better markets. Say what you're worth. Ask for it. And don't be afraid or embarrassed to do that.
And as for the inevitable "but what if some low-paying client would be a super-cool project I'd love to take on, and they don't reach out because they can't afford me, and they don't know I'd have worked for them for less..." (Yeah, I've heard this a few times.)
Give me a break.
- If you have available billable hours to work for less than usual just for some vanity gig or hobby project, you have bigger marketing problems than whether or not you should list your rates on your website.
- How much benefit are you really getting out of some big name client or some fun little gig that it's worth them devaluing you and what you bring to the table?
- If you really want to work with a specific client just to slap their name in your portfolio or because you think they'd be a hoot to work with, pitch them directly. There is absolutely nothing to stop you from doing this. (Or better yet, find an equally prestigious or interesting client actually willing and able to pay your rates.)
This idea that you shouldn't do everything you can to attract and appeal to your ideal clients because it might turn off some under-paying folks who you might enjoy playing with on some project is absurd. In business, you need to get your priorities straight. And your priority should be those ideal clients -- not the flukes you'd find so fun you're willing to slash your rates for them.
My [insert profession] doesn't post rates, so I shouldn't either.
This is one of those arguments I addressed in the comments on the original version of this post, so you can see that below.
Normally I hear the mechanic comparison. But a previous reader brought up doctors too. Let me address both.
First, we're talking apples and oranges here.
Industry norms are very different. And you can't compare freelance writing to something like an auto mechanic.
You aren't competing with a doctor or a mechanic who might not have rates listed publicly. You are competing with other freelance writers. And many of them will make this information available to prospects up front.
That's why hiding this information can do you a disservice. I already addressed why that is earlier in this post, so I'll spare you any further on that. But I do want to knock down these two particular examples.
Let's start with doctors.
Here's the thing. If you (in the U.S.) walk into a doctor's office expecting to pay in-full in-cash for services, you're an exception, not the rule. Typically when it comes to medical services here, we have the insurance company operating as middleman.
Those insurance companies have indeed negotiated rates for specific services up front with medical providers. These rates aren't some big mystery.
Even when it comes to the patient's side of things, a typical patient doesn't need a price list from their doctor. They work through that insurance company. And they do know up front what they should be paying, because their deductibles and co-pays are laid out for them before they ever need to see a doctor.
For example, I had minor surgery several years ago. The total cost? $14k. I had exceptional insurance at that time, so I paid nothing. Not a dime. While I had small co-pays for normal doctor visits, I had none on surgeries. No deductibles. I knew exactly what I'd be responsible for (or not) going in.
That insurance later changed. If I had that same surgery today, I'd be paying co-pays or a percentage on most things involved. In that case my cost might not be clear up front. But given that it was a routine surgery, I could have gotten that total cost, and my portion of it, up front if I wanted to.
Yet I wouldn't expect that to be publicly available with a hospital -- not because they don't have the information, but because each insurance company can have different fee structures and co-pay amounts. It makes no sense to expect every possibility to be laid out publicly first.
Not so with freelance writing. It's a very reasonable expectation that you can find rate information without having to call someone or email someone, share a lot of details, and wait on a custom quote just for some idea of what you might expect to pay with Writer A vs Writer B (whose information is public).
The comparison just doesn't work here.
I have a bit of experience in auto mechanics myself, but I do still typically send cars to my favorite shop when they need work (I just don't have the time to work on my car myself anymore).
Here's what I can tell you...
- When I go to the shop, my mechanic's hourly labor rate is on a nice big sign right on the wall behind the counter. There's nothing hidden about it.
- This is not the first mechanic I've had where that's been the case.
- The reason you won't find some big list of exact project rates is because even if you know exactly what work needs to be done, it's not a matter of service fees. You're paying for products as well. And those replacements parts can A) have several options available in some cases and B) vary greatly in price depending on the make, model, and year of your car. That's a very different business model than offering freelance services where there are no third party products involved.
Here's another issue with the auto mechanic comparison:
Freelance writing clients often come to us knowing what they want or need. They lay out the project specs.
Now let's say you're driving your car one day and you start hearing a squeaking sound coming from one of your wheels. It reminds you of a bird chirping. You call up your mechanic and tell him what you're hearing. You assume you need work done to your brakes.
Even if you're right and it's your brakes, you don't know exactly what's wrong. Do you have something stuck and rubbing where it's an easy fix? Do you need to repair or replace pads, rotors, or calipers? (Any of those can lead to these sounds.)
You could call up your mechanic and get a quote based on what you assume is wrong once they look up the cost of parts for your car. I've done this in the past with my guy and he's always been pretty close on up-front estimates without much detail. Why? Because if the diagnosis is right, he already knows how long certain projects take him. And the only variability is his hourly labor rate. (Just as you'd have a good idea of how long certain writing-related tasks take you for typical projects.)
Now what happens if you get to the shop, your mechanic diagnoses a problem with your bearings instead (which can also cause a chirping-style noise)?
The problem is when it comes to your car repairs, unless you're knowledgeable enough to diagnose a problem yourself correctly, you're going in not knowing what you need. So how could anyone give you an accurate up-front price? They can't. There's a diagnostic element that simply doesn't exist in freelance writing. It's more similar to someone hiring you to consult and do an audit before deciding what writing they need to have done. And even that's not a clean comparison because you're still able to share an hourly rate up front giving folks an idea of what to expect. It's much harder for a mechanic to do that before they've diagnosed a problem.
Again, they're simply not comparable.
Look. This is another one of those silly arguments. It's a typical case of "whataboutism."
If you don't want to publish rates because you simply don't want to, fine. Just say that. You don't need to try to justify it by making comparisons to totally unrelated things.
If you opt not to share rates publicly, that's your choice. No one's forcing it on you. I'm just making a case for why I think most freelance writers should test it out.
But that still doesn't mean I think every writer should, or needs to do this.
Where Not Publishing Rates Makes Sense
There are a few groups of freelance writers that could easily get away without publishing their rates. For example:
- If you mostly write for magazines, and you pitch them based on their existing published rate structures, you're less likely to be setting your own rates. That's the case when you go to prospects rather than having them come to you.
- If your schedule is constantly full (and at your ideal rate -- not at some lower rate than your experience and skills justify, as any writer can fill a schedule with sub-par clients), you might not care if your site is optimized to convert visitors into new leads. It doesn't mean publishing your rates would hurt. It could lead to even more leads, giving you even more choice in the gigs you commit to. But it won't hurt you to leave them off in this case.
- Similarly, if you're an aggressive marketer in other ways (like email pitching and cold calls) where getting clients to come to you isn't a priority, you might not care if your site is bringing in more, and more relevant, leads. You're hand-picking your prospects before pitching. And you can mention rates in your pitch or after an initial contact.
Here's the thing though. At All Freelance Writing, I'm mostly focused on helping newer freelance writers build their businesses from the ground up. And for folks in that camp, it makes no sense to put yourself at a disadvantage in any way. And what I've seen over and over again is that when new writers hide their rates (or advertise rates that are inexplicably low), they do put themselves at a disadvantage.
A Core Component of Your Marketing Mix
If you have any background in marketing, you know that there are some core components of any marketing strategy, often referred to as the "4 Ps of marketing" -- product, price, placement, and promotion.
In this case, your "product" is the service set you're offering. Your placement is where you're making those services available (your website, freelance marketplaces, etc.). Promotion would involve your more active marketing tactics. And price is, well, your freelance writing rates.
Pricing is an important part of the buying decision. Hiding it isn't helpful to buyers. And it isn't putting their needs first (as any responsible promotion does). It's essentially selfish. It's you deciding that it's more important for you to have someone's contact information and to make personal contact to try to persuade them (something your copy / placement / pricing / services / etc. should already be doing) than it is to respect prospects' time.
That's precisely why I, as a client, will not hire freelancers who don't put at least basic rate information out there prior to private contact. I don't work with people who don't respect my time. You take an immediate reputational hit with me as a buyer. And I'm not the only one. Maybe you don't need those buyers you turn off with this kind of choice. Good for you. But that isn't the case for most newer freelancers who are still trying to build a stable of clients and fill their available billable hours.
Publishing Freelance Rates Isn't Enough
Now, I'm not saying that if you suddenly put rates on your site that's enough to change your fortunes. It doesn't mean new, or better, prospects will suddenly start flocking to you.
Remember, pricing is just one element of your marketing mix. You still have to promote the things you want prospects to see.
If your site already reaches a decent amount of prospects, are they able to find the details that might convince them to hire you (including pricing)? If not, you might need to work on the user experience (UX) for your site.
And if you're not getting much traffic right now, publishing much of anything isn't helpful because you won't have eyes on it.
You also need to actively market your professional site if you want it to bring in well-qualified leads.
Perhaps most important, you have to target the right potential buyers, and your rates need to be market-appropriate.
If you don't get the bare-bones basics down, you can't expect a single simple change to make all the difference.
So don't stop with publishing your rates. You need to actively promote them (and your site as a whole). But if you aren't doing so yet, at least consider starting there.
And if you don't think your rates are helping, test something new. Figure out if your rates are too low or too high for the particular target market you're trying to appeal to. Try presenting them in a different way, or be clearer about what those rates include. Improve their visibility on your site. There's nothing in marketing you can't improve through testing.
In the end, it doesn't matter if rates vary a bit based on project specs. It doesn't matter how other types of professionals do or don't publicly list their rates. And it doesn't matter if publishing pro-level rates scares off prospects unable to pay what you're worth (and what you want).
Publishing rates is unlikely to hurt you. But there's a good chance it'll help -- whether that's publishing standard project fees, "starting at" rates, or even just a few examples to show prospects what a specific project might cost.
It's a matter of being transparent with buyers. It's about respecting them enough to give them the information they need to make an informed buying decision without putting up barriers by requiring more, unnecessary, effort on their part. And it's about respecting yourself enough to openly ask for what you're worth without hesitation or fear.
Do you have to publish your freelance writing rates publicly? No. Do whatever you want. Just know you might be leaving money on the table in the process.
What about you? Do you already publish your freelance rates? Have you been torn on it? Why did you decide the way you did?