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Updated February 2019
How much should a freelance writer charge per hour? If you’ve been writing for any amount of time at all, you know your value as a writer is not set in stone. In fact, your value increases as you get better at your craft. But I would venture to say many of us are reluctant to let our rate cards reflect our value for fear that the market we serve simply cannot bear it. That’s usually not the case.
While you don’t have to rewrite your rate card every time you add a new skill to your arsenal, you should make it a habit to re-assess your hourly rate as a writer at least once per year.
Why $25 Per Hour Isn’t Enough for the Freelance Writer
In general, writers set their prices either per hour, per word, or per project. You determine your hourly rate by aligning your current market value (how much the market is willing to pay for your skill set) with your professional value (the specific elements that make up your skill set). I think the median annual household income in the U.S. is somewhere around $60,000 right now, while the average woman earned $783 a week in first quarter 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s $40,000 a year.
So, if your goal is $40,000 a year, you would work fifty 32-hour weeks if you’ve set your rate at $25 an hour. That’s $800 per week for you, or $3,440 per month (with 4.3 weeks in every month). Not bad at all, by any stretch of the imagination. However, how you have to spend the $800 a week is what determines whether or not that’s a good rate for you.
If you are like most self-employed freelancers, your business has to support your lifestyle, fuel its own growth and provide ample opportunities for future employment. So let’s look again at that $25 per hour.
- Life insurance per person (assuming you have a dependent, $30 per month)
- Health insurance (for an individual $250 per month)
- Unemployment insurance (2%-4% of income on average is $103.20 per month)
- Disability insurance (averages 2% of income which is $68.80 per month)
- Workers compensation (averages 3% of income which is $103.20 per month)
- FICA (15.3% of income, which is $526.32 per month)
- Savings (> 10% of income which is $344.40 per month)
- Retirement savings (> 10% of income which is $344.40 per month)
TOTAL liabilities: $1,770.30
As you can see, if you use a number like $25 per hour as your base, it can quickly turn into $12 per hour after taxes and planning for your family’s financial security. And that’s BEFORE you pay your regular bills.
Now, throw in the following day-to-day expenses:
- 2 bedroom apartment rental in a country town like mine $900 (but FYI, the average American plays more $1400 a month in rent)
- Renter’s insurance $15 (hello, Lemonade)
- Car note $259
- Auto insurance $150
- Fuel/maintenance $200 (a little more than half the average for American households in 2011)
- Groceries $200 (which is far below the national average)
- Utilities $70
TOTAL living expenses: $1,794
At the end of the month, an hourly rate of $25 per month could leave the self-employed writer in the hole more than $100 every month. What typically happens in a situation like this is to make room for things like family trips, dining out, new clothes, school supplies, and stuff like that, something gets cut – usually the financial protections for your family like life insurance, worker’s compensation, disability… Because we’re all pretty much hoping we live forever and life stays great.
Now, we haven’t gotten to things like developing your business, which is CRUCIAL when you’re a home-based service provider who can’t rely on a great location and foot traffic to get new clients.
Your business expenses can include things like paying a monthly subscription to participate in gig marketplaces like Upwork or spending $15 a day on People Per Hour to promote the fact that you ghostwrite 50-page ebooks in a week.
It could mean running a paid Facebook campaign that targets local businesses or budgeting for pay-per-click ads to make sure you have some sort of visibility on Google (something I’m working on RIGHT NOW).
Your business expenses can include paying for the hosting on your website or having the money to get cool social media images made on Fiverr.
It’s being able to afford a business line… or at least a business number. For folks like me who don’t spend tons of time playing with apps on her phone, working as a freelancer meant I had to upgrade my phone to accommodate Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest (so I could do social while standing in line at the grocery store).
And I had to make sure I still had enough storage and a fast enough processor to add Slack, Dropbox, Buffer, Planoly, and Rescue Time.
Add to that Google Analytics, Google news, PayPal for Business, Cash App (some clients insist on paying with Cash App), and Wave Apps (my official bookkeeping system)…
It may mean a new laptop, software subscriptions…
I pay $49 a month for MeetEdgar (love it, love it, LOVE IT!) because it literally saves me 10 hours a week on social media. (I mean, raise your hand if you don’t have an extra 10 hours a week to spend scheduling LinkedIn posts!!!)
Most freelancers have no idea the types of expenses they will incur as a result of running a side gig. But, if you want to work and still be able to grow, it’s actually better for you to start by charging a higher rate and building from there. Let the market tell you what the market can bear and skip going the bargain basement route. That way, you can cover your day-to-day expenses, build for your financial future, AND satisfy some of your present-day wants.
Photo credit: Kelly Samuel