How to price your work as a writer
I see this as an open letter; if other writers would like to add to the list in comments, bellow, I’d be most interested.
Thirty years on – almost – and I still have to think extremely carefully about how to price new work. I can’t say that at this juncture I have completely come up with a solution. These are some of my thoughts:
If I have a really great client – one who has stayed with me for many years and whom I know extremely well (perhaps the CEO and owner of a large company) – he and I will both know that his loyalty deserves recompense. If I am really busy with very well paid work, I will make time to serve him with the words he needs at the best possible price. If it is a job that I can do happily and well in just an hour or two, including our conversation about what is needed, I’ll sometimes ‘forget on purpose’ to invoice. In this way, I hope I am doing him a service, giving him something back in an unstructured way because he is both a client and a professional friend.
If I have contracted (i.e. signed contracts) arrangement with a large corporation, I generally stick resolutely and clearly to the agreed price per day which is detailed in the contract. In exceptions, when we both know approximately how long a piece of work will take and there are five or more days’ work involved, I will happily discount a percentage (perhaps 10, sometimes more depending on the length of the project) with the purpose of providing value that can be measured as such by the money men, should the commissioner of the work be asked about costs.
If a former ad hoc client returns for new work, I will evaluate the cost, charges, effort, client relationship etc that we have formerly enjoyed and charge accordingly. Depending on my own needs, tax allowances, overheads, time availability, and the ‘burden’ my charges might appear to place on the client for the new project, I will offer a price. I will never buy work when I'm hungry for the next project by dropping below my market value.
Which brings me to the point in another way. How do you assess, measure, understand have insight into your value in the marketplace? This is to do with your confidence and your knowledge of how skilled and clever you are as a writer. If you rate yourself highly and have all the testimonials to prove that your clients do too, this doesn’t mean that you charge a higher price. It could well mean you charge less than your full daily rate; which ought mostly to be a yardstick for your purposes of estimation. You are after all, for the most part, a person who works, thinks, lives for much of the day at least on your own, earning your livelihood as best you can, dependent on the goodwill of others as they depend on yours. Every job, year in year out, has to be the best you can do for your client. When someone pays you, for example, £500 plus per day for your work, what you do for them has to be First Class, the agreement about expectations has to be tight and you must feel sure that the client will have a return on his investment. You do not want to leave a job done, an invoice properly paid in good time, feeling uncomfortable.
Finally, of course, we have maths. Every professional has to spend a lot of his time on new business, quotes, travel expenses, office and other overheads, accountants and much besides. This takes time out of your year. Are you going to work 365 days per year. No? Then how many are you going to work? How much reasonable time of each actual day can you properly charge to your client? Do the math. Then work out what you need as a disposable income plus profits for ill days and all the unpaid holidays you either need or have to suffer while big clients are away with the friends and families. Divide the number of days you can – with your experience – actually be productive writing by the gross income you require each year. That is a helpful indication of your daily rate.
Bear in mind that, doing what you do for a living, professionally, takes its toll. You need some simple recovery time. Add 25% at least to your eventual figure. This analysis might help or might be nonsense. Discuss?