Freelance rates: deciding what to charge

We need to talk about rate setting. Particularly, we need to talk about the fact that I don’t have any money, and it is entirely my own foolish fault.

When I first started blogging for money – writing copy for other people’s websites and blogs – I was so unbelievably excited that someone was paying me for my words that I ridiculously undercharged them. And I mean ‘ridiculously.’

Not only did I start out low (£20 an hour, if I remember correctly), but I was also so desperate to get the work right that I would pore over it for far longer than I should have done. Thus an assignment I’d quoted at two hours would end up taking five, and by the time I’d written my invoice, made any changes they needed, and collapsed into a puddle sucking deep from a bottle of vodka, I realised I’d made less than minimum wage.

This is not an ideal solution.

How do you set freelance rates?

There are some fairly simple ways to set your freelance rates: the first one is to have a look at other people who are doing similar work in your area and see what they are charging. If your rates are far lower than theirs, then you are undercharging. No ifs, no ‘but I’m starting out in the industry’s: you’re undercharging. You know how I know this? Because I was undercharging, and I still am. We’ll get to that in a second.

For copywriting and blogging, lets have a look at some of the people who are already successful (and brilliant, by the way) freelance writers in the sex world:

  • Cara Sutra. Cara is a spectacular human being, and works a hell of a lot harder than I do. She charges £50 per hour for copywriting on sites outside of hers.
  • Horny Geek Girl. Also a spectacular human (not just because she once treated me to a massive fry up). I’ve commissioned her before, and her freelance rates start at £25. She charges by the piece rather than the hour, but tells me that it works out to a similar hourly rate to Cara’s – £50.
  • Mel, from Voluptasse, is also great and she has a lot of experience writing for lots of different websites. She sets her rates per piece, which means she can charge differently depending on what she’s writing. Custom erotica at around £50 per 1000 words, newsletters for £25 or SEO-tailored product descriptions and buyers’ guides for websites at £20-40 per piece.
  • My rates are £40 per hour, although that alone probably doesn’t tell you much because it depends how long something’s going to take me to write – I have a feeling I take a lot longer than my colleagues above, because they are more professional than I am. Blog posts usually take me between 2-3 hours, or 5-6 if they require lots of research or lots of back-and-forth.

Setting your freelance rates

It’s not quite as simple as just setting the same rates as others – there’s a bit more to consider when setting your freelance rates, such as:

  • Your level of experience/expertise. It might be that you’re new in the area and you want to build up your portfolio, or that you have loads of expertise from previous roles.
  • How much your time is worth to you. This one’s tricky, but really important – if you find yourself grinding away at an assignment you really don’t like for a small amount of money, maybe you should charge that work a bit higher?
  • Whether you want to be able to offer discounts. Let’s face it, if you advertise the absolute minimum you’re willing to work for, then when people ask you for a discount you’ve got nowhere to go.
  • Whether the work is regular or one-off. A regular gig for £300 per month is worth way more to me than six piecemeal assignments that add up to that. Sounds obvious in theory, but in practice the sex industry is a generally lovely place, and if someone says ‘hey would you be up for doing just one or two things?’ it can be hard to say no. Don’t necessarily say no, of course, but you might want to reflect regularity in your pricing, and offer people a discount if they put you on a retainer.

Freelance rates: common mistakes and resolutions

Mention of discounts brings me to the juicy part of this blog post: the mistakes I make, and my resolutions (which you can read as freelance top tips if you like, or just dire warnings from someone who should know better).

The reason I’m eating beans on toast this month is ‘mates rates.’ The biggest mistake I’ve made in my time as a freelancer is to give people discounts based on how lovely they are. It’s tempting, particularly in a job you love, to say ‘oh hey you’re brilliant, so I’ll work for you for much less.’ Tempting, but sort of rubbish when it gets to the end of the month. Simultaneously, there are some people I wouldn’t give up working with for the world, because I adore them and what they do. So there’s got to be a compromise here.

Resolution number one: Limit the amount of time each week that I can work for ‘mates rates’. For me this is a day a week. For you it might be a couple of hours. Stick to it, tell people, and don’t feel bad if you can’t give everyone a discount.

The second reason I’m eating beans on toast is that I drastically underestimate the amount of time I spend doing things. Sure, a blog post might only take me an hour and a half to write, so I charge 2 hours for it and think ‘ah, the extra half-hour takes into account emails back and forth, etc.’ No, it doesn’t. Not by a long shot. I’ve recently started trying to be more organised in how I split my time, and I have found that emails take up the bulk of it. Like – half. HALF. Half. I’m a professional writer and yet half my time is spent writing ‘kind regards’ or ‘please see attached.’ God, what a nob.

Resolution number two: Be realistic about extras. None of my clients mind me saying ‘hey, do you mind if we bunch everything into one weekly email rather than lots?’, and in fact most of the ‘extras’ aren’t their fault anyway – they’re just my obsessively anxious brain insisting I deal with everything when it comes in. No one minds if I don’t email them back on a Saturday, really they don’t. Get some self-discipline, me.

Third and final reason for the beans is this: I take on too many ‘fun’ projects. And by ‘fun’ I mean ‘things I don’t get paid for.’ Let’s face it, there is no way in hell I’m going to ditch this stuff, because it’s the ‘fun’ things in between the ‘work’ things that help us pass time until death, and spark joy in our little freelance hearts, right? After all, before I became a writer by trade I was a writer out of love.

Resolution number three: Be strict with yourself. Like rationing out little treats throughout the day, rather than scoffing all the biscuits first thing in the morning, a freelancer must also ration the projects they take on that aren’t paid. So this year I’ve given myself two big things I’m allowed to work on without payment: Eroticon 2017 (COME COME IT’S GOING TO BE EPIC) and something secret for my blog, which I’ll launch soon.

Freelance rates and hours: lessons I’ve learned

I’m never going to be the best freelancer in the world – I will always be bumbling along, doing the things I find fun and occasionally getting overexcited and realising that I don’t have money for bread. But hopefully you can learn a bit from my mistakes – set your freelance rates realistically, try not to give too many discounts, and treat yourself like a kind yet stern boss. Get to know other freelancers in your field – like the lovely people above – so that you can swap tips and contacts if you’re getting too much work in, or vice versa.

Above all, try and set aside a bit of time once every few months to do what I did: an audit of your hours. Work out how much time you really spend on each project each week, and what you’re charging people. Add up your hourly rate. Is it more than your freelance rates, or less? Are you making enough to live on? Are you making enough to be happy? And if not: do you need to revise them?

If you’re up for sharing your freelance rates and you’d like a plug in this article with a link, just let me know and I can add in! It’s good to share! 

Comment List

  • Zak J Keir 08 / 07 / 2016 Reply

    Some very good advice. Though the things that screws me up is the unending terror that if I charge a ‘fair’ rate, people will go oh, you’re too expensive, we’ll get someone cheaper… 🙁

    • Girl on the Net 08 / 07 / 2016 Reply

      Ah yeah, although I’d hope they’d be able to recognise value and not just *cost*. I have worked with a couple of companies like that before, tbh, and I think there’s something to be said about valuing stuff – like my shittiest clients (not in the sex world, most people in sex world are nice) are often the ones who are paying the least. There’s something to be said about the more you pay for something, the more you value it.

  • A Couple of Kinks 08 / 07 / 2016 Reply

    Hey! How do you feel about websites that set a price? It seems like the offered price is often 30-35 pounds per article. Should that be negotiated? I often approach websites without knowing what their pay rate is. I am not well-known enough to have websites approach me… yet. Thank you!

    • Girl on the Net 09 / 07 / 2016 Reply

      Hey there – I think it depends on the site tbh. If it’s a website that’s saying ‘we’ll pay £35’ on the site then chances are they’ve budgeted and they’re unlikely to move. There’s no harm in asking for a higher rate, saying ‘oh I’d love to write for you but I estimate this will take 2 hours so would you increase your payment to this?’ It can’t hurt to ask, and you’re in a stronger negotiating position if they’ve approached you specifically.

      For most stuff when they approach me I’ll usually just ask what their rates are, then either accept or reject based on that. Money I get paid ‘per piece’ can vary drastically – from £50 to £300 depending on what it is and who it’s for. So I’d look at roughly how long it’d take me and how much I want to do it, then say yes or no based on the rate they’ve offered. So long story short: I’d ask for more if I thought it needed it, then see what they say. If they didn’t move on price I’d do one of two things:
      – say no, if I didn’t think it was worth it
      – spend only as much time on the piece as it warranted. Realistically if someone’s willing to pay £100 and someone else £30, the former article gets 3 times the time/effort spent if it needs it. I used to commission guest blogs for a company – they had a teeny tiny budget and really wanted to pay writers and support sex bloggers, so I asked what their absolute max was and they said £25. So I commissioned people with that figure up-front, and made it clear to them that they should spend exactly as much time as they felt they wanted to for that rate – I could tidy bits up in editing, add links, intros etc because they weren’t being paid to write War and Peace or anything.

      • A Couple of Kinks 11 / 07 / 2016 Reply

        Thank you so much! Your answer is super helpful! Will definitely consider that for the next time a company approaches me 🙂

  • Angel Helen 08 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    THANKS! I really enjoyed reading that, being such an innocent girl it taught me so much 🙂

  • colby marie z 13 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    “…I drastically underestimate the amount of time I spend doing things” YES! as a tiny infant baby blogger, I have found this to be SO ABSOLUTELY true! thank you for this – super helpful!

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