Have you noticed that almost everyone who has a laptop and can type has a secret perception that writing is easy and therefore it should not cost much?
When you decide to launch your writing career (whether you have your own business or work within an organisation), one of the most difficult challenges you face is the commercial valuing of your work.
There is a practical necessity — no matter how long you’ve been in the writing business — to initially and regularly examine your pricing strategy to ensure you are balancing your efforts with what you are charging.
Your pricing will and should change over time as your experience and confidence grows, and in response to the current market. Here are some practical guidelines for pricing you may find helpful.
Strategy = A plan to create value
Many believe strategy is a mystical exercise about some airy-fairy concepts and lateral-thinking creativity …but strategy is practical and focused squarely on bringing delight to your audience and your customers/ clients.
|Customer’s Delight||Writer’s Delight|
|the difference between the:
· willingness and ability to pay
· quality and suitability of the writing
· and the price.
|the difference between the:
· extent of your labour
· compensation you must meet for your labour.
· profit to sustain your dream
|Willingness to buy||Willingness to sell|
Here are some components that need to be considered when you begin to create your pricing strategy.
In my experience, scoping every writing project as accurately as possible is a major key. (See my previous STC article on how to scope a project BEFORE you begin working). Obviously, the ‘bigger’ the project the higher the cost. Bigger could mean number of words/ pages, having to start from just a title and do all the research, working with someone who is difficult, etc.
It could mean how complicated the project is due to the number of subject matter experts or people whose opinions must be satisfied or sought out. It could mean an obscure topic that will take heaps of research where there is little information or material available.
You get the picture. No matter what, never begin writing until you have a clear scope of the work defined (and the contract signed, including agreement on payment amount and terms).
- A ‘pricing history framework’
When you set up a ‘pricing history framework’ it will provide you with an historical record of projects you’ve completed, the time it took to complete each one and the pricing strategy you used.
This can be a simple Excel spreadsheet or even a Word table, where you list your projects across one axis of the spreadsheet and list relevant details down the other access. Here are the specifics I have found helpful to track.
- Date started
- Date completed
- Type of writing (researching and writing to a topic, editing something already written, etc.)
- Category of project (manual, work instruction, user stories, etc.)
- Industry of project (medical, engineering, IT, etc.
- Number of pages/ words
- Unique requirements (tight deadline, extra research, interviewing)
- Pricing strategy used and if the client paid as agreed
- Comments (leave enough space to describe any unique requirements as these are usually contributors to the work).
NOTE: You may have others details you believe are valuable to track. It would be great if you could share them by commenting on this article.
Having a set of parameters gives you the opportunity to compare your projects in a balanced and factual way. When a new client approaches with a unique project it will provide you with confidence and ideas of how to price new work accurately.
Additionally, this database will help you identify what has worked well in pricing and what needs to be strengthened.
Time can be a challenging master. You must ensure this component is factored into your client agreement/ contract. We’ve all faced the ‘we must have this 90-page document by the end of the two business days’ projects and it is not fun and, in my experience, you never get paid fairly under these circumstances.
A project with a tight deadline means you have to move your other work around to accommodate it or lose sleep or friends to complete it, and sometimes compromise quality.
It is alright to just say ‘No’ and your client will respect you for not being too easy. However, if you are desperate for funds or if the work is for your favourite client (who always pays on time) it may be worth the extra effort. Typically, it just leads to cutting corners and annoying others waiting their turn for your services.
Rule of thumb: the quicker they need it the more you should charge. The worst thing you can do is ‘train up your client’s or your bosses’ expectations for the impossible’. They will come to expect it every time!
You earn experience with every article or manual or procedure you write. How much have you written in the past? Not how much time have you studied writing, but how much actual writing experience do you have.
Consider routinely asking your clients for testimonials about how satisfied they are with your writing. I’m not talking about four or five stars or some senseless NPR type of rating. Ask your clients to write out their thoughts and ask them for permission to use their words in your marketing efforts.
Hint: Having testimonials from satisfied customers is a personal cure for the blues. When everything seems impossible and you wonder which end of a pen to pick up, this personal ‘brag book’ that you can pull out and encourage yourself when the world turns foul.
Authentic testimonials are invaluable. Don’t be embarrassed to ask someone to write how they experienced your skills and customer service approach. This gives you proof of your experience.
Typically, fledgling writers tend to err on one of two extremes when it comes to promoting their experience:
- To ‘apologise price’ the work too low
- To ‘over-confidently price’ the work too high
Different to experience. Niche expertise means your specialty area. For example: IT, engineering, legal, medical or knowledge management.
You can narrowly specialise or provide a variety of strong areas across a range of areas.
- What type of document writing have you done?
- What do you love writing about?
- Are you good at research and analysis?
- Do you understand the neutral power of writing policy, frameworks, processes, procedures, proposals, how to guides, work instructions, written direction, user manuals, training programs and aids, e-learning, reports, articles and presentations?
- Are you familiar with ISO standards?
- What about legal, compliance with regulations?
- Are you good with project management?
- Do you have knowledge of or a hunger to learn more about IT, engineering, legal, medical, transportation, aerospace or incident management?
What software tools are you proficient or expert with? Microsoft™ applications (including Visio, Teams and SharePoint) Confluence, ARK, JIRA, Trim, Information Mapping, ServiceNow? There are heaps of places to hone your skills and you never know when a unique tool will land you new work.
For example, have a friend who specialises in knowing everything about using PowerPoint for all sorts of applications and she is always busy!
There is nothing more important than the translation work today’s technical writers can offer. Translating complicated information into useable reading material is a rare gift.
- The relationship potential
Some are customers and some are clients and some are life-time ‘partners’ in your success. It takes some time to develop someone who just wants something written quickly and for just one time only from those who want a long-term relationship.
Obviously, the desire is to have a few, reliable clients who are easy to work with and who pay on time. Always ask a new client how much potential work they might have.
I am presently working with someone who initially just wanted me to check the spelling and grammar in a book he had written. A year later and I’ve completed five more books (full editing, formatting, publishing and promotion (plus he has just added designing marketing collateral and a web site). But it would not have happened if I hadn’t asked him about the volume of work he might wish to work through. We developed a good working relationship built on trust and honourable pricing.
To foster the relationship, you might identify that a client has a large number of articles or a book or two to write. You could propose an annual retainer. Many organisations are looking for someone to write articles for their blog. If you can work out a fair retainer structure of a set monthly amount plus a discounted hourly rate for work over the monthly amount it can help galvanise your client to you for at least a year.
- Portfolio potential
How much prestige will this client add to your potential. Your first few clients will help you establish your writing business and help you realise the challenges of writing (part-time or full-time) before you have the luxury to think about the potential of adding someone significant to your client list.
It’s a good idea to write down a ‘Wish list’ of people you would enjoy writing for because they have a name that is recognised by others. This could be a government official, someone in the news, a local leader, an expert in their field that people know about. Then consider ways to market yourself to them.
A ‘stable’ of known experts that you are writing for will help you get even more clients. Eventually, you may be able to pass on other clients to a colleague or take a partner into your business.
No, I don’t mean finishing the work and shipping it off, I’m talking about feeding your heart with the joy of knowing you have enjoyed learning about a new topic and/ or writing a beautifully orchestrated document.
Work is not life and if you don’t enjoy your work, it will hurt you and cause you stress.
If you are working within an organisation, of course, there may seem to be less opportunity to be less likely to pursue personal fulfilment but strive to because it will prove more important than you realise.
- Will I enjoy this project?
- Will this client be reasonable to work with and for?
- Will this assignment help me advance my own skills?
Fun trumps money every time. If you’re not excited about a project…you will regret the time, sweat and tears you pour into it.
- Types of pricing strategies
Minimal Acceptable Pricing (MAP) must be a ‘win-win’. Here are some approaches to pricing that you might consider.
If you work within an organisation, your experience over time should result in reasonable pay increases. And you can also write part-time to see if you will enjoy writing for a living.
- Per hour
Did you know a lawyer must log his activity every six minutes! Well, that is just too much for me. When writing for an hourly rate, use an hour timer and log progress along the way. This record of activities (researching, writing, speaking with subject matter experts, etc.) takes time.
Keeping this log makes it easy to create your invoice. Always attach a daily record of hours spent.
Some clients believe this is a more flexible approach and from your side, it is especially beneficial when working with a client who is unsure what they want and require rewrites. It is not as easy for clients to budget for.
If you have a ‘pricing history framework’ with data in it, this will help you with an hourly rate.
If you are just starting out, there are a few ways to set your hourly rate. Consider the minimum wage in your area and start there. You can also consider your salary at your last job and do the simple math to divide the amount you earned by the hours you worked.
Another way is to do an internet search of other writers and consider how you compare with their offerings. Price shopping the local market is not all that easy but many writers have the confidence to mentor new writers.
- Per assignment
Scoping and your pricing history framework are critical tools when you price by the assignment. The more detailed they are, the easier it will be to be accurate with your pricing.
Once you scope the project, apply the pricing framework. Add three to five percent to your basic, minimum acceptable price to cover unexpected events that will happen as you are writing. Few projects go smoothly and once you quote a price you are locked in.
- Per word
Per word is best for short pieces that must be edited to a set number of words or characters, like website content marketing, blog articles and promotional copy.
As with an hourly rate, use your framework and shop your colleagues. Writing short pieces is hard work, unless you’ve been practicing this arcane art for a long time.
It can be a very lucrative but hair-pulling exercise.
- A Package Deal – Annual Contract
When I first started writing, I was afraid I would not be able to pay my monthly bills. So, I invented my own package deal.
I offered a set number of articles per month, per year for $500 per month (they had to sign an annual contract. I was primarily writing 16-page newsletters).
This approach was attractive to my clients, and it worked very well for me because I always knew how to budget monthly. Eventually, I added ‘and if you require additional writing after that it is $50 per hour.
Look over your framework, consider what your basic monthly requirements are and work to meet them as a minimum.
Always write out a contract to detail exactly what you will deliver (based on the scoping exercise) and exactly how the costs will be calculated. This will minimise/ eliminate haggling after the fact.
Also, you can include:
- an incentive clause (if you pay within the 15 days the invoice is due, you can save five percent)
- or a contingency fee for change orders to cover the possibility that the project takes a turn away from what was originally agreed.
- a nuisance fee for clients who live just to give you a headache
- Avoid envy and arrogance.
- Never be greedy.
- There will always be someone who will charge less.
- Never be afraid to say ‘no’ to a project.
- Always give more than you are asked for.
- Love what you do, and the money will never be the key factor!
Honourable and reputation-building, value-pricing for your writing work will establish you as a professional who is confident in the work quality and ensure your business grows enough to narrow your market to ‘the sweet spot of your success’.
By Darlene Richard (www.write4you.co )