The business of freelancing: Pricing your services

The business of freelancing: Pricing your services

October 1, 2019 By Jeannette De Beauvoir

We’ve arrived at one of the most difficult of topics when you’re first setting up your freelance business. Many if not most people who opt to freelance are creative sorts, folks who are most at home on the right side of their brains. I expect that you probably fall into that category. You’re professional and super-competent when it comes to editing, but when faced with a spreadsheet, you panic.

Unfortunately, it’s that very spreadsheet that’s standing between you and starvation—or a quick return to cubicle-land. If you cannot get your pricing down right, you won’t make any money.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Or that you’ll ever enjoy doing it. But the sooner you wrap your brain around the necessity of running a business as well as functioning as an editor, the smoother your transition into freelancing will be.

Pricing freelance services is one of the trickier parts of launching a freelance business, partly because there really are no hard-and-fast rules, but also because it’s uncomfortable for most of us to put a monetary value on what we do. Beginning freelancers will often undervalue their services for a variety of reasons, not least of which is their clients’ pressure to keep costs down.

Earlier this year I looked at the topic from the viewpoint of an author wishing to have their manuscript edited:

Many first-time authors find themselves in the literary equivalent of sticker shock when it comes time to send their manuscripts out to be edited. “I never budgeted that much!” is the usual response, and it’s never fun to be the bearer of bad tidings.
On the other hand, authors generally don’t understand the combination of expertise, time, effort, and scheduling it takes for an editor to work on their manuscripts. I am reminded of the air conditioning technician who came to repair a unit and, locating the special place to aim, kicked it smartly, causing it to start up again. The homeowner was astonished when presented with a bill for two thousand dollars. “But all you did was kick it!”
“That’s right,” rejoined the technician. “But it’s knowing just where to kick — that’s why you called me.”
Editing is a little like that. Anyone can rephrase words on a page; but it’s knowing which ones to change, and why; it’s having knowledge about different style guides, technical issues, domain information, the world of publishing in general, and — well, it’s about knowing just where to kick.
So there are some good reasons for the cost of editing. Add to that the understanding that freelance editors pay for everything out of their income — taxes, rent, living expenses, equipment, professional memberships — as well as the reality that some manuscripts do in fact require a great deal of work, and you’ll start to have a sense of what goes into the cost of editing.

That last paragraph is important. Let's think about it. You finally, finally get your first freelance client. You’re ecstatic. Your business is about the flourish. The client suggests $20/hour as a rate they’re reasonably happy to pay. You accept, because you don’t want to argue with this new client and perhaps risk losing their business.

But let's look at that figure. Last week we talked about time management, and I pointed out that no freelancer works 40-hour weeks. In other words, you may well work more than forty hours, but they won’t all be billable hours. Some of your time will be spent marketing yourself, creating content to put on the web, reading professional journals. Even if you did work 40 billable hours, you’d be making $600/week from this client, and as you saw in the quotation, that money isn’t actually yours to spend: it has to cover everything, from healthcare to rent, from insurance to groceries. Suddenly it seems less likely that this client is going to keep you going, and risking losing them by setting a higher price-tag on your services seems less catastrophic.

There are a number of different pricing models, and next week we’ll explore them in more detail. Until then, here’s some homework: think about your numbers. Add up your personal and professional expenses, and see exactly what you need to be making in order to survive. And then we’ll start tackling how to get there.

Header image by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

This article was originally posted on the Copyediting website on September 24, 2014.

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