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Freelance and consulting: A seldom considered but important factor in rate setting

Years ago when I started my freelance and consulting practice as a freelance writer / editorial consultant, my rate was the same regardless of the type of work I was doing. I figured that time is time, so everybody and all types of work pay the same hourly fee.

No one questioned this, including myself, because very few people understood much at all about freelancing. I would frequently phone marketing communications executives at insurance companies who would ask me what a freelancer is. Honest! They had staff to do everything they needed done and were unfamiliar with the concept.

As solopreneurs became more commonplace and there was more competition for assignments, I had to become more sophisticated in my pricing. Of course my fees are based in part on how much time the work will require—this has always been an important criterion—but in addition, I consider the specialized knowledge required. I charge more for insurance-specific assignments (for which I have credentials) than occasional work of a more general nature, and writing from scratch pays more than proofreading.

I am finding that another important factor in pricing is sheer size. A longer project is more challenging than a briefer one. Of course it takes more hours. But it also requires more gray matter.

My own experience with long pieces is in writing marketing research reports. These require tons of survey data, organized into tables with bulleted observations, as well as telephone interviews, lit searches, ongoing research to keep the report timely during the period in which it is being written, and my calculation of data projections.

This work can be really stressful and demanding. I’ve talked to other freelancers who won’t accept such big assignments.

These assignments demand organization and consistency throughout. You never leave the first part behind because further writing must coordinate with it. It’s common to get deep into the project and find that you have lost your way. This necessitates scanning through past work and sometimes moving much of it around and inserting new transitions.

Even style issues require consistency, especially if you are working with data and data presentation. If you’re three-fourths of the way through and you have a great idea to improve your tables or graphs, it’s all the way back to the start. This claims a lot of brain real estate. It is hard work!

A similar problem occurs when each writing assignment is brief—say perhaps a blog post—but you are responsible for ongoing development, such as with a blog. You have to keep track of topics covered to date, crafting each post to provide continuity of major themes, balance the varying threads and introduce fresh topics and treatments as well.

Plus it all has to build on evolving marketing and other client strategy. This is much more challenging than writing 500 words on a given, isolated topic, submitting it to the client and never thinking about it again.

Longer or chained assignments are both more difficult and more valuable to the client and therefore justify a higher fee. In some instances, however, experience and comfort with the client speeds up the work over time.

Originally posted 4-30-13

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