Ask Me Anything: Rates, Cold-Calling and Contracts

Ashley Festa asks,

What are the must-haves in your writing contracts?

While I’m pretty flexible about contracts with my clients (I generally use a letter of agreement), there are a couple of things that I find especially important to have in writing with my clients:

  • The money: It may seem a little obvious that I want to have how much a client is going to pay me written down, but it really is a must-have. Even with a number in writing, I’ve had clients try to argue.
  • The due dates: While it’s good to have the date you’ll hand materials over to your client written down, I also include the dates by which my clients need to have information to me. For instance, if I need background information on the client’s company before I can move forward, I’ll note the date that I have to have that material by in order to meet my deadline.
  • The ownership of the final piece: Most magazines are pretty good about pointing out that they’re only buying certain rights to your work in their contracts, but many business clients aren’t aware that you can keep certain rights. Personally, I am comfortable with work-for-hire projects (and my rates reflect that), but I spell everything out ahead of time.

    Mahdi Gharavi asks,

    How to charge for freelancing? Hourly, per word, per project?

    I’ve written about rates before, but that’s generally been geared towards freelancing full-time (or at least working on full-time). Because I know Mahdi has a full-time gig, I figured I’d focus a little more on part-time rates. Part-time rates for a freelance writer are more likely to be based on experience, rather than how much you actually need to be making — after all, you’ve got income coming in already.

    I’d recommend starting out with your hourly rate, at least when you’re planning your rates. Most of the clients I work with prefer per project rates, but once you’ve gotten your hourly rates in place, offering a project rate is just a matter of estimating how many hours the project will take. As long as you’ve got great writing skills and a couple of years of writing experience under your belt, I suggest starting your rate at $50. That number is based on a couple of assumptions: You’re based in the U.S. or Europe. You’re going to pay taxes on your freelancing income. You’re a good writer.

    If you live somewhere with a lower cost of living or you’re only just starting out as a writer, things are different, of course. But considering that the average hourly rate for a writer employed full-time is somewhere between $20 and $25 per hour, $50 makes sense. Your clients don’t have the added cost of benefits, payroll taxes, office furniture or anything else when hiring you, so $50 probably is roughly equivalent to that $25 per hour that an employed writer will get. You can raise that rate with more experience, specialized skill sets and absolutely top-notch clips.

    Ty Unglebower asks,

    Is cold calling effective to get business? I myself never do it, as it seems a waste of time, and a bit crass, but wanted to ask you.

    I don’t cold call. I know a few writers who have landed clients through cold calling, but I generally don’t think that cold-calling potential clients is an effective strategy for freelancers. There are plenty of other industries where it works, but it just doesn’t seem to be a good fit for us.

    Warm calling is a different matter. I will do everything I can to create a connection to someone I want to land as a client before I call them. I’ll try to find events they’ll be attending, I’ll friend them on social networking sites, I’ll send them reports and other buzz pieces that can persuade that prospective client that they really need a great freelance writer. Having a connection in place makes all the difference, both in my comfort level and the likelihood I can land a contract.

    A side note: I don’t consider querying publications to be cold calling, especially if they’ve posted submission guidelines somewhere. Querying can be a good method to land assignments, but it has a different structure than cold calling.

    Got a question about the business side of freelance writing? Send it my way and I’ll answer it here next week!

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