How much should I ask for a freelance assignment?

Writing is a tough profession and a lot of authors get by with getting freelance gigs on the side to pay for their writing time. I’ve freelanced almost all my life, negotiating with corporations, adjusting to different work ethics, chasing payments, waiting for payments and getting them.

Freelancing is a tough, competitive, variable market where you can get paid as little as Rs 500 for content for a website to as much as Rs 10,000 for a magazine article. Writers often approach me with a question on how much they should ask for an assignment they’ve been offered. Which is why this post.  Here are five ways to determine what you should ask for. Best of luck!

STEP 1: What’s the monthly salary you want?

Forget the thought of what companies are paying or what other freelancers are getting. Have some faith in yourself and find a sweet spot you want to reach per month. Believe me, all the rest usually falls into place. What would you like to earn? Think up of a monthly amount. This amount could be either what you want to lead a good life or what you’d get if this was a full-time position. But this amount will make you satisfied and happy. Generally, my suggestion would be to keep it a littler higher than what you’ll fetch in a full-time position since freelancers don’t make a regular income and you won’t get paid leaves or medical insurance. But don’t make it double either. That’s just getting greedy. For example, say you think that your monthly salary should be Rs 1,00,000. That’s 1,00,000 for 20 working days if this was a fulltime gig. Which shortens to Rs 5,000 a day.

writeSTEP 2: How much time will I take?

To know how much to ask for, you need to know how many hours and how many days the assignment is going to take you. Assume an 8-hour work day with 3 hours of intense work and 3 of light one (and 2 for lunch, coffee and Facebooking). I usually count ideating, researching and line editing as light work and actual writing or structural editing as hard ones. Now that you’ve divided your work, find out what your speed is. I can’t write more than 1200-2000 words a day, so I know that if I was to write a 12,000 words long report, it would take me about 8-10 days. However if it’s editing only, the same report would take me half the time to do. That’s my speed. I’ve come to it after a long process of taking ages to finish assignments that were to finish off in a day or two.

Since everyone’s style, speed and work time is different, I would suggest you go by an approximate in the beginning and see how much time you’re taking on assignments and then improve with every other assignment.

STEP 3: How much can the company pay?

Now this is a bit cheeky but it works. Keep the figure you’ve arrived at from what you want to earn in your mind, but never be the one to spill it out first.  Ask them to come up with a number. You never know. They might pay more than what you’ve set up for yourself! I mean it does happen in impossible worlds.

Once the company has given you a quote, negotiate hard. Let me be honest here. Even the most prestigious of Indian media house or corporate don’t offer the maximum they can go for a gig upfront. They’ll offer at least 20 percent lesser than the amount they can pay. I would assume 30-40 percent negotiable space.

If you’re not in the mood for negotiating or feel that the amount you’ve come up with is what you want, say it out loud and don’t back down. The company will appreciate your honesty and work ethics and believe me, pay you as you ask.

STEP 4: Exceptions to the rule

Since you’re the one making the rule of pay, you can also make exceptions. Here are a few that would tempt me to take a cut in the pay.

The gig gives me credit: It’s a prestigious magazine that I really wanted to work for. Or a once-in-a-lifetime chance to associate with a brand and revv up my resume.

The copyright remains with me: I know it’s not of value but for copyright, I would reduce the contractual fee. I like to keep things I create with myself. Maybe sometime in the future they become treasure mines. Who knows?

It’s a barter: I love doing barters with startups or individuals. I work on one of their gig in exchange for a cover design, or a marketing project. But I do these only with people I trust.

I would stay away from any other argument, including this is a relationship building first (a doctor doesn’t give you a free consultation because you’re a new patient); we will pay for the second gig (same as above); do this as a friend (no, this is my profession); you’ll get money depending on eyeballs (run away); why are you charging so much. Others write in much lesser. (Get them to write then).

STEP 5: Don’t be afraid to say no

Even if it’s the top five in your list and you’ve dreamt of working with them ever since you were in your chaddis, don’t be afraid to say no. Nothing will change. The world won’t fall off the hook and if you remain in the field, you will get new opportunities. It’s easy to decrease your rate, saying you want to really work for these guys, you’ve always dreamed of being associated with this brand or want to experience this kind of writing, but such assignments usually lead to more money-less demands and gigs. My suggestion is to say an outright no to all those toxic content sites that keep messaging writers on LinkedIn with brilliant offers of crowdsource payments or less pay in the beginning. Believe me, you’re saving yourselves a lot of heartache in the long run.

Yes great opportunities come rarely but if you remain in the field, they come in regularly. Keep at it, build up quality contacts and look for great quality work. You’ve about 40 years of working time in you, don’t waste it on toxic, seedy or demanding coworkers who won’t respect you or your work.


Have I missed any suggestions? Add them below in the comment box!

  • Very apt and helpful article, Shweta!

    ‘Don’t be afraid to say no.’…totally agree!

    Thanks for sharing your views and ideas. 🙂

    • Agree. Don’t be afraid to say NO! We have to keep at it. Thanks for reading up, Tarang!

  • Rightly said, specially #5. It takes some time to say NO but it’s something we need to learn if we wish to move ahead.

    Cheers,
    Rajiv

    • thanks Rajiv, frankly I’m still trying to keep saying NO and stepping back from projects which sounds quite interesting!

  • Thanks for sharing this, Shweta and all these tips are very valid pointers. I believe that a writer sets the benchmark for herself and if it’s she who thinks it can be done in a dime, no one will pay her a dollar.

  • Meraj Shah

    Good piece Shweta. Reckon you could mention something on canvassing work from overseas publications as a means of subsidising the work one takes on in India.
    I started issuing a blanket refusal to any work which paid less than a benchmark I set. Initially there was a lull but eventually some people came back. Much better to do less of higher paying, and more gratifying work, than trying to meet a financial goal per diem. Still, I would never recommend freelance writing as a primary vocation to anyone! In this country at least.

    • thanks man. I wanted to keep away from the international for this one as primarily we try to get freelance assignments in our own country. But you’re right, it’s just so hard to make it the primary vocation! But I’m glad you stuck to your guns and got great assignments as a result. I think it’s possible and it all begins by saying a no in the beginning and setting boundaries.

  • well said but looking at the current content writing market it is very difficult to get what you desire at times bcz in India any work in terms of free lancing is considered to be free or minimally paid but the points you have covered are worth reviewing

    • thanks for writing back, trupti. I agree. As with fulltime jobs, freelance opportunities are affected by market and you can adjust your rates accordingly. What I want to do most with this blog is encourage writers (and other freelancers) to stand up for their rates and not take lesser!