Instead of judging an assignment at face value, calculate the hourly rate instead.
To determine how much time I spend on each assignment, especially low-paying assignments, I started tracking my time last year.
The results were shocking.
That low-paying assignment for $350 that I take on four times a year because I like the topic and love the editor? I finished it in fewer than 3 hours, which means I made more than $100 an hour.
Then, I finished a $1,200 assignment I thought would take days (making it low-paying in my mind) in fewer than six hours ($200 an hour!) And again last week, I was contacted by an editor who wanted a 600-word essay for $300. That’s a decent per word rate already, but I realized that since this was a topic I was passionate about and a personal essay to boot, I’d be able to do it in about an hour. You can’t ask for those kinds of rates if you were asking for an hourly fee!
I started realizing the sanity of what six-figure freelancers have been advising for years: Don’t look at the per-word rate of an assignment, but the per hour cost. This works even better if you’re familiar with a topic or if you’re a fast writer. Turns out, those low-paying assignments may not seem exciting on the surface, but some of them pay better than the higher-priced-but-endless-hours ones.
Here are some other ways in which that low-paying assignment might turn out to be a good deal.
1. Hourly rate
There are $2-a-word assignments that can go on and on for weeks and months and by the time you calculate your hourly, it’s almost embarrassing. And there are $100 blog posts that take you an hour to write. There is no way to determine which the better assignment is—that $2-a-word assignment you spend weeks investigating could go on to win an award, after all—but on purely monetary terms, that $100 blog post doesn’t sound bad, does it?
I appreciate bulk work from a client or editor when I can get it, and if it’s on offer, I will lower my fees. For instance, if an editor were to offer me an article for $1,000 a piece or four articles for $750 each, I’d take the second deal. The reasoning is simple: I’m getting an extra $2,000 for no additional marketing. In my business, as it currently stands, $2,000 of incoming work can require anywhere between two to four hours of marketing, so if I can spend that time doing what I enjoy instead, I’d be happy to make that tradeoff. (Of course, the ideal situation is four articles for the highest rate, which is what I negotiate for first.)
3. Regular work
What sweetens a deal even more is if it’s guaranteed monthly work. If you’ve been freelancing for a while, you know that marketing can easily take up as much as 25-50 percent of a writer’s time and if I can avoid that time spent in marketing and instead put it towards writing, that’s a winning deal.
With regular work, I not only get to take off that marketing time each month and spend it on writing, but that steady paycheck is something that’s extremely welcome in the often unsteady freelancing life. So, if an editor offers a lower rate but provides a steady paycheck, I’m often willing to take it until I can replace it with a high-paying steady paycheck.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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