How much does it cost?

The caller got right to the point. “How much does it cost for a 250-word newsletter article?”

The thing about services is that there’s rarely a simple answer to “How much?” You can always answer with a range, but that’s only helpful if you provide context and details.

Think of renovating your kitchen. How much does that cost? If the renovator said it would cost from $1,000 to $75,000, would that help? Not really, unless you had some qualifiers. The price depends on whether you’re just going to repaint your cupboards and change the hardware, or you want to gut and replace the existing cupboards, flooring, countertops, backsplash and so on.

So I asked what would be involved in coming up with the 250 words. If I need to do research and interview one person or more, that’s a different project than summarizing and paraphrasing existing content. If I have to interview three or four people and only have 250 words to tell their story, the project is quite different from one where I can take as many words as necessary; it takes more time and skill to write concisely and still include a lot of detail.

I also asked about who the readers would be, and if the newsletter already existed or was being created. If just being created, I wanted to know what the company wanted to achieve and why they thought a newsletter was the answer. I love newsletters, but I would say something if I thought it wouldn’t be right for their needs.

The caller did not know the answers to any of my questions; she was just calling around to find out “how much.” Presumably the company would then compare the prices and pick the cheapest.

Freelance writer Paul Lima answers the “how much” question by saying:

“There is no one right answer. I know many writers. They charge anywhere from $35 to $250 per hour. They charge anywhere from $0.50 to $5 per word.”

The Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) likewise says:

“[T]hat frequently asked question [What to pay a writer] lacks a simple answer. Fees charged by professional writers vary according to the work involved. Many factors affect payment.”

These factors include the type of assignment, the number of words and/or time required and the number of interviews or research. Writers also tend to earn more in large cities, and an experienced writer can charge more than someone just starting out.

PWAC lists fees in What to Pay a Writer that show range of rates:

  • Per word: 10 cents per word at small community newspapers to $3 per word for government reports.
  • Hourly: $40 per hour for writing advertorials to $150 for copy, script and news release writing.

The numbers aren’t necessarily helpful, are they? Not unless you know how many hours are involved, or how many pages, or why you would be charged $3 per word over $1 per word. So if you’re trying to find out “How much does it cost?,” be prepared for a conversation before you get an answer.

If you’re an independent, how do you answer the “how much does it cost?” question? If you’re on the buyer side, what kind of answer do you expect to get to that question? Please comment.

¬†Image: Dollar sign by “sscreations” and FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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6 Comments

  1. Maryjane Martin
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I love how you put you put “cost” into context Sue.

    I particularly feel sorry for new writers who must struggle with this without your experience to ask the right questions.

  2. Posted June 18, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Maryjane! It’s also useful for buyers to know. Writing can look easy, but there’s a lot going on under the surface.

  3. Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Good post, Sue. I cringe when I hear someone say, ‘Writing content is easy – what I need is a great design (for my website/collateral/etc).” Usually, people soon see the value in hiring a professional writer to do the “easy” work.

  4. Roger Morier
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    I think you’ve hit it right, Sue – as much as the requester may dislike it the answer to the question of “How much?” has to be “That depends on the context”. There is no set price for the independent work that we do. The rates we set are a function of the effort involved in delivering a final product; it’s unfair to ask people to set a price for a deliverable without knowing how much time and effort it will take to produce what is expected. It sounds like you were dealing with an intern or lower-level employee who was asked to “phone around” and gather some basic information about what could be the least expensive solution to a particular challenge. If that’s the case, then I’m not sure you’d want to work for that kind of organization where cost trumps quality.

  5. Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Thanks for commenting, Heather and Roger. Yes, I think you are right, Roger, the caller was an intern or administrative help. I do prefer to work for a company that appreciates the value of good communication. Sure, cost will enter the picture but you would hope the default is not the cheapest price.

  6. Posted June 21, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Usually it take more time to write fewer words, so I never base my quote on the number of words. Prospects who start the conversation with cost per word are usually looking for a MacWriter, so I won’t play. Instead, I work out how much time I expect it take me to perform certain tasks and list them specifically in the quote, such as how many sets of revisions. Then I state that anything beyond those specs will be billed at my hourly rate. I used to never have problems with this, but since the recession and elance, that has changed.

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