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How Much Pay Should I Ask For In A Freelance Writing Gig?

Don't get taken for a ride.

21/12/2016 4:24 PM IST | Updated 24/12/2016 9:44 AM IST
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Freelancing is a tough, competitive, variable market where you can get paid as little as ₹500 for content for a website to as much as ₹10,000 for a magazine article. I've freelanced almost all my life, negotiating with corporations, adjusting to different work ethics, chasing payments, waiting for payments and getting them. 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 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.

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.

Generally, my suggestion would be to keep it a little higher than what you'd 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 ₹100,000. That's ₹100,000 for 20 working days if this was a fulltime gig. Which shortens to ₹5000 a day.

STEP 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 eight-hour work day with three hours of intense work and three of lighter tasks (and two 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-word 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 be done 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.

Say an outright no to all those toxic content sites that keep messaging writers on LinkedIn with brilliant offers of crowdsourced payments or less pay in the beginning.

Once the company has given you a quote, negotiate hard. Let me be honest here. Even the most prestigious of Indian media house or corporates don't offer the maximum they can go for a gig upfront. They'll offer at least 20% less than the amount they can pay. I would assume 30-40% 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 rev 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'll become treasure mines. Who knows?

It's a barter: I love doing barters with startups or individuals. I work on one of their gigs 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 for a much lower rate (get them to write then).

STEP 5: Don't be afraid to say no

Even if they are in the top five of 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 crowdsourced 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 probably got decades of working time in you—don't waste them on toxic, seedy or demanding employers who won't respect you or your work.

Know of any tips I've missed? Comment below. For more tips on writing, head to my website.

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