In my journey into entrepreneurialism I’ve realized that instead of freelancing, it might have been easier to decide to sell purses at a mall kiosk. I’d buy purses from ebay for a dollar and sell them for fifteen. Subtract the cost of running the kiosk and pay myself. But I’m not selling purses from a kiosk, I’m selling myself.
My markup isn’t about covering costs. My markup is about preparing text for print. How do I charge for that? In my previous research (lurking on Fiverr) I realized that if I want to sell content I’d have to compete with insanely cheap prices, and editing content generated from a computer program isn’t really what I had in mind when I set out to start my own business.
I recently had an amazing opportunity. I met with a potential customer! I was so excited about the prospect that I spent the days leading up to the meeting deciding what I was going to wear. Unfortunately, that time would have been better spent doing my homework.
As I sat there confidently sipping my whiskey, I felt great because I knew he was taking me seriously as a writer. That smugness diminished as I learned more and more about what he had in mind. I wasn’t interested in contributing to his project in the way that he was proposing. However, instead of finishing my drink and calling it a night, I offered up ways that I could contribute to his project.
I felt myself slip into my old sales persona, the one I used when selling dresses at a boutique. Find a middle ground between what you want and what they want. The lady likes the expensive dress, but it’s too expensive. Solution: find another dress in her price range that has similar qualities. Read her reaction to the new dress. Does she like it? Make the sale and suggest that she come back when her tax refund comes in (the expensive one might still be here… I wink conspiratorially.)
Sitting in the bar, I was quickly able to find something close to that middle ground between me and my potential customer, but that confidence all but disappeared when he asked about rates. I reverted back to a nasty old habit of mine: passivity. “Oh I don’t know. What do you think?” I admit that it’s easier for me to sit across from an interviewer who is offering me $17 an hour and talk them up to $20, but when it comes to setting my own prices I turn into a coward. I’m not sure why I do this, and if you have any ideas, please share them!
I ended up throwing out a random rate that I had read on Reddit: eight cents a word. My potential customer looked at me blank faced. I had to get out a notebook and do some quick math as I prayed I wasn’t calculating in error. It was a fumble for sure. The per word rate wasn’t a clean fit for the type of content we were talking about, and I simply wasn’t experienced enough to know what else to do.
We ended up finishing our drinks and calling it a night. We weren’t able to reach a deal but I still consider the experience a success. I needed the practice of sitting with a customer and finding out where our needs and services overlap and I realized that my sales game is strong and my money game is weak. I knew what my next step needed to be.
At home in my PJs, I Googled, “How much do writers charge.” The first few hits were promising and I was exposed to some great supportive websites like writersdigest.com and writersmarket.com. I found a great article by Lynn Wasnak that explained everything.
First, get a number that you need to live on for a year, including all your costs like insurance, taxes, supplies. Divide that number by how many billable hours you’ll do in a year. Wasnak suggests 1,000 hours which is about nineteen hours a week (totally doable for me.)
Calculating my fees in this way is very satisfying to me, because I’m the type of person who loves budgeting and planning (strange I know.) It’s also a comfort to know how many hours a week I need to work. We all know that a clearly defined goal is good to have in mind.
I currently work when gigs come my way, but admittedly that hasn’t been very frequent. The psychic (remember her?) told me I needed to network more so I can learn more about my market. She was right, but I think I needed to have this experience first. Now I have a clearer understanding of what my rates should be and that will translate to a smoother sales pitch.