“What should I charge?”

It’s an exciting question for any new freelancer or entrepreneur, and they usually have little trouble enjoying the dreams of making a living and a life by doing what they love. From a practical standpoint, there are a few factors based in my ghostwriting experience that I’d like to pass along to everyone taking their first few ambling steps up the entrepreneurial mountain.

When You’re Just Starting Out, Pricing Low Can Make Sense
In the beginning, I priced myself much lower than what the market can bear for my book ghostwriting services. I was able to secure clientele out of the gate who otherwise might not have wanted to pay regular rates for a new writer. Not long afterwards, I let slip the ropes from my full time day job and set out on the open seas of freelancing.

I don’t think I could have asked for more inspirational projects to start with, some of which are still in progress. I’m very happy and grateful for the relationships I’ve built up with my authors during our time together.

Ten months later, though, the original pricing regimen no longer works to pay my dues. I’ll confess, as of this writing, I have a few bills that are only partially paid, and it’s scary, but that’s part of the adventure. I have since raised my prices for new clientele, in line with the averages set by the 2015 Writer’s Market for ghostwriting a single manuscript (roughly $20,000).

Money Buys Time, Time Equals Quality
Still stumbling to explain your rates to friends and prospects? Consider this: quality work is time-intensive, plain and simple. Case in point: book ghostwriters need to have the time freed up to focus on producing great content, to do research, to learn the subject matter so proficiently that you can write in the same voice as your author, who has already spent years developing his or her own expertise in the subject.

A ghostwriter simply can’t deliver quality if what they are earning from the work doesn’t pay their bills. I’m hard pressed to imagine any professional in any other trade that could. Even when fulfilling on the contract, in the back of the writer’s mind hover all of those anxieties about notices and collections, personal debts and scarcity.

In such a scenario, the writer would have to take on other smaller assignments to make ends meet, or network with new prospects that would pay, simply adding to his plate and diminishing time spent on your project. It has a cost in the quality of the book that the writer has to deliver AND the writer’s ability to deliver.

There’s a difference between being hungry for work and starving to death. Freelance Hell is having a time-intensive contract and no way to pay the electric bill at the same time. Ensure you get paid well for your time and labour, so you can deliver quality work.
Show Them The Value

Worried that your prospects may find you too expensive? Then show them the value of your work and how you can help them. Have them regard your fee as an investment, rather than an expense. This works especially well if, like me, your primary clientele are entrepreneurs looking to generate additional revenue streams through your services.

Define your ideal client – who they are, what their industries are, what their annual incomes are – and then go where they hang out and meet them. Assemble some case studies – your own if possible, third-party if necessary – to show how your service can benefit their business. The right ones will see your value and hire you, the wrong ones won’t.

It’s Better To Chase Down $5,000 than $500
Finally, there’s this unfortunate reality behind freelancing of any sort: sometimes, you won’t get paid. Sometimes, you’ll have to chase them down to pay you what you’re owed. The effort that goes towards collecting a $500 invoice is the same as it is to chase down a $5,000 invoice. The payoff is bigger for the latter. Your expenses may vary, of course, but the principle is the same.

TL; DR Tips and Reminders
• Learn your industry’s rates and price yourself accordingly. Nothing wrong with pricing yourself low to start, but raise your prices along with your own cost of living.

• Money buys Time. Time = Quality. You can’t produce high quality work when you’re anxious about unpaid dues or busy looking for other assignments/jobs to pay said dues. Freelance Hell is having a time-intensive contract and no way to pay the electric bill at the same time.

• Know your ideal clients, meet them where they are, and show your prospects how your price is an investment for them, not a fee.

• Use the “Pick Two” Triangle of Project Management, a.k.a. Fast, Good, and Cheap. Unless you’re willing to be a slave or a machine, you’ll never be able to deliver all three. Never offer all three, and never take on a client who expects all three. That’s how you land in the deepest circle of Freelance Hell:
– If you want your product good and cheap, it won’t be fast.
– If you want your product good and fast, it won’t be cheap.
– If you want your product fast and cheap, it won’t be good.

• Always, ALWAYS require a deposit on a short-term contract, usually 50% up front. If your client skips town after you deliver the goods, at least you’ll have been paid for half of it.

• On the flipside, never let a client get away with non-payment. You’re a professional service provider: if the gas company needs to get paid, you need to get paid. Plain and simple.

• It’s more worth your time to chase down a $5,000 overdue invoice than a $500 overdue invoice. The effort’s the same either way.


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Jody Aberdeen is  the author of the sci-fi romance “Convergence” and the self-help guide for twentysomethings “QLO: The Quarter Life Opportunity”. Jody holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts in History and English from McMaster University, with a Minor in Political Science.  Outside of writing, Jody has a professional background in logistics, administration, customer service, hospitality, and retail. To get a little glimpse into Jody’s personality and what he’s up to lately, you’ll find Jody’s personal blog at Another Odd Place for a Hill.   You can also follow Jody on Twitter and Facebook.