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The Great Rate Debate: Hourly or Fixed-Bid?

As a freelance writer, the rate you choose or accept depends on your personal preference. But there are other factors that should be considered. Among them: your level of experience (newbie or veteran), type of project (short or long-term), and knowledge of the project’s subject matter or knowledge of the client’s industry.

Based on my 3+ years of experience with one client as a contract freelance writer, my preference is HOURLY. The client company required that a suite of customized user manuals of 150-250+ pages be created for each of their clients. And their clients were from a very diverse cross-section of businesses, from cat-grooming spas to fast food restaurants. Just getting started on the first volume of the suite was a daunting task that required several hours of research both on the internet and of the several documents provided by the business owner. Often, that research time is not built into the cost of a fixed-rate project and the rate is non-negotiable. It is set by the hiring client, not the writer.

The fixed-rate system has a way of degrading your income potential, especially on a large project, and especially if you are not already knowledgeable about the subject matter. Consider this: If you know the subject matter you can probably write a 100-page manual about it in 20 hours or less. If you don’t know the subject matter, it could easily take up to 40 or more hours to complete a first draft. Do the math: $500 divided by 20 hours = $25/hour; $500 divided by 40 hours = $12.50; $500 divided by 60 hours = $8.33.

On the other hand, the fixed rate system may be a viable option for short writing projects where you are already familiar with the subject matter and you can complete the project in less than one day. If you have to spend more time than that on it, you’re probably cheating yourself. For example: If the rate is $30 and it takes you 8 hours to complete it, effectively you make $3.75 per hour on the project. Draw your own conclusions on whether $3.75 is line with what you would quote as a minimum hourly rate for a project. Keep in mind that the person setting the price (the hiring client) often has no idea how much time it takes to create a document.


If you are considering a fixed-rate bid project, ask the client how long they think it will take to complete the first milestone AND what all needs to be done to reach that milestone. Will you have to do any research? Will you have to customize their template or make a new one? Is their time estimate in line with your experience working on similar projects?

Before you accept a fixed-rate project on a 3rd-party site like oDesk or Elance, do some research on the site to find out when and how you get paid for your work. I found this link on oDesk:

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