A Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Your Freelancing Writing & Translation Rates

Freelance writers and translators have long questioned how to set an appropriate rate. In this guide, we lay out the essential factors they must consider as they set their desired rate.
Nadine Fahmy

Nadine Fahmy

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There’s a lot of truth to the phrase “time is money,” no matter how clichéd or even problematic a saying it is. In the framework of the world we live in today, where people are constantly rushing, hustling, and working long hours, everyone is bound to feel that they need to put some sort of price tag on their valuable time.

This applies perhaps most of all to freelancers, whose working hours, while flexible, are what really determine how sustainable their career can be. This is why there is a need for clear, quantifiable knowledge about the appropriate approach freelancers need to take when setting their rates, whether hourly or per word. This is important because if you’re a freelancer, and you’re charging too high, you’re potentially losing plenty of clients and opportunities. If you’re charging too low, you won’t be able to make enough money to sustain you and you’ll also probably burn out pretty early. 

The best way to avoid these outcomes is by calculating your rates according to certain variables in order to maintain as much consistency and fairness as possible. Those variables vary from experience and qualifications to hours of work and words per hour. In this blog post, we will guide you through the various considerations you need to make while setting your rate, and present you with various options that could fit your profile perfectly.

1. Know the value you bring to the table

Before even looking at the market, you should start with yourself. You know the value of your work and qualifications better than anyone else. ClearVoice classifies freelancers into four categories, experience-wise: Beginner (0-3 years), Intermediate (3-7 years), Professional (7-15 years), and finally, Expert (15+ years).

A chart by ClearVoice showing pay rate ranges per hour according to freelancers with different levels of experience. (Source: ClearVoice)

While experience isn’t everything, it is bound to contribute to your rate. Someone who has managed to make a career of freelancing for years, turning it into an art, should have a relatively higher rate than someone who is just beginning to try it out. Experience is a preliminary factor to consider; a way to set a benchmark for yourself under which you do not wish to go, and which you can build on as you grow your career.

2. Determine your working hours per month

Working hours per month can fall anywhere between 60-120 hours, depending on your own position on the broad work-life spectrum. If you’re just looking for some extra income, or you want to integrate some work into your home/parental life, for example, you will most probably want to work somewhere around 60 hours per month. 80 hours per month is a more active, yet comfortable, freelance career, while above 100 hours per month will be for someone looking for a higher income. 120 hours per month is usually the maximum number of hours freelancers are encouraged to work to avoid burnout.

In order to stay consistent and ensure a sustainable income, you should set a limit for working hours per month. Based on that, you can calculate how much you would have to charge in order to meet your monthly needs. Below is a handy chart to help you visualize different possibilities and rates depending on where your working hours per month stand. You’ll notice there are multiple other factors included in the chart as well, which we will be delving into shortly.

Source:  Vova Zakharov
3. Figure out your pace

Now, we get into the meatier parts of the chart, where variables begin to cross and you take one step closer to determining the perfect rate for you. While many freelance translators and writers charge per word, there are also many who consider charging per hour, especially when the work is more time-consuming and thus needs to take into account the time that they will devote to it.

Whether you charge per hour or per word, it’s essential to gauge an estimate for the amount of words you can write or translate per hour, depending, of course, on the type of content. After determining where your number lies – the aforementioned chart includes options starting from 250 words to 1250 words per hour – you can tell how much work goes into an hour, and are more able to set the right rate for it. Of course, translating 1250 words per hour is an impossible feat without a machine translation. And 250 words per hour can refer to complex content like writing poetry or translating literature – so methods of translation and content type are also important to factor into your rate.

4. Set different rates for the different content types you offer

When you determine how many words per hour you can write/translate for each content type you offer among your skills, you’ll be able to set different rates for each type. This is essential, because as mentioned above, no two content types will take the same amount of time and effort from you. So you must determine how your pace differs from one content type to another, and account for these differences. The content types that take the longest hours – even if the amount of words is not large – will then be matched with a fair rate. 

5. Decide how much you want to earn per month

The next step towards setting your rate is determining your monthly income goals. Your desired monthly income will depend on various factors, like your location and marital status, for instance, but it is important to determine in order to calculate the rate you’ll need in order to reach it, and in turn, understand how many words per hour, and hours per month, it will require for you to reach that goal.

6. Assess each column and how suitable it is for your circumstances

To look more closely at the numbers, the above chart puts 0.02$ as the minimum rate per word that should be set, while the highest possible rate is listed as 0.533$. This is the popular range for translation generally, and also loosely works for writing, although writing can require slightly higher rates. 

Whatever your specialization is, while you’re working with this chart or one of your own making with more accurate numbers for you, you should classify each column based on how ideal, or less than ideal, it is for your situation. This will allow you to remain slightly flexible based on the place you’re in each week, or month, or year. Labeling the columns will help you keep your expectations in check, reminding you of what you want to achieve.

Bringing it all together…

As important as it is to consider your needs, you should use this guide as flexibly as possible in order to land the projects of your dreams. This is why the chart includes a column labelled “burst mode,” another as “can live,” and another as “awesome!” While you should determine a benchmark rate for yourself, you should also keep in mind that some projects that interest you could force you to go under your desired rate just a bit, while others can surprise you with a generous rate. 

The important thing is to maintain a healthy balance of the three different types of rates listed above, and to make sure – with the chart and this guide – that you’re not selling yourself too short, nor are you setting unrealistic standards.

If you want to kickstart your freelance career and start setting your own terms now, reach out to Ureed.com – the GCC’s largest online freelance marketplace.