Calculate Your Budget

How to calculate your budget as a freelance writer

5 min read
Mar Andras

Writing is a business. If that sounds weird, it shouldn’t. If you are a freelance writer, you are in business for yourself, plain and simple. Whether you ghostwrite, copy write, or are an expert who writes about X, Y and Z, you’re a business. And, as such, you need to shift your mindset to think like a businessperson and calculate your budget as a freelance writer.

Nothing upsets me more than hearing about an underpaid writer. Well, that and people with poor grammar. Many places out there like to hire freelance writers on the cheap, which is unfortunate because writers then undervalue themselves.

Writers, and creatives in general, don’t value their talent the way they should, and everyone knows it.

This is why many are suckered into working for very low pay and even, God forbid, just a “byline.” Wow. A real byline? Sorry, folks. A byline won’t pay the bills. Don’t expect freelance writers to be grateful to have their name on something they wrote as “payment.” That is not a “payment.”

Once you shift to think like a business owner, everything will sort of fall into place. The first thing you need to do is calculate your budget.

A byline alone won’t pay the bills. Photo: lism. Flickr via Compfight cc

How to calculate your budget as a freelance writer

Budgets don’t have to be scary. They help you set goals for your life and your business.

1. Determine your base income.

As a freelance writer, the first thing you need to determine is the base income you need to survive.

Think about everything you need to live: rent, phone, internet/cable, utilities, food, the very basics. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say your rent is $1,000, phone is $100, internet/cable is $50, and utilities are $50. Assuming you’re single, let’s calculate groceries at $300. In this scenario, you need $1,500 per month just to survive. For one year, you need to bring in $18,000 to cover your basics.

2. Add up business-related expenses.

Now, look at what you spend on your business. Are you a member of professional organizations that charge a yearly fee? Do you pay to use a co-working space? Do you need to hire an assistant? How much does your accountant charge?

Again, for simplicity's sake, let’s calculate this at an extra $2,000 per year. In total, you need to make $20,000 to live, and that’s if you live frugally. No going out. No travel. No savings.

3. Find your magic number.

Now, think about how much money you’d love to bring in to live comfortably. What’s your magic number? $50,000? $100,000? Think about that number. Be realistic but don’t undervalue your services.

4. Evaluate your pricing structure.

Now, let’s break down what you charge.

You are worth every penny that you want to charge.

If $5,000 a month is what you want to be paid, then charge it. If a client wants you badly enough, they will see the value. Freelance writers have to tell this to themselves every day. If a potential client scoffs at your price, saying it’s “too much,” the best response is to say, “Compared to what?” This won’t always work, but it makes them think about what they’re basing the opinion on. Besides, there are plenty of other people who will pay it to you.

You don’t want to be the bargain writer. You want to be the best.

You also must remember that you’re charging both for your expertise and for your time.

What is your time worth? How much do you want to make per hour? Why would you spend three hours on a blog post that you’re getting $25 to write? If a quarter of that money has to go to taxes ($6.25), then you’ll have made $6.25 an hour to write that blog post. That’s less than minimum wage.

If we look at the $100,000 per year example from above, if you want to work 30 hours per week, then you would need to charge $65 per hour. If you want to be able to take a two-week vacation at some point during the year, then you might want to charge $70 per hour.

Pricing is tricky if you don’t have a base.

Once you have a base, and a solid grasp of your budget, you will get to a point where you’ll be able to turn work away if it isn’t a good fit. This can be difficult to do. A paying gig is a paying gig, but when you finally understand when a job isn’t worth it, saying “no” is one of the best feelings in the world.

Deliver beyond expectations

We writers charge all over the board for our writing services. If you look at the Writer’s Market, it says the average charge for a blog post runs the gamut from something like $10 to $500. That’s a pretty big range and not at all helpful to someone who’s starting a writing business. For blog posts, the average is typically in the $150 to $500 range. If you’re just starting out and someone wants to pay you $50 per post, do it if it’s right for you. It will help you get the experience you need to move on to bigger clients.

You don’t want to be a “discount writer.” If you charge more, you’ll be seen as more valuable because no one likes to part with money. If you deliver beyond their expectations, they aren’t going to think they overpaid for your services.

Want to learn more about how to calculate your budget as a freelancer? Head over to Skillshare to check out Mar’s class, “Yo, Freelancers! Get your financial sh!t together in 2017.”