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Setting Rates for Freelance Jobs and Getting Paid

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Setting your rates for freelance jobs and getting paid after the work is done are two very common concerns freelancers have when starting out in the business. Take a look into the mailbag and you'll see you're not the only freelancer who struggles over these decisions:

Q: Do you have access to a concise resource that I could consult with regard setting [my] rates for an ad agency? i.e., how they're typically paid (versus a graphic designer or production studio) - that sort of thing. Are per-job, monthly set fees or retainer-type arrangements used?

A: I know how difficult it is to set your rates when there's really no specific guide out there that can help. There are just so many factors to consider and it all depends on the freelancer.

Whether you're a freelancer looking for work with small businesses or you're looking for freelance work with an ad agency, the hourly/per project decision is a big one. Many freelancers offer both types of rates. That way, you give the client the choice of how they want to pay you.

Most clients will choose the per project rate so they know exactly what they're paying before you even begin writing. Your contract will state how much they'll pay and you'll both sign it so you're on the same page.

Other clients may choose a per hour rate and you'll then give them a pretty solid estimate of how long it will take you to complete the project. Just don't surprise the client when you send out the bill. If the client's needs are changing as you work on the project and you're finding that initial four hour time estimate is running into seven and eight hours, let the client know as you progress.

The last thing you want to do is mail a large bill and send them into sticker shock. They would more than likely argue with you over the additional time and it will surely cost you future business. Keeping them posted along the way and getting approval of the time change will save you both a lot of time and hassle.

As far as working with advertising agencies, it does depend on the agency but a vast majority simply pay you on a per project basis.

For getting paid, state the payment terms in your contract. Some copywriters don't mind waiting until 30 days after the copywriting job is finished.

That doesn't mean 30 days after the final product goes to print. That's 30 days after you submit the final copy and they approve it.

Other copywriters find 15 days is a sufficient amount of time to wait on their check. Just be sure your policies state your payment time frame up front and so does the contract you submit to them for a signature.

Per job fees are generally the norm as opposed to monthly set fees or a retainer on a freelancing level. Many agencies only come across certain projects they'll farm out to freelancers and they may not know ahead of time what those projects will be.

They may call you on a Monday and need a quick copywriting job completed by the next day. The situation will change as their own copywriters will be working on various projects. So what this means for you is that you and the agency both will be better off agreeing to terms on a per job basis in the beginning if not throughout your working relationship.

If you find the agency is sending you tons of work all the time and it would better benefit you both to have a monthly set rate, feel free to bring it up to your key contact person at the agency. Some agencies will go for it. Others won't simply because they don't know what's around the corner for them so they don't want to have to commit to paying a monthly fee if they're not able to send you enough work. It won't hurt to ask, though, when one particular agency is giving you loads of projects on a regular basis.

Lastly, be firm when deciding how much to charge. It may be tempting to start off with low rates just to get business but this is the quickest way to burn yourself.

A client who paid $400 for a print ad before you had a few projects under your belt isn't going to understand why you're now charging double for the same type of work. They'll take their business elsewhere as a result.

Set your rates and stand by them. You'll be doing yourself a big favor in the long run.

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