Freelancers: You Should Work by the Project, Not by the Hour

Which is better — getting paid by the project or by the hour? Emma Siemasko lays out several compelling reasons why per project is the way to go.

People get a little weird when it comes to talking about money. It can be awkward to talk about how much you make, what you charge, which clients pay well and which ones don’t.

But when freelancing is your career, you have to know how much your work is worth. You not only have to decide what you will charge for your services, but also how to do it.

When I talk to people who are new to freelancing, they usually want to know what to charge for an hourly rate. Although hourly rates are great for certain circumstances (more on those below), working by project is a much better deal. Plus, working by project doesn’t just benefit you it’s also better for the clients you serve.

Today, I’m sharing why working by project is better than by hour.

Clients pay for the value, not the time

Clients hire you because they want your expertise. They need a great writer to help them out. They know you have knowledge and skills, and they’re willing to pay to have you on board.

But when you charge an hourly rate, clients pay for your time, rather than the value you provide. Rather than focusing on the asset you help create, the focus is on how much time it takes you to complete something.

Speed is rewarded, not punished

I’m an efficient writer, faster than most freelancers I’ve worked with. If I charged the same hourly rate as someone who wrote similar quality but at a slower pace, I’d earn less than they would. In this scenario, I’d be punished for being efficient.

When you charge a project rate, you should factor in how much time it will take you to complete the project. However, if you finish the project faster than you expected, or are simply an efficient worker, you shouldn’t make less money.

Allows you to set the structure

I want my clients to be happy, but I will burn out if I always say, “whatever works for you.”

When a client comes to me with a new idea for a project, I like to be in the driver’s seat as much as possible. I want to have control over deadlines, project structure and payment schedule.

When I charge a project rate, I can set guidelines for what will be included in the project. For example, I always include one round of edits and revisions in my project rate. I encourage clients to make suggestions once when I complete a marketing asset, so we don’t go back and forth wasting time.

Hourly rates limit earning potential

As you gain more expertise, you’ll be able to complete projects faster with less research and hand-wringing, especially if you specialize in a certain industry.

But if you charge an hourly rate, you’re likely to hit a glass ceiling pretty fast. That’s because it’s all about perception.

For example, if you charge $300 for a blog post that takes you an hour to write, that’s going to look like $300 per hour to the client, a high hourly rate. However, if you tell your client that the blog post will cost $300 without sharing how much time it will take you, they’ll be more inclined to think your rates are reasonable.

When you should consider hourly rates

Although I advocate for charging by project, there are times when hourly rates work better. Here are some times when you should consider an hourly rate:

  • When the project is iterative. If a client requires a lot of back and forth, you might consider an hourly rate. I often charge a project rate, but then charge an hourly rate for additional revisions.
  • When the client doesn’t know what they want. An hourly rate works well when a client isn’t sure what they want, and is relying on you to have multiple meetings to figure out how to move forward.
  • When the client is held to an “hourly” system. In certain organizations, clients have to use hourly rates for contract workers. If this is the case, you can usually break down the project rate into an hourly one for billing purposes.
  • When you’re working in the office. If you go into a client’s office once, twice or three times per week, it’s reasonable to charge an hourly rate. This is more like being a consultant rather than being a freelancer.

What do you think? Is Emma off the mark? Which way works better for you? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: freelancers, pay freelance writer, working with freelancers

Category: Writing

About Emma

Emma Siemasko is the founder of Stories by Emma, where she works as freelance writer and content marketing consultant. She helps companies share their stories, and writes words that are cuter than puppies and more delicious than chicken wings. Emma has worked at a top-tier tech company, as well as in-house at an agency.

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  • Carol Wilcox

    I always prefer to work on a project basis and rarely work any other way. But Emma makes good points about when an hourly rate should be charged. Good advice!

    • Hi Carol! Thanks so much for commenting. Like you, I find working on a project basis is almost always a better choice. There are occasionally times where I find an hourly rate works better. For example, I find that charging an hourly rate for “extras” (meetings, additional revisions, etc.) ensures that I can more easily accommodate substantial scope creep.

  • I’ve found that pricing per project or per word is more beneficial for both my clients and me. If it takes me longer, they make out better, and if I’m quick to finish, they’re none the wiser.

    If the prospect is adamant about hourly, I’m likely to turn down the job. However, in coming up with a project price, I certainly think about how long it will take to complete.

    • A lot of freelance writers price per word! I’ve never tried it myself and would love to hear thoughts on how you think pricing per word compares to pricing by project or pricing hourly. It seems like it would be perfect for instances where a client wants a written asset. It doesn’t work in instances where you provide strategy or marketing leadership.

      I definitely consider how long a project is going to take me when I price per project, as well.