Hourly Rate or Project Rate for Writing Services — Which is Best?

I got an email today from a fellow writer who asked if she should offer project rates or standard hourly rates for her copywriting services. Some of her potential clients had been advised by a real estate coach to always get per-project rates. She asked for my advice.

For anyone who plans to hire a writer, you may want to consider the following, before signing on the dotted line: If you have a standard/recurring project (like writing a 250-word property description, if you are are a real estate agent) you can easily hire a writer and pay them “per listing.” But this is pretty “rote” writing and you aren’t pushing the creative envelope much. Some writers are willing to do other projects based on a per-word or a per-page calculation.

There are a few things you should consider on each of these “product-based” approaches to writing services:

Paying by the Word

Good copywriting for business is brief. If you pay by the word, you are eliminating an essential part of excellent writing — careful editing. If being paid “per word” — why would a writer take the extra time to edit OUT the work they have already done only to be paid less for the effort? Most wouldn’t.

The work of a writer is best summed up by Samuel Johnson when he said “I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.” Casual writing may meander, but effective business writing should be exacting and well-targeted, and that means editing.

Paying by the Page

Paying by the page may also lead to “padding” by unscrupulous or inexperienced writers. They may want to “wring” as much as possible out of a client. I don’t think you want to be that client.

Paying by the Project

If you pay by the project you are hampering the creative and collaborative process between yourself and your hired writer. Under the constraints of the per-project agreement, if you determine mid-stream that you want to completely change the direction because you have a great idea — your “project paid” writer probably won’t be happy. You are essentially asking them to start over for free.

You will probably lose access to the great ideas brewing in your writer’s mind, the ability to use your own excellent (but late arriving) ideas and the synergy created when you work together untethered by the per-project model.

As a professional writer, I never work “by the project” — I always charge by the hour. Why?

  • I write quickly. This means straightforward projects are quickly in and back out the door and since I charge by the minute (without minimum charges of 15, 30 or 60 minutes as most “hourly” contractors do) my clients usually get a better deal being charged for the real time spent than they would get with a “projected estimate” attached to a project bid.
  • Excellent communication products require a fluid approach and an open mind to changes. I never begrudge a client the need for a change, I’m not upset if we need to take a new direction or incorporate a new idea — even if it comes mid-stream. I want to provide excellent service and a superior product for my client. Being paid by the hour helps me to deliver that. Since my clients pay by the minute, they are never charged for more time than I actually spend and they get the best possible value.

If you are still concerned about hiring a writer on an hourly basis, ask for a ballpark estimate and realize that any changes you make will directly impact that estimate. Also, ask for a ceiling. By asking for notice when your bill is approaching X dollars… you can rest assured that there will be no sticker shock at the end of the project.