The Best Way to Bid a Freelance Project

by John Soares on December 17, 2013

Freelance writers often do a wide variety of projects, and occasionally they get offered new type of project that requires some careful evaluation.

Freelance science writer Christopher Crockett.

That was the case with freelance science writer Christopher Crockett. He has a strong background in physics and astronomy (a PHD in astronomy, actually), and he’s using that to carve out his freelance writing niche.

Here are the main portions of a thread (with some minor edits) Christopher started inside the Freelance Writers Den, where I’m one of the moderators.

Bidding on Fact Checking an SAT Test Preparation Book

Oh wise den members…

This is tangentially related to writing: I got cold-emailed from a potential client who is looking for someone to fact check an SAT test preparation book on physics. My background is a perfect match (taught high school and college physics for a spell, currently an astrophysics researcher, etc.) so I’m really intrigued.

The client asked for a flat-rate bid….and I haven’t a clue what’s a reasonable rate!! Has anyone had any experience with this kind of project? It’s 308 pages that need to be checked for technical accuracy (including checking all the sample questions for correctness). Definitely not something that can be done in an afternoon. (Wink)

At $30/hr (roughly my salary at my day job), if I can work through 4-5 pages per hour….that works out to $1800-$2300. But I have no idea if that’s outrageous or dramatically underselling myself. I’m also not sure about the 4-5 pages/hour…that’s a bit of a wild guess.

Any insight would be immensely appreciated!

My Reply

Christopher, this does sound like a great fit for you.

Have the company send you the entire manuscript. Look through it and get an estimate of how many pages you can actually get through in an hour, making sure you look at different portions of the manuscript. (There likely were multiple authors, and some may do much better work than others.)

Also make sure you are clear on exactly what they want you to do. For example:

  1. Do you have to edit/fix incorrect solutions that show how to do a problem, or do you just have to point out that one or more steps/calculations is incorrect?
  2. Do they expect you to also do any copy editing, or correct spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors?
  3. How do they actually want you to enter the corrections? Track Changes in a Word document?
  4. And what about equations? These typically use specific software, such as MathType, that you may need to purchase. (Ask for reimbursement, if necessary) Of course, you’ll also need to learn how to use equation software, if you don’t already know how.
  5. Once you’ve pointed out factual errors, will they want you to check again once they’ve made the changes?
  6. Anything else they need you to do that takes significant time?

The overall goal is to figure out everything you need to do and roughly how long it will take you to do the entire project, and then multiply that by your hourly rate. Consider adding 10-20 percent for negotiating room.

Christopher’s Follow-Up

I wanted to come back and first thank Margie and John for their advice (actually John was the first person I thought of when I thought to myself: “Who would have some insight into this sort of gig?”).

After getting a more detailed look at the work, I estimated it would take about 40 hours and because I like symmetry in my numbers $40/hr sounded like a rate that would make me happy. So I ended up bidding $1600…..and got the gig! :-) This is now the highest paying gig I’ve gotten so far – nearly double what the previous record holder was.

I’ve actually just wrapped up the project (ahead of schedule and at 38.5 hours — good estimating!) and found it to be fun, challenging, and intellectually stimulating. Hoping for more like it in the future!

Thank you again!

And My Reply

Congratulations Christopher — I’m glad it worked out so well.

Next time bump the rate substantially higher in your bid: they just might take it!

Important Takeaway: Calculating Freelance Project Bids

For any freelance writing/editing project, you need to get enough info from the client to be able to determine approximately how long it will take you to do the work.

Then you need to multiply this by your hourly rate (or what you think they’ll pay, if it’s higher) to get your project estimate. Depending on circumstances, you may also want to add a little for some negotiating room.

Note: always bid by the project and avoid quoting an hourly rate whenever possible.

There’s a Book on How to Price Freelance Projects

And it’s written by Jake Poinier, Dr. Freelance:

The Science, Art, and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid.

Check it out!

Your Take

How do you bid your freelance writing and editing projects? Anything to add to the conversation above?

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    { 12 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Graham Strong December 18, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    Twitter: @grahamstrong

    Great piece — I like how you showed the process rather than just created a summary.

    I would add two things. First, I wouldn’t get nailed down to a single project quote if I could at all avoid it. Projects this big invariably have things come up — John, you list a lot of variables here that could significantly impact the number of hours. I tend to quote a range, and then list specifically what that range includes, and what it doesn’t include, so that if there are changes, there is room for discussion. Glad it worked out for you this time, but I wouldn’t bank on it every time.

    Second, I would think that a PhD editing something as specific as physics SAT tests could charge more than $40 per hour. A lot would depend on the market (and their budgets) but there aren’t many of you out there and available. To follow up with what John said, keep bumping your hourly wage up until you start getting too many no’s.

    My two (or perhaps four) cents.

    ~Graham
    Graham Strong recently posted…Happy Medium

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    2 John Soares December 18, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    Good points Graham.

    Chris states that the client asked for a bid. If the client doesn’t provide a specific fee, I usually ask if there is a budget for the project. However, many businesses are hoping the writer will bid a lower fee, which will leave extra money for the business, so they won’t give a budget figure. Or they are getting multiple bids on the project.

    Having a PHD in the subject definitely helps, but the client may have been fine with someone who had a master’s degree, or perhaps even a bachelor’s degree.

    I imagine next time Chris will ask for more money for a similar project with the same client.
    John Soares recently posted…Top Interview Tips for Freelance Writers

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    3 Bethanny Parker December 20, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    Twitter: @bethparker

    I get $50/hour or more on most projects, and I never finished college. I would think that someone with a PhD would be able to get a whole lot more, especially when working in his area of expertise.
    Bethanny Parker recently posted…6 Ways to Get Your Employees to Blog for You

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    4 John Soares December 20, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    Bethanny, for some projects having an advanced degree is actually required, and the pay can reflect that. However, that’s not always the case.

    Often a company has a maximum fee they are willing to pay. Our goal as writers is either get that max amount or very close to it.

    And sometimes when writers are early in their careers, they focus more on actually getting jobs so they can gain experience, even if the pay is less than what they’d like.

    And $40 per hour is not bad. If a writer gets $40 per hour for 30 hours a week, it works out to $60K per year. (two weeks vacation)
    John Soares recently posted…Comprehensive Guide to Setting Freelance Writing Goals

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    5 Lori Ferguson December 18, 2013 at 7:46 AM

    Twitter: @lorilferguson

    Great article, John–thanks for sharing. As Graham said, it’s interesting to see how the project unfolded. I also agree with him that $40/hr. sounds awfully low for the technical expertise that Christopher brings to the table, but that’s just a gut response as I don’t have any experience in this realm.

    One question for you, Christopher: did you ask the clients if they had a budget in mind? I know clients sometimes don’t, but if they *do*, it can be incredibly helpful to have that information. To wit: I was contacted by a new client just this week about a job. Based on the information I received, I formulated an idea of what I’d charge, but before saying anything, I asked if she had a budget. Turns out she did and it was, wait for it, 10x what I had anticipated the job was worth to her!! It *is* a rush project, but still, I learned a valuable lesson. Gather *as much* information as you can up front….

    Wishing you many more success stories…..

    Reply

    6 John Soares December 18, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    Lori, I agree completely about getting a budget figure whenever possible. I’ve also received some very pleasant surprises that way.
    John Soares recently posted…Twitter Hashtags for Freelance Writers

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    7 Lori December 18, 2013 at 10:14 AM

    Twitter: @LoriWidmer

    Great post, John! I like how you break it down. It’s a super way to get to the bottom line.

    Right now I’m working up an estimate for a project, and one thing I have to factor in is the client phone calls — dude is a talker. I don’t mind if it’s useful and I’m compensated for the time.

    Reply

    8 John Soares December 18, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    Lori, I’ve also had some clients who are major talkers. It’s smart to include that in the bid.

    I read recently about another freelancer who’s spent hours on the phone talking with various people in the client’s company, and still no definite contract. In those cases we should consider billing for our time.
    John Soares recently posted…Health Insurance for Freelance Writers Under the Affordable Care Act

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    9 Anne Wayman December 18, 2013 at 4:20 PM

    Twitter: @annewayman

    John, well done… will be interesting to get a followup on how close he came after it’s all over… I know I’ve gotten better at this with practice.
    Anne Wayman recently posted…Freelance Writers & the Creative Commons – Copyright Part 3

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    10 John Soares December 18, 2013 at 5:58 PM

    I think he estimated his time very well Anne. He came in a couple of hours under his projection.
    John Soares recently posted…Comprehensive Guide to Setting Freelance Writing Goals

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    11 Poly Bags Los Angeles January 2, 2014 at 4:15 AM

    I am a technical writer and i think services of a technical writer are beyond $40/hr. They work so hard to grasp the subject and write things. Hard work of technical writers should be paid.

    Reply

    12 Mitch January 3, 2014 at 12:41 AM

    Thank you John for this equation on how to calculate a project estimate bid, but i fear it is incomplete,
    it does not take into consideration all of the important factors,
    i came here because of the title “The Best Way to Bid a Freelance Project”,
    i didn’t realize but later that this only applies to writing projects, maybe.

    in Christopher’s case, either his portfolio is too great, that he immediately gained the trust of the client in his quality of work,
    or he got lucky and his competition was too low,

    other than specific fields where competition is low, how do you take into consideration the competing prices ? the free added values ? the time frame, others don’t have a day job and can deliver faster etc … ??
    Many thanks and Happy new year!
    Mitch recently posted…Web Design Dubai Lebanon KSA | Website Design Company | Digital Agency From Lebanon

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