Money Matters for Editors — Project-Based Pricing Versus Hourly Rates By Kaarina Stiff

 

Money is often a difficult thing to talk about, even when it shouldn’t be. One of the hardest questions for me to answer as a freelancer is, “How much do you charge?” It’s a perfectly reasonable question, but one that always leaves me speechless, at least for a few awkward seconds.

Keeping perspective

“Well, it depends,” is usually how I start. Then I spend a few more seconds reminding myself that it’s actually okay to charge people money for what I do, and I continue with a long-winded explanation that no doubt leaves the impression that I’m afraid to answer the question.

Reality might not be quite that bad, but it is fair to say that money conversations can be challenging, and there is no single right answer to a question about money. However, in most cases, the best response really is, “It depends,” because every job is different.

Breaking it into pieces

The first question I wrestle with is whether to charge on an hourly basis, or to establish a fixed fee per project. Last week, I had a chance to explore the issue with fellow freelancer, Dawn Oosterhoff, by looking at how the concept of project-based pricing can be applied to editors, as an alternative to charging an hourly rate. Here is a snapshot of what we considered:

The project-based approach

Project-based pricing has a number of advantages. It sets a cost ceiling for the client, which many clients appreciate because it’s predictable. It also doesn’t penalize experienced freelancers for being quick at what they do, in the way that an hourly rate does. (Of course, experienced freelancers can command a higher hourly rate, which is explored below.) Project-based pricing is also an excellent way to represent the full spectrum of experience that you, the freelancer, bring to a given project.

However, project-based pricing also has disadvantages. For editing work, it can be hard to accurately assess the level of effort needed for a job based on a preliminary review. And while the same holds true for hourly-rate services, it’s easier to mitigate the risk by providing clients with a range, and communicating with them promptly if you encounter problems. With project-based pricing, the freelancer is at risk of taking a financial hit if the estimate is too far off. On the flip side, if you are too generous to yourself in a project-based estimate, clients might balk at the cost.

Taking it hour-by-hour

Hourly rates, which feel more like the norm in freelance editing circles, also have distinct advantages. For the freelancer, charging on an hourly basis means you get paid for every hour worked, even if you uncover issues that weren’t apparent at the beginning. Hourly rates are also easy for clients to understand, because it’s evident to them exactly what they’re paying for.

On the other hand, hourly rate jobs can also come with pressure to “just work faster” to reduce costs for budget-conscious clients. It also exposes the difficult question about how to set an hourly rate. Less experienced freelancers will take longer to do a high-quality edit than veteran editors. Newer editors can compensate for this by charging a lower hourly rate, but this can present its own challenges by lowering expectations among the client pool, in an industry where we all want to see professional editors fairly compensated. It can also create challenges down the road for the budding freelancer who eventually wants (and deserves) to raise their rates.

Weighing the risks

So what is a freelancer to do? Even after weighing the pros and cons, we agreed on a couple of key points. No matter what the job is, page two deserves as much effort as page 222. An hourly fee felt like the best way to make sure that happens, because it eliminates any temptation, however subliminal it might be, to hurry through the later stages of a job that’s taking longer you bargained for. Of course, most of us would never do that, but it still prevents us from beating ourselves up for underestimating a job.

Project-based pricing seems most advantageous for less mechanical and more creative endeavours, such as in the freelance writing universe or maybe even in the world of substantive or developmental editing. But for folks whose editing work gravitates more towards copyediting, we closed our discussion feeling safer in the hourly rate universe.

Did we miss any big considerations? What do you think? Share your experience in the comments below.

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Meet the Instructor: Fact Checking by Laura Byrne Paquet

 

laura byrne-paquet

Laura Byrne Paquet has an extensive portfolio. She edits both fiction and non-fiction and has written for more than 80 magazines and newspapers in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, including National Geographic Traveler, Islands, enRoute, Chatelaine and The Ottawa Citizen. She recently co-authored an article on rural life for the spring 2016 issue of Ottawa Magazine. Laura has written or co-authored 12 books and novellas, including Wanderlust: A Social History of Travel (Goose Lane Editions). She is past president of the Travel Media Association of Canada.

“Finding out what makes people, places and processes tick is my specialty,” says Laura, “whether that involves delving into the history of Avon ladies, writing about Canada’s largest coffee pot or flinging myself off a B.C. mountaintop (the latter because a friend dared me to try paragliding”). Visit Laura’s website at http://www.laurabyrnepaquet.com for more information on her professional activities and personal interests.

Fact Checking, or checking the accuracy of names, dates, dollar figures, and other facts, is a half-day seminar offered on Friday, April 29, 2016. Laura will help participants develop this important editing skill that prevents mistakes, avoids loss of money and lawsuits, and establishes client/author credibility. She will share her wealth of knowledge and equip participants with the skills to perform the job effectively. Registration for this morning workshop will close one week before the seminar. Click here to register: https://www.gifttool.com/registrar/ShowEventDetails?ID=29&EID=20352

 

 

Report on March 16 Speaker Night by Bhavana Gopinath

Our branch’s listening event on March 16 turned out to be an interesting evening, with a spirited exchange of ideas between our members. In his address, Tom Vradenburg stated that for a volunteer-run organization such as Editors Canada, it is important that we all find ways to help in a way that benefits both the organization and the volunteering member.  As he put it, volunteering with your local branch is not just about padding up your resume, but also about “building relationships, one taskforce at a time”.  As an example: if a member has an idea for a program, the Branch will support and organize help to aid the member run with the idea to bring it to fruition. The Branch is able to provide more focused programming for its members, and the member hones their organizational skills and get to share in-depth ideas with the speaker. This becomes a win-win situation for both parties.

Our members provided several inputs, particularly in the area of mentoring:

Mentoring programs were always welcome; the recent “Speed mentoring” event was quite successful. Some of our members pointed out that while Mentoring (with a capital M) might not always be possible due to time constraints, they would be open to offering speed mentoring for newer members, or a more informal mentoring, a kind of “buddy system”.

Mentoring is also a great way of retaining and even bringing back people who may have left the organization. It would be great to hear their perspectives, not just from an editing point of view, but in a more comprehensive manner.  These “elders” have vast editing and life experience that others could learn from.

In a similar vein, it would also be great to have talks by experts in related areas of our lives, and not confine ourselves to the discipline of editing. Some suggested topics were: managing a freelance business, financial planning, mental health, ageing, and what employers look for in editor while hiring.

Mentoring could also be two-way, given that many of our new members seem to be younger. Perhaps there is an opportunity here for more experienced editors to learn more about issues that engage newer editors.

While formal mentoring plans are being discussed at the National level of Editors Canada, there are things that can be done at our branch level. Perhaps when new members join us, their welcome email could ask if they needed a mentor, and the branch might be able to do some match-making.

If you missed our meeting, and would like to share your thoughts on volunteering and mentoring, please let us know in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.

 

 

How editing contributes to a stronger democracy by Gael Spivak

You may think that being an editor for the federal government is boring. So staid: all those rules, all those bureaucrats.

It’s actually a lot of fun. The topics are interesting and I get to help a lot of people.

What kind of topics?

I’ve worked as a writer, editor, coordinator and communications advisor, in three government departments.

Topics I’ve worked in include food safety, food labelling, organic food, animal health, plant health, biotechnology, ethics and government, road salts, and flu. Lots of flu: seasonal flu, pandemic flu, avian flu and swine flu.

All that government-speak

Bureaucratic language is a problem in government. It’s not that it is technical or scientific language. It’s the government style and tone.

People pick this up when they first start working in government. Because they are smart and adaptable, they quickly start writing to match what they see around them.

But this kind of writing is unclear. The sentences have too many thoughts and the verbs are usually way at the end of the sentences.

The writing is also dense. Because many of the writers are policy people who’ve been examining issues for many years, they are experts. So they want to give a solid background when they write, not realizing that it’s too much information for a non-expert.

How does editing help?

As an editor, I build a bridge between the experts and their audience (often the public). I help the experts write more clear text, so that Canadians can understand what to do to be safe, to comply with legislation and to keep dangerous pests out of the country.

I also help people participate in their government, by making legislation, policies and decisions more understandable. Editing helps build a stronger democracy.

 

Gael Spivak works in communications for the federal government. She specializes in plain language writing and editing. Her Editors Canada work includes

  • membership chair for Editors Ottawa–Gatineau
  • co-chair of conference 2012
  • co-chair of conference 2015 (Editing Goes Global)
  • director of volunteer relations
  • director of training development
  • vice-president