‘Technical writing prices’ is a short new series in which I discuss the issue of pricing technical writing work. In this first post, we’ll see how much technical writing costs.
Whenever new clients contact me about a technical writing job, one of the first things they ask about is price. As I haven’t blogged about this before, it seemed high time to put that right. It’s an important subject, so I’ve written a series of posts rather than lumping everything together into one article.
As someone who’s self-employed, I determine my prices for each job. Pay rises and bonuses aren’t things I can discuss with the boss. I am the boss. I have to be in charge of what I earn. Quote too low and I risk working a lot of hours for little reward; quote too high and I simply scare off clients who haven’t yet had the experience of working with me.
My quotes for technical writing are based on the following factors:
- Communication – how clear is the brief?
- Complexity – how difficult is the work?
- Duration – how long will the project take?
- Urgency – how soon must the work begin or end?
Before we see how this translates into prices, let’s take a quick look at my own route into technical writing. Not interested? Skip to the next section: How much are technical writers paid?
My technical writing background
It was late 2009. With more than a decade of in-house IT work under my belt, including time spent as a quality assurance manager, I felt it was the right time to drop office life and start my own freelance technical writing business.
Trading as Espirian (I’m lucky to have an unusual surname), I decided that it would be reasonable to aim for earnings of £200–£300 per day for technical writing work. Sure enough, I found clients paying at the top end of that range.
Those early days were filled with nervous conversations and lots of study. Since then I’ve gained plenty of experience in the field. I’ve written help content for the likes of Virgin Media and Sky, and am now confident that I can provide a good service.
I’m also better at marketing myself. Search Google for technical writing services UK and you’ll find my site at the top of page 1. Although that might not matter to some clients, being easily found by search engines does help when it comes to negotiating prices.
I’ve always been cautious about sharing my rates for fear of frightening people off. For a big project, we could be talking about a lot of money. If a prospective client sees a chunky sticker price but doesn’t know anything about the person offering the service, it wouldn’t be hard to blame them for clicking away and searching for someone cheaper. So why share ballpark prices? Why not just retain the air of mystery?
Well, it’s just common sense. When I’m assessing any product or service, I have a price in mind that I’m willing to pay. If I can’t find a price on a website, I’ll be less likely to buy from the website owner. The same principle has to apply to sharing prices on my own website.
Potential clients will waste my time and their own if they can’t see a ballpark cost. If our valuations of the work are miles apart, there’s little point in the client even getting in touch. I write that with a slight wince, because a) it might sound arrogant – and it’s really not meant that way, and b) it might mean that I miss out on a job that I would have gladly done for peanuts. (Truthfully, there aren’t many jobs that fit into this category – I’ve got bills to pay and people to take care of, after all. But if you’re reading this, Liverpool Football Club, then call me. Just saying.)
Having kept my prices static in the early years, I’ve now started to push them up to reflect the increased interest in my services. For most technical writing jobs, I look to charge £350–£450 plus VAT per day. However, these figures can come down a bit when I quote a flat fee for a project, which is usually my preferred charging method. I cover this in more detail in part 4 (not published yet).
How much are technical writers paid?
I’ve seen all sorts of fees bandied about, some low (usually from technical authors in other countries) and some very high (have you ever heard of ‘London rates’?).
The most useful survey I’ve come across on the subject was published by the Professional Copywriters’ Network (PCN) in 2016. Although the survey was aimed at all copywriters, the results are still relevant to those who specialise as technical writers. In total, the PCN received responses from 610 copywriters, 95% of whom were based in the UK. This infographic sums up some of the key data:
The average freelance daily rate for copywriting is £337, but with wide regional variations (London £426, Scotland £254).
The PCN’s suggested rates for hiring copywriters give figures as high as £800 per day. I think that’s very much ‘London rates’, though. Then again, if you think that’s a lot, take a look at this editorial rate mentioned by a colleague in Australia:
— Marisa Wikramanayake (@mwikramanayake) June 6, 2016
That’s about £160 per hour – wow. I’m not convinced that many editors are really paid that much.
Cards on the table: for my technical writing services, I usually charge £350–£450 plus VAT per day. For details of other charging models, see part 4 (not published yet).
Technical writers don’t come cheap. Survey results show that average rates for freelance copywriting services are close to £350 per day, with some people seemingly charging more than double that figure.
These are the basic facts, but they don’t explain why these services cost so much. Join me in part 2 for a look at why technical writing is so expensive.
What do you think?
If you’re a freelance technical writer, do these figures match what you’re paid?
If you hire technical writers, do you pay them at these rates?
Whichever side of the fence you’re on, please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. You can also catch up with me on Twitter. I’d love to hear from you.
Catch up with the other parts of this series here:
- How much does technical writing cost?
- Why is technical writing so expensive?
- Do technical writers need to do research?
- How do technical writers charge?
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