How much does technical writing cost?

How much does technical writing cost?

‘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.

Introduction

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.

The price for a technical writer who is getting started

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.

Technical writing services UK search on Google

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).

The price for an experienced technical writer

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:

PCN survey 2016 infographic

PCN survey 2016 infographic – view full survey results

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:

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).

Summary

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.

Series list

Catch up with the other parts of this series here:

  1. How much does technical writing cost?
  2. Why is technical writing so expensive?
  3. Do technical writers need to do research?
  4. How do technical writers charge?

Before you go … ☕️

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Thanks for reading, John Espirian

  • StraygoatWritingServices

    Hi John.

    I’ve been a tech writer since 1997 and I charge in the £300-£350 per day region, depending on whether I need to be on site, flexibility of working hours, etc. For the most part, that’s seen as the going rate and doesn’t surprise clients (outside of London). I do get some leads that are surprised at the cost, mostly from companies that haven’t used tech writers before. I’ve also had one client tell me I should up my rates (more clients like that, please!).

    • Hi, Craig, and thanks for stopping by to leave a comment and share of your rates. I’d definitely say it’s time to give them a boost! How often to do you review them? I think one of my mistakes was keeping my rates static for too long. Had I gradually increased them, it would have been easier for clients to swallow.

      Although I’ve quoted a day rate here, by far my most popular option is to quote a whole-project fee. I’m going to talk about payment models in part 4.

      • StraygoatWritingServices

        I put my rates up annually, but only by a small amount. I try to keep to local jobs, so keep my eye on the advertised contract rates and try to gauge it from that.

        I’m interested in how/why you quote fixed prices. There are so many variables in our work that I find it tricky to quote like that.

        • I’ll still calculate how many days I’m likely to need on a project, but then roll it up into a single fee, usually providing a discount for longer periods. Anyway, more to come in part 4, so stay tuned!

          • StraygoatWritingServices

            Yes, that makes sense. But how do you allow for delays caused by SMEs being unavailable or the product still being developed? Those are the variables I find it tricky to account for.

          • Yup, fair point. I can’t remember the last project that actually finished on time (nothing to do with me, I hasten to add), so I try to keep in mind that there will always be delays. I do build in some contingency time in my quote, and that covers me to some extent when projects drag out. I’d rather do that and occasionally lose out financially on the projects that really go on for ages than keep the meter running all the time.

            An alternative approach would be to include something in the contract about additional fees payable if the project ends up X% longer than expected. But I think that’s a tough sell for most customers.

          • StraygoatWritingServices

            I agree, it is a tough sell. I suppose it depends on the industry and the scale of the project. On larger projects (which tends to be what I work on), I think a day rate is often in everybody’s best interests. Fixed price is much easier on smaller projects with software/hardware that isn’t going to change much before release.

            I’ll keep an eye out for your follow-up posts.

          • Yes, that’s understandable for long contracts. I don’t work on that sort of basis but I’ll bear this in mind for the post. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  • Gerard O’Neill

    Knowledge from the source – you can’t beat it!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Gerard. I’m glad you found the content useful.