How To Negotiate Daily Rates When Starting as a Freelance Technical Writer

If you decide to start contracting, one of the hardest things to work out is what daily rate to charge. Many of the readers on this site are looking at ways to escape the 9-5 and moving into contracting is one way to start this process.

How much should I really charge?

I’ve heard people use different approaches to determine what to charge. Some make sense, others are a bit flaky.
For example:
Divide your annual salary by 52 weeks and then add on 20 percent. If you’re on 52k, and divide by 52 weeks, you’d get 1k per week.
Add 20 percent and you’re up to 1200 per week.
Divide this by 5 days and you get 240 per day.
I’m not so sure about this. It doesn’t take into consideration the real world, so to speak, or at least why your peers are charging for their work.

How to Work Out Daily Rates

Here’s an approach that I’d take:

  1. Look at the recruitment websites and find the type of job you want. Make a list of the daily rates across several sites. The ideal is to get an average daily rate and not rely just on one site. If you’re a total beginner to the field, say just out of college, your rates will be more towards the lower end.
  2. Contact the local Recruitment companies, explain the type of positions that you’re after. Ask them what daily rates you can expect to get based on your experience. Let’s say they believe you can get 200 per day. Now, as a rule of thumb, Recruiters add 20 percent to the rates they charge clients. In other words, if they offer you 200 per day, they’ll probably charge the client 240 per day. The extra 40 per day (i.e. 20 percent) is their fee.
  3. Once you know the average daily rates, you can go directly to a company and offer your services from 200 – 240 per day. If you charge 220 per day, then they stand to save 20 per day, 100 per week, and 400 per month. Try to highlight this when talking to them. Otherwise, they may assume that you’re rates are the same as the recruiters.
  4. Contact the HR Dept of the IT companies. Ask if they hire ‘direct’ rather than through recruitment companies. Some companies, especially large multi-nationals, have a policy of using recruitment firms only. It’s mostly for legal reasons and no reflection on your abilities. Smaller companies tend to be more flexible.

Tip: if you’re new to contracting, target local companies with less than 50 employees. These are usually more receptive to independent contractors and, even if they don’t have large 3+ month contracts, may have many smaller pieces of work. This can be a good way to build your portfolio while paying the bills.

Succeeding as a Freelance Contractor

Your success as a freelance contractor depends not only on your ability to do the job but to sell your services to prospective clients.
I can’t emphasize this enough.
Companies won’t come to you offering you work. You have to go to them. Before you do this, prepare everything in advance, from your sales pitch, writing samples, business cards, and of course the answer to their last question: how much do you charge?


If you have done your homework, you’ll feel confident when discussing the rates. If the person refuses you, at least you know its not because of your prices but something else.
Try to find out what that is before you hang up!
Let me know how you increase your daily rates.


    1. Thanks,

      I was real nervous when starting out and under-sold myself until I found out that a colleague from Brazil (so-so English) was making more than me writing tech docs.

      How he got those rates I don’t know but it gave me the boost I needed 

      Enjoy the weekend,


  1. Ivan,
    That has to be one of the most stupid articles I've ever read. It says “Screw the recruiter”. What about the protection they offer contractors? What about the immediacy of getting contractors (if good enough skills) work? What about getting follow-on contracts and extensions. What about all the time they can save contractors by representing them? What about their ability to secure their contractor work over another person. To forego all the preceeding for €20 a day is total insanity.

    It would make far more sense for would-be first time contractors to build a relationship with a contract recruiter who works with their skills consistently.

    I'm not in recruitment these days. But I was 😉

    1. Hi Barry,

      I think you're missing the point and/or getting hung up on the €20 a day. Those are just sample figures but when (and I do) get more than 200 per day more by working for myself, then that translates to more than 50k per year. Hardly small change.

      ..What about the protection they offer contractors?

      Such as?… as a limited company (which I have to be to work with recruiters) the liability is with me.

      ..What about the immediacy of getting contractors (if good enough skills) work?

      That’s exactly the problem. *If* they know what they’re doing. Many recruiters don’t have degrees in HR and/or recruitment qualifications and are very poor at demonstrating their worth.

      ..What about getting follow-on contracts and extensions?

      As the recruiter is rarely (read: never) onsite, the pressure is on me to push for extensions etc.

      ..What about all the time they can save contractors by representing them?

      You mean like sending them to interviews when the jobs are already gone? Hmmm, that’s a great way to spend a day.

      …What about their ability to secure their contractor work over another person?

      If they don’t understand your skillsets, they have little ability to argue your case.

      I know one recruiter in the US who called me every week to touch base. She was the best. The others I've worked with collect & send Microsoft Word CVs… but almost never build a relationship.

      A lot of it goes back to lack of training and provide long-term value by nurturing a relationship with their client.

      PS – and regarding your snide comment, ‘That has to be one of the most stupid articles I've ever read…

      Thanks! Nice to get to know you too!

  2. Great advice Ivan, I've always been suspicious of the 52 week thing. It's just too clinical and as you say, doesn't take into account other factors, like going rates, other freelancers and importantly, who you're dealing with.

    The issue over using agencies, as already commented on negatively is an interesting one. Barry, I understand some of your point, however, I agree with Ivan's overall experience, that the onus is on you as a freelancer to secure more work from an initial brief or project, and that many times, an initial interview leads to nothing more. It is a frustrating waste of time. Perhaps if there was a more specialised agency for writers, things would be easier. I have always found it much easier all round to approach clients myself.

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