Charging a Freelance Per Piece Rate Can Make Things Easier… with One Caveat!

This is episode 85 of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. In this episode, I’ll be talking about a recent experience I had with a client that I completed a test project for and then terminated from my client roster. This is based on a topic that comes up a lot. And that’s when your per piece rate is not really a true freelance per piece rate.

From Hourly to a Freelance Per Piece Rate

Now, for most beginners in the freelancing world, charging hourly makes sense.

Many freelancers struggle with how to set rates and to determine something that’s fair. So for a lot of beginners, I recommend starting off the process by charging an hourly rate based on your expertise, your background in the industry, and sort of something you generally feel comfortable with.  Then give the client an overview of how long you think it might take you to complete the project that might vary from one project to another. And so that’s why hourly is a good place to start.

You don’t want to lock yourself into huge projects charging hourly.  But it can be a really good baseline to determine whether you need to charge more on an hourly basis.  So that you can start to get a sense of how many hours it takes you to do typical projects. Then you can convert to a per piece rate.

Freelancing at a Per Piece Rates Making Things Easier for Clients

I like per piece rates for lots of freelancers, because they make it easier on the client to know exactly what the client is paying for and going to get an exchange.

There are no surprise invoices for the client. But they can also be better for the freelancer because you aren’t being penalized for being a fast or a slow worker.  I honestly believe that charging hourly is really hard for a lot of freelancers at the intermediate and advanced level, because we end up simply selling our hours. So a lot of times I based multiple factors into deciding whether or not I’m going to convert something from hourly to a per piece rate.

And my per piece rate is going to include my expertise in the industry. It is also going to factor in how long it’s going to take me and other relevant information such as is this piece highly technical.  Or do I have to do more revision request for a particular client?   So when you can convert a client to a per piece rate, it makes a lot of sense.  Because then everybody knows up front what it is you’re going to charge and you feel comfortable with the rate.

To Charge Per Piece, You Have to Know What the Project Requires

There are also some freelance projects where it’s essentially impossible to charge a per piece rate unless you have a really good handle on what the project looks like.

Editing is a great example. Things like certain forms of virtual assistant work, data entry, and website maintenance are hard to get an exact read on how long a project like that is going to take. And it might be more appropriate to charge hourly. So keep that in the back of your mind.

Also, are there extenuating factors here? If someone’s asking me to edit their dissertation, for example, and they sent me a one sample chapter to review,  I don’t know if the sample chapters is going to take as long as every other chapter. So it might be easier for me to quote an hourly rate with a range if I can’t get to that per piece rate. But in general, as a writer, my preference is a per piece rate, because it makes it very clear to everyone involved, exactly what’s included>  You quote a number and tell them how many rounds of revision or how many phone calls or how many other bells and whistles they’re going to get.

Check Out Another Recent Episode on Freelance Test Jobs

I want to walk you through an experience I recently had with a client and go back and review the previous episode about test jobs.

If that’s something that you have not used before, I strongly recommend using test jobs. You can hear more about test jobs in episode 82. It’s very important to help you get to feeling more grounded and confident.  Using test jobs is just as important for the client as they are for you as a freelancer because it allows you to test out who you might not want to work with.

My Recent Per Piece Freelance Project Mess

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a client on a project piece rate project.

It was actually a rush project. I was doing them a huge favor, because they essentially had another writer working in a contract position, but she was basically full time. And she quit in the middle of the month. So they had some social media calendars due. They had several blogs due. And some other information that was due at that time.

So the client sort of told me what person was doing. They gave an example of what was published. And they let me know the per piece rate.  So I  went and looked at the material and thought, “Okay, the purpose rate seems fair. This is a test project.  We can always come back to it and discuss this again after the test portion is complete should I go forward and working with them.”

Mismatched expectations can ruin freelance per piece rates.

This was actually a mismatch with expectations because it truly was a very low hourly rate once you factored in all of the other things that they consider to be a part of one piece.

So for example, they sent me a long hours and hours of video and or phone recordings with the client and the previous writer that they wanted me to listen to.   Now, some of these weren’t even relevant because they were regarding content that had been published by the previous writer. But based on the per piece rate, that wasn’t something we discussed at the outset of the project.  I wasn’t told that I was going to have to listen to hours of conference calls discussing each line item one at a time.

Also the rounds of editing that were expected were a little bit ridiculous. Also, the client gave me a title.  I stepped in to help turn this around really quickly as a favor.  I turned in many of one piece the same day and two more pieces the following day. And these were all overdue because the other writer had stepped down.

So my expectation was that I did this on a rush project for them based on the per piece rate we discussed to do that. And then they came back six or seven days later saying that what I had done wasn’t exactly what the client was expecting. Why? Because that client had shared all their information outlining and what they wanted to see that piece be with the other writer. Well, of course, I didn’t have access to that information.

And I didn’t have the time or the interest in sitting down and listening to hours and hours of phone calls.

Because I started to think about all of the going back and forth communicating about this.  And I thought about all  these revisions on the one piece where they’d sent the information to the other writer and had never shared it with me. They wanted me to rewrite it entirely, which I did not agree to do.

Between texts, emails, phone calls, and the expectations that you’ll respond right away.   They would send me emails at five o’clock.  Then two hours later reply all and say, “Did you get this or not?”  I’m not working anymore at 5:00 PM. You know what I mean? So that’s when your per piece rate is not really a per piece.  Because you base your pricing for certain clients on what you anticipate goes into it.

For a writer,designer, or a developer, it includes a specific package.  And you might say they have one round of revisions, one kickoff call, one strategy call, one vision setting,and a meeting.  This is just an example.  But then if they start expanding farther and farther beyond that, they want you to revise things six or seven times.  Or they want you to answer text messages. And they’re supposed to respond to your edits or your version submitted during the day and then they don’t.  They wait until after the fact and send you emails at 10 o’clock at night. Now they’re starting to push on your boundaries, right?

And I know this is an issue because it happens a lot as well with my private coaching clients.

One of my private coaching clients had an issue where the client was unnecessarily revising things four and five times.  It was even clearly in their contract that the maximum would be two rounds of revision.  For short things like blog posts, I don’t know why you’d ever need more than two rounds of revision.  Sure somebody’s master’s thesis you would need more than two rounds of revisions, but not a 500 or 600 word blog post. That’s just ridiculous. So this is when the price that you’ve quoted, even when you have clear expectations, and the contract does not line up with the amount of work you are doing on that actual job.

Handling Problems With Your Per Piece Rate Following a Freelance Test Job

So how do you deal with this when this comes up after a test job?

I actually think that you can bring this up in the middle of working on a test job or working with a client. This is where you say, “Hey. I put together the proposal based on the following expectations.”  You always want to direct the client back to anything in writing that you have that stipulates that. For example, the contract stating that there’s only two rounds of revisions.  And then explain where the problems are.

You can also redirect your clients by saying, “Hey, I think it would be most efficient if we took the following steps.”  Imagine there’s a case where there’s 10 people on the team and they’re all reviewing your work and providing feedback. I was on another project like that recently.  It was the launch of a website. So we had designers, developers, the site owner, and project managers.  Everyone was involved.

And one of the most effective things that the project manager did was doing weekly status updates letting us all know where everything is at. Here’s what we’re waiting on from each person. This is where we’re stalled.  So that’s something you can do as a freelancer doing any type of service, you can say, “Here’s how I think we could be most effective. I think we should go back to the drawing board and review the editorial calendar and do a 30 minute call.  We can discuss all the specifics there, clarify titles, clarify keywords, etc.”

You can also request that everyone complete their rounds of revision before you are asked to edit or change anything.

We don’t want to go do a redesign of an entire website and then the Vice President of Marketing chimes in four days late with his requests. Now you would have to go back and do it all over again. So explain what your expectations were and then reference that this would probably be most efficient and effective for everyone if you took the following steps and then outline what those steps are.  It doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the client is going to follow those steps every single time. But that way you at least have it in writing that you’ve made an effort. Part of this really is about making that effort. Because if you do terminate this client or drop them after the test job, you want to know that you made your best effort.

So after a test job, this is your opportunity to decide if you do or don’t want to continue to work with them.

With this particular client,  it was too confusing with the different expectations.  And it wasn’t really a fair per piece rate and they weren’t really willing to budge. So I decided not to work with that client. You can address it in a way where you’re still making an effort to fix it after a test job by telling the client what your expectations were and what you think going forward. You can also say, :I base my test job price o n factors x, y,& z.  However, we also discovered factors A, B, and C working together. So I’ve adjusted my per piece rate as a result.”

You can also ask how necessary is the kickoff call? Do you want me to remove that from an ongoing retainer proposal?  You can let them know that if they really do need that extra round of revisions, then you need to factor that into your pricing. So after a test job, unless the client was unbearable, or is not willing to adjust at all, on the pricing or these boundaries, try to fix it and suggest what those steps would be.

Let them know what would be most helpful for you and for everyone involved. Maybe it was something where you got approval to do certain things. And then the project manager came back two weeks later and changed everything up. So maybe you propose that you need to do a kickoff call with the project manager. And once he or she signs off, the decisions that we made on that call are considered final and can’t be updated.

How to Tell a Client That You Per Piece Rate Didn’t Factor in Their Demands

Now, if you’re in the middle of a contract, you can still communicate these concerns with your current client.

You don’t have to necessarily fire them right away. But I think one of the most helpful things you can do is to remind your client that they are not your only client. Often, many clients that are working with numerous people, including in house employees or remote employees, can blur the line between independent contractors and employees.  They start to treat you like you are their worker on call as an independent contractor.  Legally in the United States, you are not.

In the middle of the contract, it’s your responsibility to highlight the fact that this isn’t really working for you and why.

You might explain, “Hey.  I just want to let you know that text messaging is really the worst way to get ahold of me. It’s not something I can easily and quickly see. It would be much better if we had things coming through email or our project management software so that I can always find that written form of communication by doing a search.”  So that’s one way you can address it in the middle of a contract.

You can also alert the client by simply saying that you will not be doing something because it is not in your contract.

If, for example, I was in the middle of the contract with the client that I mentioned above, and they said, “Hey, can you go listen to four hours of phone calls?” I would have said, unfortunately, we did not sign a contract to do that.  Should you want me to listen to these phone calls, take notes, and then incorporate that into the writing, there’s going to be a rush fee for that.  Because I’m already working on these projects on a rush fee. And now I’ve got to build in time to my schedule to listen to hours of phone calls and here’s the additional cost for doing that and the link to the invoice to pay it right.”

Sometimes clients don’t realize that what they’re asking for is above and beyond what you agreed to. This is why we do test jobs and get really clear instructions and guidelines at the outset of any project working together because we want to know what all is included. Maybe this client it’s an absolute must that you do a 60 minute kickoff call at the beginning of every month with them.  And that’s fine. But that needs to be in your proposal.  That needs to be in your contract. And if they’re asking for things that are well outside of what’s in the contract, it is your responsibility, as the freelancer, to let them know that and to provide recommendations for the next steps.   You always want to give them a choice.

You can let them know that if this is really important, and it’s something vital that I need to do, here’s my suggested turnaround time on it. Here’s the price to do it. And here’s the invoice to pay to add this to our current contract.  You can let them know that if they don’t believe that it’s important, however, to let you know.

Or you might say, “If you have an administrative assistant or old copies of notes from this phone call, or you’re willing to pay to get it transcribed.”  You can always present other options to the client where it’s clear to them that they’ve kind of pushed the boundaries a little bit.  And they’re asking for things that are a little bit ridiculous.

And the more you let this go on in a test job or in the early part of your relationship with the client, the more likely they are to continue it and to honestly expect it. So it’s much harder to address this issue six months into an ongoing contract than it is at the beginning.  Why? Because you can not only stop whatever the current issue is, but block any potential scope creep or communications boundary pushing that might come down the line.

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast.  For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.