Freelance writers: would you rather write three 500-word pieces for $150 each or one 1,500-word piece for $900?
Yes, those three shorter assignments will only earn you half of what the longer assignment might bring in. Yes, you’re only earning 30 cents a word on those short pieces, compared to 60 cents a word on the longer one.
But, as a new post at The Freelancer reminds us, going after the short projects might make more financial sense:
For writers with a decent pitch-acceptance rate, less may be more, at least in terms of word count. While even a short piece can require considerable research time, the longer you spend pre-pitch and in writing mode means the longer you need to go without that pay day. Those freelancers living check to check might simply not have the ability to throw caution to the wind to spend weeks reporting out their hunches.
I’ve been in the freelancing business for seven years now, and I get why The Freelancer is arguing that a bunch of short projects can be better than one long project, even if the longer project pays more. Here’s what I’ve learned, in my years of writing both short and long posts:
Short posts tend to require less research than longer posts, which means they can be completed more quickly. Even if your earnings-per-word rate is lower than usual, your earnings-per-hour rate goes up.
Short posts tend to require fewer rounds of revision than longer posts, which is also good for your bottom line.
Short projects that can be completed quickly give you more time to pitch and complete additional projects, while one big intensive project can lock up your entire freelance workday for weeks.
Short projects give you more bylines and a bigger portfolio, which can lead to more clients.
Short projects keep you visible. In a world where a post you’ve been working on for a month can disappear from internet relevance in, like, two days, writing as many pieces as possible, even if they’re short, is a net positive.
However, I don’t agree with The Freelancer’s advice that short projects pay more quickly than longer ones. The length of the project has very little to do with the client’s payment schedule; I’ve completed long projects and gotten paid right away, and written short posts that pay out 60 days later — and vice versa.
(That said, I understand that spending a month on a project and getting paid 60 days later is different from spending a day on a project and getting paid 60 days later, which is the point I think they’re trying to make.)
I’ve been a full-time freelancer since 2012, and most of my work gets done at home — that is, from my home office. I tried working from coffee shops and co-working spaces, but I tend to get the most work done when I’m in a quiet, comfortable, familiar space where I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll be able to find a seat near an electrical outlet (and won’t have to ask someone to watch my laptop every time I need to use the toilet).
I’ll offer three more pieces of advice:
The work you complete now affects the work you’ll be offered in the future. Some freelancers love turning around multiple short projects in a single day. Others dream about digging into research and doing original reporting. Choose your path wisely.
It can be a good idea to pick three 500-word posts that pay $150 instead of one 1,500-word post that pays $900. It might be a better idea to learn how to write that 1,500-word post as quickly as possible. Always think of your freelance career in terms of money earned per hour of work, not money earned per project.
It’s also smart to choose the project that comes with the opportunity for more work in the future. If you can land a client that wants regular, repeated work, even if that work comes at a lower price rate than what other clients are offering for one-off gigs, take it. (Grab that bird in the hand, and hope it leaves you enough time in your schedule to also go after the birds in the bush.)
So, freelancers — do you agree with this advice? Make sure to go read the full post at The Freelancer, which also offers advice on how to pursue fiction vs. nonfiction and why going after prestigious publications might be a bad idea. Then tell us whether you prefer short or long projects, and whether you calculate a project’s earning power based on what it might bring in per word, or what it might bring in per hour.
When you’re working full time, you can track your spending and make a budget using percentages of your income to try to get a handle on what you can truly afford. But thinking in terms of monthly or even weekly allotments of money isn’t necessarily the most effective way to think of your dollars.