My take on hourly vs per-project pricing

I’ve been reading a lot of tips on how to price my editing and writing services. There’s different pricing based on the level of service: proofreading, substantive editing, developmental editing, rewriting, writing. There’s various pricing methods: per-project rate, hourly rate, per-page rate, per-word rate. Everyone seems to have a rationale for using one system or another. But I think it’s clear that the optimal pricing method for one type of service might not be the optimal method for another. This is somewhat related to my struggle to define the type of writing and editing I do – is it medical writing? Academic? Scientific? Technical? Thus far, I’ve pretty much learned to stay away from bidding on projects based on a per-page or per-word payment rate, because the projects are usually woefully underpriced for the level of editing I perform.

So that leaves me with hourly and per-project pricing. I’ve been told that if I charge an hourly rate, my per-project income will actually decrease as I get more efficient, because I am getting the same project done in fewer hours. Makes sense. So once I figure out how long it usually takes me to do a particular type of project, I can just start charging a flat fee and I’ll get the same payment no matter how quickly I get it done.

Here’s my problem with per-project pricing. First, I don’t tend to have a “type of project.” Even though I mostly work on research articles, reviews, and grant proposals, every client needs a different level of service. A research article may only require proofreading, or it may need much more substantial editing or re-organization, or even some writing. Unless I see an article up front or discuss the scope of the project and what materials will be provided to me, I can’t judge how long it’s going to take and my per-project estimate is likely to be way off.

The second problem I have with project-based pricing is that it’s important that my clients know that I am giving their research articles and grant proposals my full attention, and that I am spending the time needed to make them stellar. These documents represent their life’s work on paper. There’s no way am I going to give them a cursory review just so I can keep my hourly rate where I’d like it, or so that I can move onto the next project. Per-hour pricing also lets me list out my work in a line-item invoice, so they know exactly what I did, how long it took, and how much it cost. This approach is probably not very business savvy, and the invoicing is time-consuming, but for the few projects for which I tried flat-fee pricing, my hourly rate ended up being awful, and I ate the loss because I can’t (or won’t) shift my editing process.

I do give myself and my clients the option to bill by project, however. If a client wants to discuss a per-project fee, then I’ll get more details on the particular project, length, level of service, assumptions, deliverables, etc, and figure out a more accurate project estimate. It’s a combination approach, I guess. But it works for me.

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