Re: Contract rates

Subject: Re: Contract rates
From: Bonni Graham <Bonni_Graham_at_Enfin-SD -at- RELAY -dot- PROTEON -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1993 12:12:00 EST

Maria, you're going to continue to hear wildly different rates, primarily
because of two things:
1) Rates (salary & freelance) are very different in different areas of the
2) Documentation is of varying importance to companies (i.e., a comapny that
values tech writing will pay you more than one who doesn't).

I usually get between $25 and $30 dollars per hour for technical writing and
about $20 per hour for desktop publishing only. I have two different rates
because, for repeat clients, DTP is dead easy after the first time, but I still
charge the same, spreading the setup costs over time (I charge higher for
one-time only clients). The technical writing part, however, is always tricky,
and thus I charge more.

I also tend to find that, if you know your workrate really well, you're better
off bidding flat rate, with a rider (of your hourly rate) for overage. I do
this for two reasons:
1) Comapnies seem to be happier knowing up front that it's going to cost them X
amount to get the job done, with X amount of leeway. They don't want to do the
2) If you know how long it takes you to write, you bid to include time to deal
with problems, and you don't encounter any of the problems, you have a tidy
little profit. Including that profit in your hourly rate often makes those who
contract with you think you're too expensive. Billing for meeting time on an
hourly rate does the same. But give them a flat rate (calculated on your best
time estimate and the selfsame hourly rate you'd charge anyway), and you can
point out that it includes meeting and phone time, writing/DTP time,
problem-sovling time (up to a point -- be sure to specify the point), a handy
Ronco Slash-O-matic Turnip Masher, this lovely set of Ginsu knives, and MUCH,
MUCH More. Suddenly you look incredibly value-added. Of course, this only
works if you're good at estimating how long a project is going to take you
(which takes time, admittedly).

For example, for my last contract job I calculated that it would take me 60
hours to complete it. The 60 hours included leeway time for hardware or
software blow-ups, meetings, phone time, placing review edits, generating index
and TOC, etc. I multiplied 60 by my hourly ($25, since this was a friend, and I
knew I'd be getting repeat business) rate and presented that and a tentative
deadline. Now, they could very well have done the math themselves, but it
looked so much neater for me to do it. Everyone felt more secure. I added a
rider to the cotnract that mandated renegotiation if the project ran over time,
if they suggested changing more than 50% of the writing, if the program changed
substantially (more than 15%) from the version on which I bid, etc. They
included a rider that repeat business on the same document would be set at
$30/hour, unless the rewrite was over 50% of the manual. Their rider suited me,
since the rate was higher than I was charging them to begin with (I did not
include a breakdown of the flat rate). It's been the smoothest contract job --
I got my hourly rate without a lot of tiresome negotiating, and they got a great
piece of documentation delivered on time.

I mention this partly to brag ('cause I'm really proud of the cotnract) and
partly to illustrate that the easier you make it for the company signing the
contract, the more willing they're going to be to do it.

Bonni Graham

What is the average rate for a contract writer? When I looked for a contract
writer earlier in the year, I received resumes that requested salaries at
the low and high end of a h*u*g*e range. What are the going rates right now?
What kind of factors affect the salary (i.e., job duties, length of contract,


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