Re: FWD: Hourly Rate in Bay Area

Subject: Re: FWD: Hourly Rate in Bay Area
From: Barb Philbrick <caslonsvcs -at- IBM -dot- NET>
Date: Tue, 7 Jul 1998 15:40:24 GMT

> (1) Most tech communicators in the survey are writers, not editors.
>Does the average writer charge more or less than the average editor?
I know people who charge lower rates for editing than for writing.
However, I don't agree with this practice --- a good editor brings as
much or more experience and knowledge to the table as a good writer.
(Note that I don't get much editing work with this attitude; clients
instead go to the ones who charge less. Fortunately, I can afford to
stick to my guns on this issue. My tune (and rate) would probably
change if I was dependent on editing work.)

> (3) Do the tech communicators who charge the $65/$58 rates have
>extraordinary technical knowledge in many "hot" areas?
I think these rates reflect cost of living, not extraordinary
technical knowledge. I'm not sure where you moved from, but if I was
to move from Cleveland, OH, to San Francisco, I'd bump up my rates to
those shown here strictly to cover cost of living. I'm a good writer,
have stronge working knowledge in my primary field (hardware
documentation), and have a some knowledge of the "hot" areas, but I
wouldn't call my skills extraordinary.

> (4) I'm *not* an experienced user of FrameMaker, which seems to be
>very popular here.
It would probably be a good idea to learn Frame, but you can probably
find work for companies that use other programs. The need for a
particular application also depends on how you edit --- are you
working with source files or hard copy?

> (5) Is it only the larger and/or very profitable tech companies who
>can pay the $65/$58 rates? Would it be true that we can't charge
>startups, smallish, and/or less profitable companies the same rates?
I charge everyone the same rate. They can either pay it or they can't.
A startup isn't going to charge less for their services or products
than their costs if they expect to stay in business. We shouldn't be
any different. I set a salary for myself (plus I have other office
expenses, cushion for downtime, and so on). I can't afford to flex my
rates for every other customer.

In addition, it's a small technical writing world, and your big
clients could find out what your little clients are paying. I never
want to have to answer the question, "I heard you're charging XYZ
$15/hour less than you're charging us." They would (justifiably, I
think) feel like they were being ripped off. Your big clients aren't
in business to subsidize your small clients.

In short, I've decided that my skill set is worth $XX/hour where I
live. I'm don't charge differently for the type of work I'm doing or
the type of company I'm working for.

>Bottom line: should I be charging anywhere close to the $65/$58 survey
I assume you were contracting before, so what I would do is find out
the difference in cost of living between the area you were in and SF,
and adjust your rates accordingly. I've heard that the SF/Silicon
Valley area is a really hot market for technical writers these days,
so you might be able to get something of a premium as well.

There are also local fluctuations. For example, here in Cleveland, I
can get about $10/hour more than I can in Akron, which is only about
30 miles south. I haven't figured out why yet (maybe it's just the
companies I've contacted), but you might find a similar situation. Go
to STC meetings and talk to other contractors in your area.

As a side note, I found rates listed in the CIC-SIG survey to be a
little low for my area. I suspect the SIG is working with a fairly
small survey size within each chapter (I know most of the other
contractors in my area don't belong to the SIG), so take the numbers
with a grain of salt. Instead, figure out what you need to make to
stay in business.

>I don't want to quote either too low or too high, and I
>especially don't want to scare away potential clients.
It is scary until you get to know an area (and have some existing
clients so you can afford to lose a job or two). However, decide on a
rate, present it firmly and don't waffle.

Guess I used up my allotment of TECHWR-L space for the day! I hope
this is helpful,

Barbara Philbrick, Caslon Services Inc.
Technical Writing. caslonsvcs -at- ibm -dot- net
Cleveland, OH

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