A common question we get is:
How do I set rates for my freelance work?
The all-encompassing answer is: whatever the market will pay.
We’ll address the issue of creating sponsored posts for a brand, and posting them on your food blog. This is different than doing freelance recipe development for magazine or publishers, where other people have more authority than we do.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get started.
What the market will pay
Two factors here: who your market is, and your competition.
The market could be large brands (or publishes), or small projects from brands. Ultimately, they’ll have a budget in mind that you either fit into, or you don’t. Not matching isn’t a problem, it just means you move on to the next priority. Whether you fit into it will depend on how you answer the questions below.
If you’re an expert in recipes for Crohn’s diseases, you’ll be far more valuable to brand wanting to be associated with that than one who doesn’t care for that market.
Your competition is based the entire market you’re addressing, typically filtered down by niche. Food blogs technically have world-wide competition, with some people willing to write a 500-word article for $5.00.
What do you have to offer?
In absolute terms, a 500-word recipe with 5 pictures provides the same value to brands no matter whether it’s from Mark McEwan or Mindy McNobody. The difference between the two is
Your secondary and tertiary offerings include things like your social network – twitter, pinterest and instagram following – which can help expose the brand to a wider audience. Or a more specific audience (niche).
While the social effects are hot at the moment, brands are going to realize eventually that eyeballs do not equate to value. Sophisticated brands already realize this and don’t value it highly, and unsophisticated brands are going to die off because they’re not prudent with their investments. I personally wouldn’t spend too much time focusing on social.
What are your secondary and tertiary benefits (personal equity)?
If you’re ghostwriting a story or recipe, you’ll get no tangible personal benefit from the project aside from direct monetary compensation, and some experience. It becomes the main sticking point in these cases.
However, if you can use your name, or even get links back to your blog, you’ll be building equity in a long-term asset. The immediate benefits aren’t obvious, but they are there. The top tier food bloggers have a personal equity (experience and a content base) that measures in the thousands of hours.
Launching a business (which is what your food blog is) takes time, and you have to put the work in to get it off the ground. There’s a long, slow build up where nothing happens, which can take a year or more.
This is because value is the number at the end of a complex equation, with each factor having to be optimized over time.
This isn’t linear: a food blog with 50 recipes and no traffic is worth nothing. A food blog with 500 recipes and 50,000 pageviews/month is worth tens of thousands – possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on how its operated.
This means that the first few hundred recipes can feel like a slow grind, but the equity you’re building is there.
Why should you, or shouldn’t you take a project?
I’ve done freelance work. I know that the answer is highly individual. I settled on this personal philosophy: take projects that give you the maximum compensation when factoring in money + experience + personal equity, compared to your alternatives.
If you have no alternatives, $50 is better than $0.
Sometimes it makes sense to take a low (or non) paying gig if it gives you experience working with clients. If you’ve done less than 50 freelance projects with brands you should realize that you know nothing.
Talking with clients and getting comfortable with negotiating and learning their values is indispensable in the long-run, and worth far more than the difference between your $200 list rate and their $100 offer.
Building your personal equity (secondary + tertiary benefits) is also critical. Brands want to work with bloggers that have a (perceived) reputation. Being able to slap on a logo for Bob’s Red Mill products, or a well known Magazine automatically makes you more valuable, because it means you’ve been vetted and have experience. Again – doing pro-bono work here pays off in the long run if you have less than 10 logos you can throw out there.
The truth is that there is no straight-forward answer. Don’t listen to people who tell you to charge this rate or that rate.
$50 to someone living in NYC with good job prospects is insignificant.
$50 to someone in rural Arkansas with a child to take care of and very low living expenses is huge.
Should I build a rate based on my time investment?
Unless you have something better to do (in equivalent monetary terms), no.
We’ve seen recommendations that say “oh it takes 2 days to create a recipe and post it and you should make $150 per day therefore only charge $300”.
You don’t need $150/day in most places in the world, especially if it’s a side-project or secondary income for your household.
As a freelancer, it doesn’t matter whether it takes you 1 hour or 1 month to create a post: the content is worth the same dollar value to the client, and you won’t make more or less than that.
How long it takes you to create content & shoot recipes is an optimization problem. Over the years, you’ll develop the skills and knowledge to do this in a fraction of the time it currently does. The most productive food bloggers shoot up to 4 recipes per day.
Okay, this didn’t help: give me some numbers
Personally, if you have under 50 recipes I think your blog is too new to charge any sort of minimum. What you have to offer is minimal and what you have to gain in personal equity (content, experience) is more significant.
Under 50 projects: $50 per post
Most decent english-speaking writers that can string together a coherent sentence will charge around $0.10/word, putting the content at $50/500-words. This is more or less your direct competition for content alone.
Pictures absolutely have a value, and this is where most food bloggers will start to shine. Images you use in your own post are for your own personal equity – images for the brand’s use can be another $50 for 2-3 images.
There will come an inflection point when you feel you can (and then should) raise your rates, and I’ve set it at 50 posts. You’ll know when this is.
Over 50 projects: $100 – $200 per post
The range is here because everybody has a different skill level even after 50 projects. Some people just never learn how to take good pictures or generate traffic via search + social.
Top bloggers: $500 – $2000+ per post
The top tier food bloggers are at the point of making more money than they need, and don’t need to exchange their time for money. This is the point you get to decide “if I don’t get $x for this project, I’d get more personal value out of spending time with my kids”, and it’s different for everyone.
Again, your personal cost of living is the biggest factor here. $50 per day is big money in some places.
Should I let the brand use my recipe / sponsored posts in their materials?
Generally – yes – with attribution. If they’re promoting it online, make sure it’s linked back to your site and has your name or blog name attached to it. If it’s in a publication, make sure you’re credited.
Again, this is different from freelance recipe creation for the brand itself (eg. ghostwriting) because your secondary benefits (brand equity) help to propel you forward. If the brand thinks their audience would benefit from your content, their audience is probably a good overlap for you as well, and the permission to use the recipe has value to you.
Here are the guidelines for disclosing paid/sponsored content from Google:
- Use the nofollow tag where appropriateLinks that pass PageRank in exchange for goods or services are against Google guidelines on link schemes. Companies sometimes urge bloggers to link back to:
- the company’s site
- the company’s social media accounts
- an online merchant’s page that sells the product
- a review service’s page featuring reviews of the product
- the company’s mobile app on an app store
Bloggers should use the nofollow tag on all such links because these links didn’t come about organically (i.e., the links wouldn’t exist if the company hadn’t offered to provide a free good or service in exchange for a link). Companies, or the marketing firms they’re working with, can do their part by reminding bloggers to use nofollow on these links.
- Disclose the relationshipUsers want to know when they’re viewing sponsored content. Also, there are laws in some countries that make disclosure of sponsorship mandatory. A disclosure can appear anywhere in the post; however, the most useful placement is at the top in case users don’t read the entire post.
- Create compelling, unique contentThe most successful blogs offer their visitors a compelling reason to come back. If you’re a blogger you might try to become the go-to source of information in your topic area, cover a useful niche that few others are looking at, or provide exclusive content that only you can create due to your unique expertise or resources.
Do you do things different?
Everybody has their own way of pricing, leave us a comment about pricing structures and strategies you use!