What is your time worth?

By Sandra Phinney

It’s a curious human trait how we tend to put certain people and professions on a pedestal, while we look down on others. I was acutely aware of this when I farmed. When I taught university courses and wore a professor’s hat, I had tons of respect. Wearing my farmer’s hat … not so much.

Even within the same profession, we set up arbitrary tiers of importance. For example, high school teachers tend to be held in higher regard than elementary teachers. Degrees from big-name institutions are sexier than degrees from smaller institutions.

The same happens in the writing world. There’s a lot of prestige associated with writing for national magazines that pay $1 to $3 dollars-a-word. People are impressed. Mention a little-known regional publication (worse yet, a local magazine) and some people’s eyes glaze over. For many, low word-rates imply lesser quality magazines or insignificant productions.

I’ve discovered that for the most part, this is not true; I now think twice before I assume a snobbish stance.

But the main reason I’ve made a mental shift (crass as it may sound) is because I can often make as much money writing for a publication that pays .20 cents a word as I can for publications that pay $1 + a word.

“How so” you ask? It all has to do with how long it takes to produce an article (or complete a contract), and knowing what your time is worth.

Track your time

If you don’t know these two things, start tracking your time. But first, write down how much you want to make a year. Next, look at your freelance business and figure out what things you do in the run of an average week that result in putting money in your bank account.

When I did this exercise several years ago, the first thing I discovered was that based on an average 40-hour week, I’m only in production for 20 hours. For me, “production time” includes interviews, research, transcribing, photo shoots, writing and revision—things which directly contribute to my receiving a paycheck.

The other 50 percent of my time is spent writing queries, attending conferences, taking courses, doing admin stuff like filing, invoicing, tidying up my office, corresponding, networking, travelling, ad infinitum. Although important facets of my business, these are rarely part of an assignment or contract for which I get paid.

So when I’m in production, those 20 hours have to be worth a minimum of $60 an hour in order for me to reach the goal I set for my annual gross income. (Go ahead, do the math! Whatever your goal is, divide by the number of hours you are in production and you’ll find out how much your time is worth.)

What are you worth per hour?

For some it may be $30 an hour. For others it could be $100 an hour.

Matters not. The important thing is to figure it out. Keep in mind that out of your gross income, there will be expenses so it’s not all net profit. But once you know what your time is worth, then you can arrange your business accordingly.

For years I wrote a 1000-word cooking column at .22 a word + $50 for two photos for a total of $270. Average time involved: 4 hours. I was worth $65 an hour.

On the other hand, I once wrote a travel story for a national US magazine for the same number of words for $1200. It required numerous phone calls, lengthy interviews, and several re-writes because the editor kept changing the focus of the article. My net worth per hour for that story was $39 an hour. So high rates do not always translate into high pay for your time.

Of course, if you are a sucker for narrative journalism as I am, the amount of time invested in observing, reportage, photo shoots etc. can mount up to a phenomenal investment for paltry returns even when the pay rate is decent. In some cases, I’ve barely managed to make minimum wage—all for the sake of story. So I’m not a purist all of the time.

On the up side, lady luck occasionally makes an appearance. A few years ago after a back-packing trip to Senegal, I wanted more than ever to tell the tale, but couldn’t find a market. I ended up selling the story to a local magazine that paid pittance.

However, the gods and goddesses were kind—I received a TMAC award of $1000 for “Best outdoor story” and another $1000 for “Best people photo.” The worth of my time on that story catapulted from less than minimum wage to $200 an hour.

Make the most of your ideas

Another way to increase what you are worth is to write more than one story using the same research/interview material by finding different angles, different markets and different subjects to write about based on the original trip or assignment. Time invested in finding other markets can double or triple what you are worth.

For example, based on a couple of trips to Labrador, I was able to sell five completely different travel pieces to e-zines, travel and lifestyle magazines, as well as a story about an itinerant banker who worked for Credit Unions to the Atlantic Cooperator Magazine; a story with a business angle about Battle Harbour for Atlantic Business Magazine; a farm story about Labradorians for Labrador Life Magazine; and a profile about an Innu elder for a book anthology profiling people around the world titled The Other Hundred.

My goal per trip or major assignment is to write three to five stories. Doesn’t always happen. But it wouldn’t happen at all if I didn’t set a goal and give some thought to potential markets.

Even a single subject can produce more than one story. I remember interviewing a chap for a profile in The Imperial Oil Review and thinking how there was way too much material for one story. So I got as much depth as possible out of the interview and was able to sell two other stories in different publications; same person—but different slants, different content and different quotes.

Bottom line: be on the lookout for more than one story at a time. Most importantly, figure out what your time is worth, then make it work for you.


Sandra Phinney freelances from her perch on the Tusket River in Yarmouth NS. www.sandraphinney.com

Posted on April 6, 2016 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

One Response

Subscribe to comments via RSS

  1. Written by Sandra Phinney
    on April 12, 2016 at 5:13 am
    Reply · Permalink

    A reader pointed out a goof in the section “What are you worth per hour? para. 3 … should be $67.50 (not $65). Clearly, math is not my strong suit. Still no excuse for being sloppy. Thanks D. for getting in touch.

Subscribe to comments via RSS

Leave a Reply