One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is “How much should I charge?”
Whether it’s a new freelancer or someone with years of experience, we all want guidance on how much to charge our clients. While government agencies track how much some job titles earn, they generally don’t track freelancing rates and they tend to lump all types of writing and editing into one category. Our culture’s reticence to talk about dollar amounts publicly only makes the situation harder.
So when a new report or infographic starts touting average rates, we’re all over it, grasping at any information we can get. Some information is better than none, right?
Yes, but only if we remember to think critically first.
Problems with Survey Data
Every survey and study has its limitations: the number of people surveyed, the demographics of those people, and the actual questions asked. That’s just their nature.
To understand the data the survey yields, we first have to understand the limitations. Ask yourself things like how many people were surveyed and whether it was a significant sample. Do the survey respondents’ demographics? Are they similar enough to yours to be a fair comparison? For example:
- If they’re editors, what kind of editors are they?
- What industries do they work in?
- How much experience do they have?
- What age groups are they in?
- How many are male and how many female?
- What else would differentiate one editor from another that might affect pay rates?
All of these things will affect how like you the survey respondents are and, therefore, how applicable their answers are to your situation. A developmental editor who’s been editing for 25 years is going to be paid more than a copyeditor who just completed their training.
Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.
Problems with Data Conclusions
We all want the bottom-line numbers, the quick results from a survey or study. Surveys can be complex things, and this is a busy world we inhabit. Publishers and the media try to give us what we need, but important details can be lost with too much abridging.
If report on the survey doesn’t spell out the survey’s limitations, find the source and read it for yourself. Consider the questions mentioned above.
Also consider possible biases. While news articles should be objective, white papers and infographics are generally created for marketing purposes. Ask yourself:
- Does the publisher have a vested interest in these results? Would it benefit from freelance editors earning less money?
- Does the publisher make it difficult to find out the survey criteria and limitations?
- What is the publisher’s aim in sharing these results? Is it trying to convince companies that they can afford editing because of low rates?
- What was the question asked to get that result? Were respondents able to give more than one answer?
Editors are critical readers. Before panicking (or rejoicing) over survey results, especially those that suggest pay rates for editors, we should put those reading skills to work.