What do you charge?
It’s a question that every freelancer in any field has to answer.
After all, we don’t have publicly available data like we do for cars or houses. We can look those prices up online before we shop and have a reasonable idea of what to pay. But no such marketplace or price directory exists for speechwriting. Part of this is due to the very private nature of ghostwriting and, by extension, speechwriting. When was the last time you heard someone praise their ghostwriter or speechwriter? Unless it was a past president and the position was well-known to all, probably seldom.
The other issue is that speechwriting encompasses many types of speeches which require different levels of research and length of time to write. A 5-minute wedding toast is vastly different than a 20-minute keynote speech by a CEO to her entire company. It also seems that the more important speeches require the input of various lieutenants in organizations wanting to have their say over the process and content. Thus, another layer of revisions, meetings, and input calls, to add onto the writing process.
I have come up with two ways in which people are charged for speeches—by the length of the speech itself and by the number of words required.
Pricing by the number of words:
You can figure out the number of words required for a speech based on the fact that humans speak anywhere from around 135 words per minute to 150 words per minute. A 10-minute speech would be around 1,350 words to 1,500 words. Often, freelance writers charge by the word when writing blog posts or magazine articles. A well-seasoned writer can often get $1/word for articles in major publications. A new writer might get fifty cents per word and the top writers could even get $1.25 if not higher.
In this example, with our 10 minute speech, the range for a speech just based on price per word would be a low at 50 cents per word at 1,350 words for a price of $675 and a high of $1.25 per word at 1500 words for $1,875.
It’s of course up to the writer to determine if he or she wants to incorporate pricing for revisions into that price (most do) or charge separately, typically an hourly rate. When writing for a publication, many writers assume that editors will want changes to their product before publishing—the same should also be assumed for speechwriting.
Pricing by the length and type of speech:
Another way to look at the price of the speech is to determine a fixed rate by the amount of time required to speak and the type of speech itself.
For example, a writer might charge $50 per minute of speaking time up to $125 per minute of speaking time. In our 10-minute example above, the speech could cost anywhere from $500 to $1,250.
This flexibility allows the writer to base the cost off of the type of speech being given. Maybe $50/minute is better suited for ceremonial speeches such as wedding toasts and retirement speeches whereas $125/minute is reserved for corporate addresses and keynote speeches where the speaker is getting paid for their speech.
Why the discrepancy?
It comes down to how much work the writer will put into the speech. Some will say that you need a great deal of work to create an effective and funny 5-minute wedding toast. I don’t disagree. But the type of research in getting great stories for a speech like that will differ vastly from the attention to detail and research needed for a speech with more prestige like that of a corporate keynote speech where a stock price could be riding on the words chosen by the speaker and writer.
Which one do I use?
It may depend on the situation and what fits the budget of the speaker or entity.
As a base guideline, for ceremonial and brief speeches—think wedding toasts, retirements, award speeches, thank-you speeches, valedictorian speeches, class graduation speeches, and similar ones, $50/minute of speaking time. This includes three rounds of revisions included as part of the price.
For your corporate speeches, important keynotes, association addresses, commencement addresses for VIPs, anything that requires a large degree of research and meetings/phone calls: $125/minute of speaking time.
To be honest, if there’s a way to come up with a creative number in between one of those or some alternative arrangement, I’m willing to negotiate (as are most freelancers, we just can’t give it all away for free).
Milestones and Deposits:
Many freelancers, including myself, build a set of deposits and milestones into the payment arrangement because it allows for the typically large balance to be paid over time and to decrease the risk in case something happens that prevents the work from being done on time. Some require a 50% deposit with 50% paid at the end while others split it into thirds with the deposit, first draft, and final draft, being the milestones. I mostly do 50% up front and 50% upon the final speech. Some freelancers will even give a discount if the full amount is paid in full up front—typically 10% if the entire amount is paid up front.
I hope that was helpful to those that are trying to figure out what this costs. These are just two models for how to charge for a speech and more could be out there. Some writers track their time and charge hourly for all phone calls, emails, research, and actual writing. That can add up quickly (see any lawyer’s bill for analogous situations).
When you’re ready for your next speech,