I have been in the freelancing business for 25 years and have seen a disturbing drop in per-word rates, especially in the past couple of years. I remember when $1 per word was considered the middle of the road for an established IT writer. Now it seems like the top of the heap, and in some cases almost unattainable. I frequently get asked to write for ten cents a word, or even less.
So my suggestion to freelancers is this: Try to work for the editors that you respect that will pay you the most per word. In the long run, this will make you the most money.
In order to do that, you need to know how much work is involved in creating the kind of article that you will be asked to write. This means understanding how much research and reporting is needed; and for that you need to be careful about your own limitations and understand the process of how a story gets constructed.
These days research almost always means looking stuff up online and spending time clicking and reading various websites. That isn’t too hard, but it can get time consuming. The good news is that this research isn’t limited by anything other than your own curiosity and time. Sometimes you don’t understand something and really could talk to a live person to clear things up and you need to do some reporting.
Reporting is where the time can get away from you. I recently wrote a story where my editor asked me to get a quote from a source at IBM. I was working with the right PR person (which for a big company like IBM can be a challenge in and of itself) and she was doing a great job hooking me up with the right expert. Except it was taking too long. I couldn’t file my story until I had this quote: weeks went by before the stars were in alignment and I could do my interview. So, be prepared in some instances research can take far longer than expected, and you should account for this when you decide to accept an assignment. And don’t take your client’s word for how accessible a source could be: oftentimes they don’t realize what is involved in securing an interview and obtaining a quote.
Finally, don’t forget my advice about accounting for the number of edit cycles that a client may have in store for you. That should be reflected in your contracts and your rates. Don’t be shy about requesting a heavy surcharge for additional edit cycles, because that can eat up your time quickly.