[Note: To get the most out of your pricing, make sure you cover 2 areas first:
1) You have a website
Read my detailed recommendations on how to get your copywriter portfolio up and running as fast and as painlessly as possible.
Question: How much do copywriters make?
Freelance copywriter rates are a challenging subject.
Just how do you convince someone to pay you what you’re worth?
In the era of Upwork and other platforms that try to slime and dime you every chance they get (20% commission fee? No thanks. I like my money), it can be difficult to present your copywriting service rates convincingly.
This comprehensive article is intended to guide you to set your rates and get the most out of your copywriting business. (I’ve tried to make this the most comprehensive guide online, and would love any input if I’ve missed anything important.)
Let’s dive right in.
Why are your prospects rejecting your copywriting rates?
Reason 1. They don’t know what the hell copywriting is.
Reason 2. They don’t value copywriting as an investment. (Refer back to Reason 1.)
Reason 3. They just don’t have the budget. (Seriously. Some just don’t. Don’t bother chasing and trying to convince them. More on this below.)
Let’s explore each reason in detail.
Reason 1. Your prospect doesn’t know what copywriting is.
Don’t bother educating them. It takes too much time. And you’re in the business of making money copywriting. You’re not a teacher, so don’t waste your time educating poor prospects.
Remember: We all get 24 hours in a day. How you choose to spend these hours makes the difference between success and failure.
Reason 2. They don’t value copywriting as an investment.
With a prospect like this one, watch out for phrases such as, “How much will that cost me?” and “I’ve written some copy before.”
These are serious red flags of a problematic future client.
They probably have no inkling regarding the actual amount of work that goes into freelance writing. There’s also a good chance they’ll try to critique your copy every chance they get.
Moreover, they’re likely to see copywriting as a cost, rather than as an investment. Worst of all, you probably won’t be able to feature the work in your portfolio because they’ll likely have “made adjustments” to it.
Reason 3. They just don’t have the budget for it.
Not everyone’s out to get you. Some people simply just don’t have the budget for your services. This means, they’re not your ideal client.
They will also likely fall into Reason 2, in that they see you as a cost, albeit a necessary one.
It doesn’t matter.
They’ll still vent their frustrations and take it out on you, or question little details. Compare this to a solid client, who’s got the finances to leave you to do your best work, and the pay comes in without any snide remarks, and most importantly, you get paid on time from a long-term client (ideal goal).
What to do if you encounter any of these reasons
Here’s the good news.
All 3 reasons fall under one action plan:
Because if any one of these reasons come up, they’re a sure sign you’re targeting the wrong audience.
A formula worth remembering
Incorrect audience targeting = Waste of time and money chasing poor prospects
Now that we’ve gone over how to spot poor prospects, let’s discuss how to approach the money conversation if your prospect passes the 3 Reasons Elimination test.
The correct mindset to have when prepping for the money convo
Before we delve into the actual Consultation Call, let’s discuss the right mindset to enter such conversations with.
We all feel the pressure of the money convo. Most people reject this discomfort by trying to yank it off like a band aid or avoiding mentioning the pricing first (effectively guaranteeing you’re not going to receive the rate you’re gunning for.)
But some other people, they thrive on the pressures of pricing negotiation.
That’s why negotiating consultant Alan Weiss stresses that you delve into it headfirst.
In other words, embrace the pressure. Because the other party just might be someone who thrives on confrontation.
And set your expectations straight. Expect a little pushback. Pushback is normal.
And don’t treat it as a high-stress situation. A negotiation is not a confrontation between 2 parties, where one struggles to come out on top. In other words, don’t approach it with a conflict mindset.
Instead, view it as an exercise where you’re sharing a mutual goal: aiming to find a sweet spot you’re both comfortable working with.
There are 2 best practices for making this pressure work for you:
1. Generating lots and lots of leads. (More leads means you don’t need to fight tooth and nail for every deal that comes your way. Consequently, you have more leverage. So, you don’t feel the pressure to eat whatever crap they’re dishing out, and you can walk away without feeling like you’ve lost out on anything.)
2. Being prepared. (I cover exactly how in the next section.)
Quick lead-qualifying tip
Include a minimum price for a specific service on your site. This detracts potential hagglers, who’ll wince and turn away from your site as soon as they see you have the confidence to set a bare minimum.
Better planning equals higher freelance copywriter rates: A Tale of two schedules
You can have one for public use (your pricing guide). This is the one you present to prospects.
FYI, I personally don’t display a public fee schedule, but I do include hints in my copy to discourage cheapskates from contacting me (like saying “healthy budget” and indicating a minimum of $200 per web page to give prospects a rough idea of what they should expect to pay). There’s conflicting opinions on this, so it’s worth revisiting in a later article.
What’s more important to keep in mind is your other fee schedule, your Master Fee Schedule. This one is for your eyes only.
It contains the magic numbers showing the absolute lowest you’re willing to go on a given project.
Pro tip on your rate sheet (or fee schedule)
This schedule should also include a list of potential upsells, which you can include or exclude whenever a prospect attempts to switch the focus of the negotiation over to pricing. (We cover this in a later section in this guide.)
Let’s take the first step to create your master fee schedule.
First, determine your minimum acceptable rate
Here’s where it gets fun.
Decent freelance writers charge at least US$50 an hour, with experienced writers easily securing gigs going for more than $100 an hour.
But make sure you don’t provide any hourly rates if you can. Flat fees are almost always preferred. (And don’t forget to factor in things like time for research. That’s time out of your hands, and it requires a very different set of skills—one you can charge them for.)
Prospective clients don’t want to have to estimate and worry about how long you’re going to take. This also increases chances of distrust and anxiety, the last emotions you want your clients feeling. It also makes requesting your 50% upfront fee difficult. (And you never want to make it difficult to get paid!)
Don’t look to your competition to set your freelance rates
As a copywriter, your only competition is yourself.
You’re a unique animal. After all, you’re a freelancer. Therefore, you’re selling your personal brand, your individual skills based on all your relevant and qualifying experiences.
And just because someone seems to be getting so many more clients because their rates are lower doesn’t mean you should hop aboard the affordability train either.
Do NOT compete on price. You will always find someone who’s willing to go out of business faster than you.
Now that you have both lists, let’s see what to do when a client approaches you.
A prospective client approaches you to get the best deal possible
The one thing that annoys serious prospects the most
You should now have 2 schedules. So say a prospect approaches you.
By email. Through Reddit or Facebook. Or some other channel. (I’ll cover this in a later guide on how to get copywriting clients.)
They may ask 1 of 2 pivotal questions:
1. May I see your portfolio (or samples)?
2. What are your rates?
The answer to the second question will almost always be, “Depends.” But the absolute worst response you can give to a prospect is this:
“What’s your budget?”
If you’re doing this over chat, there’s a good chance they won’t bother replying.
Instead, say something like, “It depends on the scope of the project. To give you an accurate quote, I need to know how much work is required. That sounds fair, right?”
If they respond in the affirmative, awesome. Schedule the Consultation Call and go from there. See what problems they have that you can solve, and ask probing questions so you can figure out whether you need to hire a designer, purchase any extra tools, etc.
Your job as a copywriter is to solve marketing problems a business is experiencing, or help meet marketing goals. Sometimes, this will involve hiring other people. If a client can tell you’re super resourceful in this way, they’ll come to view you as a trusted consultant, not only a copywriter.
How to handle the “Rates” question
Set your anchor price
Now that you have your Master Fee Schedule, check your minimum acceptable rate privately.
Then, provide an estimated quote at the highest end of that range (whatever you’re comfortable quoting).
Don’t be afraid to call high first. (Remember: It’s an estimate, and it’ll start the conversation. And by calling first, you’re not another perceived opportunist who’s you’re asking about their budget first.)
This sets the anchor price and the correct expectations in your prospect’s mind. That way, when negotiations begin, you’re both working from your number, not the proposed budget you might’ve requested, or some imaginary number the prospect had in their mind.
Now you’ve set your anchor price range.
Providing them with an estimated quote also lets you know immediately whether they have a budget you can work with. (This saves you time from actually discussing the project, only to find out that they didn’t have the budget for it later. I made this mistake once, and it cost me weeks of negotiation. Never again!)
Now tell them the following:
“Hey, do send me the details of the project, so I can prepare a custom quote for you.”
It doesn’t have to be worded this way.
For example, you can just give them your estimate, and tack on, “but I can’t be sure without looking at the details of your project.”
Or you might be more comfortable with a Consultation Call. (And if you can pull this off by outlining a process awesome. I’ll write an article about my custom process for the Consultation Call soon.)
The primary purpose of the discovery call for both parties is to explore whether you have any shared areas where your skills fit their needs.
The secondary purpose is to assess whether you’re a good fit. (Just because you’re an excellent copywriter does not make you the “right” copywriter for this specific prospect.)
But there’s also your purpose for the Consultation Call. (If you can master this call, you can position yourself as a godsend for clients every time.)
Your singular purpose is to probe your prospects for their needs. After all, having them articulate their needs in greater detail will only make them realize how much more they need what you have to offer.
Side Story: A personal reason for calling high
I know what my time is worth to me. That’s because I quantify the value I invest into this website and my other business ventures.
So whenever a client tries to haggle with me and I’m not really interested in their business, I quote high.
And then I keep my mouth shut. I don’t make excuses or try to justify the cost.
No response? Fine. She wasn’t my ideal prospect then.
A response though? Awesome. Game on.
And that’s it.
Because, as Al Pacino’s character Ricky Roma says in Glengarry Glen Ross, “You never open your mouth until you know what the shot is.”
The correct attitude when calling numbers: Don’t flinch and don’t explain away.
State the number. That’s what your time is worth to you. If they don’t see it, too bad. After all, you could invest your time with this prospect—or elsewhere.
The decision is up to your prospect, and you.
In other words, your job is done. Ball’s in their court.
During the Consultation Call
How to probe your prospect for needs
Begin by asking them to describe what they need, or to talk a little about the problem they’re experiencing. (Resist the temptation to price anything just yet. You’re just “probing” for now, so keep asking good questions.)
Remember: The purpose of these questions isn’t just for you to discover what your prospect needs, but to get them to realize the very scope of their own needs.
Example scenario with probing questions
John, a business coach, contacts me through Skype and tells me he needs his ebook lead magnet rewritten.
Me: “Why do you want the book rewritten?” (Perfectly natural question—but that’s the beauty of this approach. Every excellent probing question is a genuine, prospect-focused question.)
John: “It’s been a few years, and I feel like it’s time for a refresher. I’ve moved on from life coaching, and now I offer image consulting as well, so…”
This opens up an entire opportunity of potential questions (not to mention all the additional upsell and cross-selling opportunities).
As copywriters, we know that the success of an ebook as a lead magnet hinges on whether all the other elements in the funnel have a congruent and powerful message (branding included).
This means reworking an ebook lead magnet will also most likely require changes to the landing page, as well as updating any content on the main site (and all related pages including social media, for example) to ensure a healthy conversion rate.
Any transition where a message becomes inconsistent is where the client is likely to suffer a lower conversion rate.
And this is what we want the prospect to see.
Me: “I can take a look at the old ebook and send you a quote for the project. However [insert dramatic pause and a drawn-out frown while looking at the ground], as you may know, it’s best to have…” and explain the context as simply as possible.
Then, consider closing with something like, “If that’s not something you want to think about now, that’s fine. If you want, I can send you a detailed pricing breakdown of what I believe to be would be the necessary components for a healthy conversion rate. This way, we could start with the ebook, and if you’re happy with the results, we could talk about the other parts moving forward. Does that work for you?”
Notice that we did not discuss money at any point. Although this is an oversimplification of a typical discussion with a prospect, it shows you it’s all about what they need, not about how much you’re charging.
In other words, we’re both focused on building value right now, not on pricing.
At the very end of the discussion, once the prospect understands your value based on the needs they’ve just articulated, and now that you can quantify it, you can finally (and with confidence) hand them their custom rate.
After all, John now expects the quote (and even welcomes it. Hell, he needs to hear it now. What’s it going to cost him to fix his business, or for you to help him reach his business goals?)
Now that we’ve gone through this little exercise, giving someone a quote before understanding their problem no longer makes sense, does it?
A rookie mistake: The “How much is that worth to you?” question
Many negotiators and pitchers advise you to ask this question during a Consultation Call.
The problem is, it quantifies your value. (In other words, you’re asking your prospect to divert focus away from the value you can provide. Instead, you’re signaling to them to pay attention to your price, which is not something you want to do.)
Resist this instinct.
This question is lazy. What you want to do instead is to consider asking questions that make your prospects realize your value themselves, and what they stand to lose should they forego your services.
In other words, it’s okay to ask this question in your head, but for the love of all that is holy, leave it there.
Also worth noting: This question is a well-known sales tactic, and anyone with any experience in sales will see this question coming from a mile away and invite you to a cringe-fest.
Think about it this way.
The Likeability Principle dictates that you can get someone to like you if you’re both working toward a mutual goal. Asking, “How much is that worth to you?” means you’re pitting yourself against your prospect.
You’re also taking a social factor (working toward a mutual goal) and turning it into a monetary factor, thus violating the social sense.
If they perceive this—or worse, know the question and tactic—they won’t be able to trust you.
So! Get them to focus on their potential returns (value-based pricing, which positions your price as an investment), not your rate (“cost”).
And remember: “Every request for a negotiation is an opportunity to position yourself as the problem solver.”
What to do when they make a counteroffer
If the counteroffer is lower than want you requested or expected and you want to pursue it further, provide a solid explanation for why the counteroffer is actually not beneficial to either party, not just for you.
Provide a pricing breakdown.
A pricing breakdown accomplishes 3 things:
1) It anchors a price to each of your “value delivery” services in your prospect’s mind. (This means they’ll be forced to focus on the value when determining what they wish to “remove”.)
2) It makes you look more professional.
3) It simplifies pricing for your prospect, a much-appreciated courtesy signal.
Things you can ask for in return
- Less work
- Less time
- Subtract something of value
- Add something of value and request the same price
- A video testimonial (or a written one)
|How to win over a client for life|
Whatever service you agree to provide, always underpromise your deliverables (even when negotiating)—and always, always overdeliver.
Despite ensuring that this process goes as smoothly as possible, there will be times your rate is still thrown out to dry on a hangar.
But rather than persisting further in the negotiation, at this point, now you know:
There’s nothing left to do but walk away.
How to prepare yourself to walk away
So many freelance copywriting and pricing guides tell you to “be ready to walk away.” But they never actually tell you how.
Poor prospects are a dime a dozen. But if you only have a handful of prospects, each potential project does appear to be worth a lot more to you.
If you find yourself in a pricing war, instead of a Consultation Call focusing on value delivery to determine fit, you’re wasting your time.
The answer to this common problem?
Generate greater demand for your business. (This is a topic we’ll cover in an article coming soon.)
And despite my years of experience as a freelance copywriter, there are times I still walk out of a “successful” negotiation feeling like I’ve been lowballed to hell. Or weeks-long negotiations with nothing but scars to show for it. (Good practice though!)
If you find yourself negotiating your rates with potential clients late in the game, you’re long overdue for a shift in how to communicate your services and your rates.
If you’ve been burned before, you know that picking up a poor-fit project will only lead to the feeling of being cheated time and again during the course of the project. It’s a painful reminder that you’ve handed yourself an unfair deal in the exchange somehow.
And yet, somehow, you still might find a way to blame the client for allowing you to barter so low for your skills. The blame lies squarely on you.
So do your due diligence, and get your rates sorted out sooner than later. It’ll save you tons of headaches and pain (not to mention, free you from worries like having to pay your bills on time).
I’ll tell you exactly what happens if you start turning away hagglers right away:
You’ll suddenly have fewer leads. But…
These leads will be quality leads.
So, instead of wasting your time haggling with every single headache that comes your way, you can save time and call your prices. This will free up your time to actually deliver your service at a much superior quality.
Leading to happier and more long-term clients, and more testimonials. (Translation: More business!)
So don’t be afraid to start turning down leads. It’ll feel liberating. I understand if you really need the cash. If you’re cash-strapped, then fine, but still, try to negotiate a mutually beneficial outcome (i.e., one that’s worth it for you as well).
A business doesn’t care if you’re cash-strapped. They just care if you can deliver on your promise.
In closing, remember: Don’t be afraid to walk away. And a promise for future work isn’t money in your pocket. (A little hint: Money in the bank is money in your pocket!)
These great reads will make you more money
In case you’re interested in reading further, here’s a few books I recommend:
- “Spin Selling” by Neil Rackman (a classic)
- “Fanatical Prospecting” by Jeb Blount
- “The Well-Fed Writer” by Peter Bowerman
- “Start and Run a Copywriting Business” by Stephen Slaunwhite
- “New Sales. Simplified.” By Mike Weinberg
- “Million-Dollar Consulting” by Alan Weiss