Freelancing

Quote Higher Rates: If You Close More Than 50% of Your Leads, You’re Not Charging Enough

In your quest to quote higher rates, you’ve likely come across The Diva List.

That list makes for an inspiring post.

And it’s become pretty popular among freelance copywriters – especially those that want to double their rates – for that reason.

But here’s what I find increasingly interesting about The Diva List post: the comments.

You’ll notice that the comments on it are like a checklist of freelancer fears:

Diva1

Diva2

Diva3

That “nagging voice of doubt.” Those endless days of work. The fear that you’re just not good enough yet.

There’s no doubt that being a freelancer makes you face your fears.

  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of not being able to find work
  • Fear of criticism
  • Fear of failing to make ends meet
  • Fear of needing to put in more time
  • Fear of looking like a fraud

Being a freelancer is not for the faint-of-heart. After 15+ years, I’ve learned that lesson a thousand times over.

But here’s the thing: over time, you DO learn… you grow more confident… and you become more courageous. You learn that there is plenty of work to be found, and that rejection is never personal. You learn that criticism isn’t personal, either, and it won’t kill you.

You discover the types of projects you enjoy, and the types of clients you really mesh with.

For example, I’ve learned that I love working with technology companies, and I have a real knack for writing marketing content that helps those companies make more sales. Moving out of $45/hr, jack-of-all-trades status, like Lianna Patch discussed here, was only natural after that.

As you learn these lessons and conquer your fears, you also get better at writing copy (or content, as in my case).

You more than likely start zeroing in on a niche. You start moving toward mastery. And then:

It comes time to start quoting higher rates.

Aaand… BOOM! You’re right back in that scared-newbie mindset again.

What if they reject my proposal because I charge too much?

What if they don’t think my services are worth what I’m charging?

What if they think I’m crazy or egotistical?

What if I increase my rates with my current clients and they all abandon me?

What if I stop getting work?

The idea of quoting higher rates makes most of us recoil in fear.

Landing on a rate feels like a guessing game. You’re trying to balance A) how much you need (or want) to make for doing the work with B) what their “copywriting” line item is in their budget. If you were gonna quote $2500 and they’ve only got $1500 budgeted, will you lose it? You’d do it for $1500. But what if they’re ready to pay $5000 and you quote really low?

>>On Nov 22, we’re publishing copywriter salary survey results on Copy Hackers.<<

Raising your rates is an absolutely critical stepping stone in your freelance career.

After all, just because YOU can’t imagine having a budget of $10,000 to hire a copywriter doesn’t mean your prospective client can’t imagine it. That might actually be the number they’ve budgeted! And if you come in under budget, will they feel certain you’re the best person for the job? Or will they keep looking for the copywriter who charges like a big-talent copywriter should?

Could you lose the job by quoting too low?

While you’re thinking about that, think about this …

If you want to grow your freelance business beyond “just scraping buy” level, get better projects and attract clients who value your skills:

You have to quote higher rates.

First things first, what are you charging … and what are you actually making? Use this calculator to find out:

What’s your actual hourly rate? For freelance copywriters.

Done that? Surprised by the results?

It’s time to raise your rates, isn’t it?

After all, you’re self-employed. If you wait around for your clients to “give you a raise,” it’ll never happen.

…Or maybe I’m wrong about you. Maybe you don’t want to grow your business. Maybe you’re happy living in your parents’ basement and eating ramen noodles every night for the rest of your life.

slacker copywriter

Even for slackers, raising rates is a necessity – if only because of inflation. Oh, and the fact that your skills are more than worth it.

Remember: Quoting higher rates isn’t about ego.

It’s about survival. It’s about growth. It’s about how your value as a copywriter has matured – and your rates should mature right alongside it.

Once you’ve put in the work and reached the next level of expertise, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your clients if you don’t increase your rates

There are two reasons for this:

1. People place more value on what they pay for.

There is all kinds of psychology behind this, of course (just google “endowment effect” for a lesson in how silly we humans are), but it makes perfect sense. Free or low-price products and services become commodities. Competing based on price is a race to the bottom. You don’t benefit as a copywriter – and your client doesn’t get the benefit of the business results they’re after.

2. Your expertise didn’t come cheap!

It cost you time and effort (and probably some money) to improve your skills and grow your value. You’ve invested in courses. You’ve invested in masterminds. So, no, your clients aren’t paying for an hour of your time – they’re paying for results. And you get those results because you’ve put in years of work and study. It cost you to get here. It cost you to learn how to get those results for your clients. You must raise your rates as your value grows in order to recoup those costs over time.

So how do you do that, exactly?

7 Steps to Raising Your Rates Like the Pro You Are

Jessica Mehring
This is me! Jessica Mehring, creator of The Content Lab

My first order of business when I created The Content Lab was to help copywriters establish their value with content clients.

I didn’t set out just to teach writing skills – but to build confidence by helping them create systems and frameworks around the writing skills they already had, and helping them embrace their roles as experts. Not writing-monkeys-for-hire. EXPERTS.

Why?

Because confidence is severely lacking for most freelancers – and it’s just as crucial as copywriting skills are. If you don’t have confidence, you’ll never raise your rates.

If you don’t embrace your role as the expert you are, your services will forever be commodities. A lot of people can write. Not many people have the expertise you have.

Here’s something most freelance copywriters don’t realize: We know a lot.

We know more about marketing and persuasion than many marketers do.

We know more about sales than many business owners do.

Why? Because we study the theory and the practice. And we actually put our fingers on the keyboard to publish words and phrases real prospects actually see. We’ve been dazzled by what works. We’ve been knocked to our knees by what doesn’t. We know and we do.

Once you understand that, and once your confidence grows, raising your rates isn’t so scary.

Side note: It’s your job to help your clients understand that, too.

I’m going to share 7 steps that I took to grow my confidence and establish my expertise in order to raise my rates – and these are steps that I coach my students to take, too.

1. Choose your niche and specialty, and establish your brand around them.

Choosing a niche separates you from the competition and makes your value proposition clearer to prospective clients.

There are a million copywriters out there — but there aren’t many that work with “IT, software and tech” companies like I do. That stands out to my ideal clients.

That also scares away clients that wouldn’t be ideal for me. I don’t get a lot of inquiries from psychics or life coaches, for example.

Lianna Patch just wrote an amazing post around this topic, so start there.

Once you’ve determined your niche, select your specialty (or specialties). Website copy, email copy, blogs, e-books, sales pages… What kinds of projects light you up? What projects do you have a knack for?

Specialty becomes important if you really want to become a go-to master. It’s rare that clients come to me for sales pages (it happens, but it’s rare). I am clear in my messaging on my website and in all my bios around the web that I specialize in content (blog posts, white papers, e-books, infographics and the like). I’ve worked hard to master this specialty – and my portfolio reflects that growing mastery – so clients know they’re getting the best content writer out there (if I do say so myself) when they hire me.

Now that you have a niche and a specialty, build your brand around them.

Kira Hug has some great advice about copywriter branding in this post.

2. Put together a killer portfolio.

Portfolios are not just for designers and visual artists! They work wonders for copywriters, too.golden ticket

Your portfolio is a golden ticket to better clients.

Keep clips of the projects you’re proud of, and the types of projects you want more of, and put them into a visually compelling portfolio to help illustrate your value.

If you’re feeling totally confused about creating a copywriting portfolio, you’re in luck. I’ve got a free 4-part email course that’ll take you through the whole process, from deciding what clips to put in it to selecting the right software.

Register here and the first lesson will be sent to you immediately.

3. Gather testimonials.

Go ask your last three clients for testimonials. Right now. While the projects are still fresh in their minds.

Testimonials are what we call “social proof.” They let your target clients know that you know your stuff, that you’re not just some schmo off the street, and that you can be trusted.

Testimonials make your job so much easier. You can tell a prospective client how good you are until you’re blue in the face – but they’re much more likely to believe that when they hear it from your previous clients.

Not sure how to ask for a testimonial? Here’s a great template that feels friendly, not beg-y:

##start template##

Hi ________,

{{Opening friendly line}}

How are you doing? I hope life is treating you well.

{{Something relevant that connects you two.}}

Anyway, I am writing you to ask you for a favour. I am {{what you’re trying to do}}. I’d like to {{what an ideal situation looks like for you, to that end}}.

Since you are one of the people that I respect most, I would be honoured if {{THE ASK}}. {{Quick clarification on the ask.}}

If you don’t feel comfortable with it, I understand 100%. And I only want you to {{do X}} if you feel like you can {{what X means}}.

Thanks and have a ___________ – hope to see you soon!

{{Your name}}

{{Your signature / close}}

##end template##

Here’s what that might look like filled in:

Hi Hiten,

I heard your talk at Inbound was amazing!

How are you doing? I hope life is treating you well.

I’m hoping to be at Microconf this year – and I see you’re speaking. Can’t wait to see that.

Anyway, I am writing you to ask you for a favour. I am redoing my website to better showcase my growing portfolio and skillbase. I’d like to highlight a few really great testimonials on it.

Since you are one of the people that I respect most, I would be honoured if you’d give me a testimonial. It doesn’t need to be long – actually, I’d happily pre-write it for you, if that makes life easier for you.

If you don’t feel comfortable with that, I understand 100%. And I’d only ask you to share a testimonial if you feel like you can stand behind the work I did for you.

Thanks and have a great Thursday – hope to see you in Vegas!

Joanna

Joanna Wiebe
Creator of Copy Hackers

Got it?

Good. Go get 3 testimonials right now.

And going forward, make a habit of asking every client for a testimonial. This can be as simple as following a Client Management Checklist, which Joanna will cover in The Copywriter Mastermind 3.

NOTE: Make it easy for your clients to say yes to the testimonial. Put on your copywriter hat: what would you do for your clients if you knew they needed testimonials? You’d probably pre-write a few so you could be sure the testimonials hit on delighters and counter-objections, right? So pre-write a few, and consider including them as a PS for the busiest clients you’re reaching out to.

4. Connect with as many people as you can on LinkedIn.

More than any other social media platform, LinkedIn will help you establish yourself as an expert in your field. Plus, LinkedIn is the first place many people go to find freelancers.

The more connections you make, the further your reach extends and the more exposure you get on the social network. The more first-degree connections you make, the more second- and third-degree connections you have… and the more likely it is your profile will show up in search results.

When I search “freelance copywriter LinkedIn,” the only LinkedIn profile that shows up on page 1 of the SERPs is this one:

Anna Lee LinkedIn

See how many connections she has? (It’s in the red box on that image.) That number’s important.

You need more than 500 connections before LinkedIn considers you a an “influencer.” Hit that number and your profile no longer shows the number of connections next to your name (except to Premium subscribers). So make getting 501 connections a goal for yourself on LinkedIn.

The most basic way to do that: stop being so damn choosy with the people you accept as contacts! Go into your Pending Invitations, and accept ‘em all:

People You May Know LinkedIn

What’re you?–too cool to connect with Berny, Joel and Terry??

5. Engage on other social media platforms, too.

I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s hard to make sales on social media. So let’s get a different perspective on this marketing tactic before we go any further.

Instead of looking at Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram as a place to hawk your wares, look at them as places to understand and connect.

  • Understand your target clients: Spend time reading the posts that your ideal clients share on social media. You’ll learn about what matters to them, what gets them riled up and who they’re hanging out with online.
  • Connect with others on social media: Think of social media like a virtual networking event. Don’t just hand out business cards to everyone you encounter – strike up genuine conversations.

Answer questions. Solve problems. Give kudos. Share resources. Be helpful.

6. Publish an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle store.

Do this in the next three months. I promise this isn’t as scary as it seems. You’re a writer, after all.

Amazon.com isn’t just an online store – it’s one of the world’s largest search engines.

Schedule time to write the content of the e-book. It can be as short as 7,000 words, as long as it’s packed with really helpful information. (Intimidated by that word count? Think about it this way: 7,000 words is basically the length of 1.5 or 2 long-form blog posts. Or just shy of the length of THIS post.)

Use Airstory to drag-and-drop your way toward a completed book faster:

Pay or barter to have your e-book professionally edited. Even a small typo in an e-book can reflect poorly on a copywriter.

If you have the cash, have the cover professionally designed. Alternatively, if you’re starting lean (like Joanna did with her Copy Hackers e-books), you can get the cover designed on 99designs on the cheap… or try it yourself following these steps:

  1. Learn the 8 secrets of e-book cover design here
  2. Research e-books on your subject and/or for your audience… so you can make yours fit in AND stand out
  3. See what covers don’t actually work in the Kindle store
  4. Use Canva to design it

And don’t forget about the inside of the e-book! You can paste your book’s content right into Vellum and make it look completely pro:

vellum on mba

Need a little encouragement, a kick in the pants, or just a process to follow? Check out this AMAZING online class from Tara Gentile

7. Get coaching from someone whose business or strategy you want to emulate.

This might be the most important step of all. Not just because coaching is such a powerful way to break through your business roadblocks, but also because it shows you’re ready to take the next big step forward.

Coaching is an investment. It’s an investment in your business, in your mindset and in yourself. Making that investment is like signaling the universe “I’m ready to grow!”

Woo-woo stuff aside, the way you approach your clients and your freelance business will fundamentally change when you invest in a good coaching program (assuming you actually do the work, of course!). You will level-up… fast.

Coaching program structures vary.

Step 7 might feel like the scariest step because you’re investing real money and serious time. But I can promise you you’ll get more results from this step than any other.

Taken all seven of those steps?

Great! Your confidence should be rock solid. Now the next project you quote on – charge double.

For many of you, though, you might need a bit more encouragement. You might even need some mindset shifting or a solid kick in the pants. So keep reading.

I’m no mind reader, but based on my experience, I can guess what your ultimate fear is about raising your rates. You’re scared that you’re going to lose projects.

So before we go any further, I have another short exercise for you do to …

Write this down on a post-it note and stick it on your monitor:

Lose sticky 2

You’re Going to Lose Some Projects When You Raise Your Rates. And That’s a Good Thing.

The first step in confidently quoting higher rates is accepting this fact: You will lose some clients and projects.

But that’s a good thing.

If your value has grown as a copywriter, clients who aren’t willing to pay more for more value are not the kind of people you want to work with or even should work with. Those clients will be perfectly happy paying a guy from Upwork $5 an hour for crappy copy. Is that really the arena you want to compete in?

My guess is no. My guess is you’re like me. You actually want to get results for your clients- so you’re learning and improving your skills day after day.

The risk of losing the client is real – but it’s worth it.

joel klettke
Joel Klettke

Take it from Joel Klettke of Business Casual Copywriting

Growing means constantly testing your limits to find out where your value is. Yes, low prices will close a lot of customers – but you don’t want customers who hire you because you’re cheap. You want customers who hire you because they respect your work and the value you can bring to the table.

So, my barometer has always been that if I’m closing more than 50% of my leads, I’m probably undercharging. Intimidating? Maybe. But keep the math in mind: If you’re making more per client, you need fewer clients – which means a better ability to focus on doing GREAT work for a few instead of mediocre work for tons of them.”

A story about the time raising my rates did NOT go like I thought it would …

For years I had been writing for a small marketing and advertising agency that served telecommunication companies. I loved this client. They are a good bunch of people doing really good work.

They are also a family-owned business with a limited budget.

I dragged my feet – literally for years – about increasing my rates with them.

I thought I’d lose them because they didn’t have the budget to pay me more.

At some point, though, I had to draw the line. I wasn’t being paid enough for the value I brought to the table – and that was not their fault. It was mine.

I gathered up my courage, emailed the owner of the company and asked to be paid a higher rate.

He emailed back immediately and said, “Sure! No problem.”

Then his wife, who handles all the finances for the company, responded to the same email thread and said this stunner:

“It’s about time! You deserve it.”

My clients had known my worth all along.
It was ME who needed to own it.

The moral of that story is that if you think your client can’t afford to pay you a higher rate, if you think you’re going to have to have a hard conversation and “make your case” to help them see the value of your services, you might be totally wrong.

Still, though, you have to own your worth.

You have to know your value.

That’s the foundation for any conversation about rates – whether it’s with a prospective new client or a client you’ve served for years. That’s the first thing I really want to dig into here. The first thing you have to know in order to confidently quote a higher rate: your value.

Know This #1: You’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Will Pay You!

We can all learn a thing or two from Stuart Smalley.

image01

Get confident with the value that you’re offering.

There are two pieces to this.

1. Your value as a copywriter:
This is the skill that you have gained as you’ve practiced your craft.

What is the value you bring to the table with your hard-won skills? Your area of expertise, or what you’ve grown to be particularly good at. Your portfolio of successful projects. Your experience.

If you’ve been a freelance copywriter for five years, you have three (meaningful) certifications under your belt, and you’ve worked with brands your mom would recognize, your value is different now than it was five years ago. You know more. You can get better results for your clients because you’ve learned – sometimes the hard way.

I want you to get out a sheet of paper right now and write down everything you think you bring to the table as a freelance copywriter. List out:

  • Classes you’ve taken
  • Certifications you’ve earned
  • Clients you’ve worked with
  • Projects you’ve completed
  • Results you’ve gotten for clients
  • Testimonials you’ve gathered from happy clients
  • Lessons you’ve learned from difficult projects
  • Business skills you’ve gathered as you’ve grown your freelance career
  • Relationships you’ve made with other copywriters, designers, developers, etc.
  • Content you’ve written for your own business (including guest posts)

You probably needed like 10 sheets of paper for that exercise. Am I right?

Download a fill-in-the-blanks version of this worksheet here

Do you see your value a little clearer now?

2. The value of the project to the client:
Sometimes clients will understand the value of the project to their business – but sometimes you’ll need to make a case.

If you’re approached to write website copy for an established company, and they tell you that they want to increase conversions by 10%, they likely know the value of the project. You won’t need to waste your time (or theirs) making a case for why this project will result in more revenue for them.

More often than not, though, you’ll be approached by clients who “need copywriting.” Even when you’ve gone through the work to find copywriting clients, most have no idea the value of the work they’re asking you to do. They just know they want words on a page.

This is where it’s important that you make your case for the project value. Otherwise your services will remain a commodity… and you’ll remain a writing-monkey-for-hire.

monkey

The very first thing you should do is determine what the client’s business goal is for the project.

Believe it or not, this might be a shocking question for your prospective client. They might have been told “you need to blog” or “you need better homepage copy,” and that’s why they reached out to you … but you must tie the project to a business goal in order for the client to see the value in it.

Ask this question early in the sales conversation: What business results do you expect to see from this project?

More than likely, the business goal will be something along the lines of “make more sales.” In this case, copy writers may have an easier time than us content writers.

Not sure what the difference is? Here’s how I define copy and content:

Copy provides the information the buyer needs in order to make the decision to purchase.

Content grows the relationship between the buyer and the business.

To establish the value of a copy project, help the client crunch some numbers. Ask questions like:

  • What is the lifetime value of a customer to your business?
  • How many leads do you need to get to close one new customer?

Now multiply that by the increase in conversion or leads you expect to see from your new copy. That’s the value of the copy project to your client.

For content (or any project that isn’t directly tied to a numbers goal), brush up on your evangelism skills. Hard numbers are more difficult to come by. I still suggest you ask your client about their business goals so you can make sure the content you’re creating for them will move them toward those goals – but the goals may be a little bit more intangible, like:

  • Building authority or status
  • Establishing credibility
  • Increasing customer satisfaction

These are valid business goals – and will eventually lead to more sales. They’re just harder to quantify. Content is more of a long-game than copy is. So in these cases, you need to show the client how working with you will get them to their goals.

  • Share your testimonials and case studies with the client to show the results you’ve helped other clients achieve.
  • Find case studies online of similar businesses that have achieved similar goals, to show the client that they’re on the right track – and you’re just the results-focused copywriter to help them.
  • Do your research. Find studies that show how increasing customer satisfaction leads to more sales, or building authority grows market share.

Two other common goals for content are growing the company’s email list and improving the results of their ads. Those you can easily tie back to a number.

  • For growing an email list: Ask your client what percentage of their email subscribers buy from them (on average) when they send out an offer. Multiply that by the growth you expect to help them achieve with their mailing list.
  • For improving the results of ads: Ask your client what the average conversion rates of their ads are right now, and what the value of each conversion is to the business. Calculate the amount of revenue your client can expect to see if your content results in X% more conversions. (This is also a great place to pitch the idea of you writing their ads – because a poorly written ad won’t convert no matter how enticing the content is on the other side.)

Brennan Dunn has written a TON on the topic of establishing value. I highly recommend you check out the Pricing category on his Double Your Freelancing blog for more resources.

You need to establish the value of the project even (especially) when the company says they have a tight budget. If the copy or content you’re writing for them will make them more money, it is your job to help them see that. If it will improve customer satisfaction, or boost the company’s credibility, it is your job to help them see that.

When the value of the project is apparent to the client, quoting a higher rate isn’t as scary – it feels more like you’re charging appropriately. That simple mindset shift can really help your confidence when it comes time to talk rates.

How to Talk About Your Rates

Talking about rates at all can be scary – even for those of us who have been at the freelancing thing for a while. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to talk about rates without scaring clients off:

1. Get all the information first.

Your client will probably ask you for your rate during your first sales conversation. Resist the temptation to answer that question right away.

Every project is unique. You’re not baking cupcakes – you’re helping businesses make more sales. (This is why I hesitate to encourage copywriters to productize their services unless they’ve really niched down to a specialty that doesn’t change much from client to client.) Get the full context of the project before you quote a rate – and really think about the time, energy and specific expertise that will go into the project. That way your proposal can include the full scope of the project, and your client can see how much value they’re really getting from you.

2. If you’re backed into a corner, quote a rate range.

Qualify the client (i.e. make sure they have the budget to work with you) and buy yourself some time by responding with a rate range.

Here’s a script you can use:

“For projects like the one you’re describing, I have charged anywhere from $X on the low end to $Y on the high end. There are many factors involved in how I determine the rate for each project. If that rate range works with your budget, I’d love to get more information from you so I can give you a meaningful quote.”

3. Speak confidently.

Don’t waver. Your rates are your rates – they are nothing to be ashamed of. State your rates … and then shut up.

Let the client be the next to speak.

I know this is hard. Just do it. You’ll thank me later. (More about this in Joanna’s Diva List.)

4. Remember: this is the worst that can happen to you… 

Your reputation is not on the line here. Your business is not on the line, either – there are plenty more copywriting projects to be had. Your worst case scenario when you quote higher rates is simply that they say “no” to your said rate.

You need to be okay with that before you have that first sales conversation.

Every project requires your time and expertise in order to get results for the client. Charge appropriately. The worst they can say to your quoted rate is:

image05

Speaking of charging appropriately, don’t forget that the project has to be valuable to YOU, too!

Raising your rates can even make a pain-in-the-rear project worthwhile.

amy posner
Amy Posner

Amy Posner told me a great story recently that illustrates this so perfectly. She gave me permission to share it here with you.

“A company that’s been a client of mine for years changed marketing directors a while back. Talk about night and day. Karen had been organized, on time, detailed. Her replacement Stephanie, uh, not so much. She would drive me crazy mid-project. Changing direction, not responding, then needing things in a hurry. I like her, but not her way of working.

I decided I’d tack a pain-in-the-@$$ fee on our next project, a price that would make the headache less painful (maybe a whole lot less). And, if she didn’t like the price and went away, so would the annoying habits.

The next project that came in from them is one I would normally price at about $8000. I took a deep breath and quoted her $15,000. I think I phrased it like this: ‘Are you going to faint if I come back with a budget of $15K for this project?’ She responded, ‘No, I think we can swing that, if you don’t mind two payments!’

Game changer. Suddenly my work was worth almost twice as much. The kicker is it was probably worth that all along, but I had to get there mentally.

With the next clients it wasn’t a ‘penalty tax.’ It was just my rate.

It’s actually a strategy I’ve since recommended to other copywriters. It’s much easier to float a higher price on a project you’re not as excited about – and it can turn out to be a great proving ground. In my experience, writers are much more likely to undercharge than not.”

Your services are valuable.

Charge accordingly.

This is something to consider – and something that might surprise you – as you are helping your clients see the value of their project and the value of your services:

When it comes to budget, you’re probably competing more with designers than you are other copywriters.

Too many companies make the mistake of spending their entire marketing budget on design. They put copywriting on the back-burner. Because it’s “just words,” right?

This completely sets them up for failure, of course.

Design looks pretty, but it won’t persuade customers to buy. Design supports the brand, but it won’t convince wary prospects to hand over their email addresses.

Great copy and content does all of the above.

You need copy AND design.

I’m telling you this to give you some very important perspective. It’s your job as the professional you are to make the case for putting copy first.

When you don’t establish your value, or the value of the project, you actually leave the client in a bad position. They find themselves spending their entire marketing budget on a great design… and cobbling crappy copy together themselves (or with a bargain-basement copywriter)… and then not getting the results they’re after.

In a nutshell: You’re doing the client a favor by showing them the value of what you offer. They will actually make more money when they hire you. How many other roles can say the same?

Know This #2: Where does the time go?
Here… and here… and here …

A mistake I see a lot of copywriters making is this: They think about, and quote about, writing time only.

They don’t consider:

  • Research time (time spent researching the company, competitors, customers, or, if you’re writing content, the subject you’re writing about)
  • Meeting and interview time
  • Editing time, and time spent following up with the client when they haven’t yet sent over their feedback
  • Admin time (time spent answering emails, creating invoices, getting on the phone with the client to talk through the copy)

These are all time-suckers!

All of that time should factor into your rates. If it doesn’t, you’re working for free.

Now, I don’t suggest charging hourly. Why not? Because that feels like nickeling-and-diming to a client. And it commoditizes your services. Not good.

But I do suggest knowing the value of an hour of your time. You can use that as a starting point to determine what your project fee will be. Start by calculating it here

Research, meeting/interview and editing time are pretty easy to calculate once you’ve been a freelancer for a while. Admin time, however, can feel a little nebulous. I’ve got a trick for you to make sure you’re covering that, though.

This is something I teach my students, so you’re getting a little inside secret here for free …

Add 20% to your estimated time.

Think it’s a $5000 project? Add a cool grand.

That 20% will cover all the usual admin stuff like emailing and invoicing, but it will also help cover the unforeseen stuff like a client who likes to spend more time on the phone than you anticipated.

Now it should be perfectly clear to you that you’re going to be doing a lot more than writing for your copywriting clients.

Another way to look at where your time goes is that every project and every task comes with an opportunity cost.

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Can’t be all of ’em! Remember opportunity cost when quoting.

When you take on one project, you’re unable to take on another.

When you take on a project that requires a lot of research, you’re left with less time for editing another.

When you take on a project with a client who wants weekly meetings with you, you have less time to write for another.

When you do more of one task, you must do less of another – because we all have the same 24 hours in a day.

If a project is going to cost you in opportunity, your rates need to go up accordingly.

For example, say you hate doing research but you love writing. If you’re quoting on a project that requires a ton of research, your rate should go up because you’re left with less time to write (for that client or for any other).

When I spoke to Jon Lamphier, whom I met in Joanna’s very first copywriter mastermind program, about charging higher rates, he told me of a recent retainer project he’d quoted on and won. He quoted a high enough dollar amount for the project that he felt comfortable leaving a long-time, steady job for it. The opportunity cost for Jon was the stability of the former job – but the rate he got paid for the new project gave him the confidence that the opportunity cost was worth paying.

Joanna talks about opportunity cost in her Diva List article, too. This quote is from item number three: Charge an uncomfortable project fee.

“I have lost way more high-priced jobs than I’ve won. But I’ve also won enough to know it’s better to charge uncomfortably. And I’ve never, ever regretted quoting what I did. Because there’s an opportunity cost to taking on jobs with clients that can’t afford you: what opportunities might you be giving up to work for less on a project?”

Still Feel Like Passing Out When You Think of Raising Your Rates? Try One of These Two Tricks

How’s your confidence level now? Are you feeling like quoting a higher rate is only natural?

I hope so. But if not, I’ve got two possible solutions for you to raise your rates without having a heart attack in the process.

1. Increase your rate with each new client.

If you’re not ready to go to your existing clients and ask to be paid a higher rate, this method might be perfect for you. Every time you give a new prospective client a quote, make the number a little higher. Over time – and rather quickly, actually – your rate will steadily increase. And so will your confidence.

2. Increase your rate each year.

Sometimes it can feel scarier asking an existing client for more money than quoting a higher rate with a new client. If that’s the case for you, sit up and pay attention.

A yearly rate increase is a perfectly expected part of doing business for most companies out there. In other words, it will not surprise your long-term clients if, year after year, you increase your rates. In fact, they’ll probably appreciate the consistency of it so they can budget accordingly.

Interestingly, there is a valuation paradigm that shows it can be easier to raise your rates with current clients than to charge higher rates with new clients: People tend to pay more to retain something they own than to obtain something they do not own.

Feeling nervous about approaching your existing clients about a higher rate? Remember this psychological principle!

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Now, How Will You Know You’re Charging Enough?

NOTE: On Nov 24, 2016, Copy Hackers will be publishing copywriter salary survey results.

So what’s “enough” when it comes to your rate as a freelance copywriter?

I could write an entire book on this topic. I’d call it, “Money Mindset for Upwardly Mobile Copywriters.”

Ultimately, you need to think of your business goals and your life goals to come up with a revenue number that works for you – and then break that down by month and by project.

But let’s not neglect the “high-paying client paradigm” here …

I don’t know the psychology behind this – and I can’t find any studies to back this up – but it’s true nonetheless: Clients who are willing to pay more are simply easier to work with.

Clients who value your services and are willing to pay a higher rate to work with an experienced pro don’t do things like …

  • Call you at all hours of the day and night
  • Ask for five rounds of edits when the scope of work covers only one
  • Drag their feet on paying your invoice – or don’t pay at all
  • Ignore your emails
  • Refer to your high-converting copywriting techniques as “wordsmithing”
  • Change your copy before they publish it, instead of giving you meaningful feedback

They respect your time. They respect your skills. They see you as a strategic partner – not hired hands.

Your life as a freelance copywriter is better when you work with clients who pay you more.

This doesn’t mean that you should only work with clients who don’t argue with you about your rates, though. In fact, a little pushback is a good thing.

A little bit of pushback gives you the opportunity to establish your value right from the beginning of the relationship. The deeper conversation that happens when a client pushes back a little bit also gives you, the freelancer, more of an opportunity to spot any red flags.

Almost every copywriter I spoke to for this article said some version of “If they don’t push back just a little bit, I find the project goes south pretty quickly.”

Lianna Patch
Lianna Patch

Lianna Patch of Punchline Conversion Copywriting said that when she quoted her highest rate ever, the client asked if they could opt out of one piece of the project to get a lower rate. This gave her the opportunity to explain how important that one piece was to getting the client the result they were after – and the client accepted the rate without further argument. The project was smooth sailing from there.

Kim Bischoff
Kim Bischoff

Contrast that with a story Kim Bischoff told me. She quoted double her usual rate because the project didn’t really interest her – and the client accepted it without any pushback.

Within a few weeks of starting the project, the client stopped answering her emails. Kim was left in the lurch without the info she needed to complete the project – and not sure if she was going to get paid the second half of the project fee that the client owed.

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In Lianna’s scenario, she had the opportunity to help the client see the value of her services, and envision the results of working with her.

In Kim’s case, the easy rate acceptance actually ended up being a bad thing. She didn’t have as much opportunity to spot red flags or establish the value of the project to the client.

The lesson? A little client pushback on rates is an opportunity for you as a copywriter.

Your Rate Must Grow With Your Value

When you’re brand-new to copywriting, you take lower-paying gigs for a while to grow your skills, expand your experience and build your portfolio. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all start somewhere.

But once you’ve got some expertise under your belt – once you’ve taken the next big stride toward those 10,000 hours – you have to start quoting higher rates. Otherwise you won’t grow, and you’ll be stuck with clients who don’t recognize your value.

If you know your value, and you know where your time goes, you will have so much more confidence quoting higher rates to clients.

And if some clients are unwilling to pay your higher rates? Well, pat yourself on the back. You’ve officially outgrown those clients.

~jessica

Jessica Mehring is the CEO of Horizon Peak Consulting, where she combines sales-focused copywriting with content creation to help her IT, software and tech clients turn content into revenue. She is also the creator of The Content Lab, where she trains copywriters, marketers and business owners how to master the art and science of profitable content creation.

About the author

Jessica

Jessica Mehring is the CEO of Horizon Peak Consulting , where she combines sales-focused copywriting with content creation to help her IT, software and tech clients turn content into revenue. She is also the creator of The Content Lab, where she trains copywriters, marketers and business owners how to master the art of profitable content creation.

  • For me, I find that once I start charging more, I am more comfortable with that amount and not taking less pay. I am still a long way from the “expert” mode in copywriting, but I bring a ton of other things to the table. I’m still working on that niche thing. Been working on that for about six years 🙂

    • If you’ve been at this for 6 years, you’re probably closer to expert mode than you think you are! And I agree — the scary part is asking for more money. Once your rates go up, that higher amount is your new comfort zone!

      • You are right, I probably am more of an expert than I think I am. I really just started learning the art of copywriting though I have been writing content for some time. Of course, Joanna is one of the reasons I am learning about Copywriting 🙂
        BTW, I am putting together my next post using Airstory and I love!

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