How to Get Hired as a Freelance Sales Copywriter
- Justify your rates with a great portfolio of results
- No results? Try pay-for-performance
- Write your pitch email like a copywriter (i.e., use VOC)
- Conquer your lead’s #1 objection to hiring a copywriter “cold”
I spent the last 4 days writing a long-form sales page for one of our Copyhackers programs.
At my day rate of $5000, that’s a $20,000 investment.
Given what a long-form sales page can do for revenue generation, $20K is money well-spent.
But not everyone would agree with that. Few would. And, to be honest, even yours truly would have a very, very hard time paying a freelance copywriter $20,000 to write a sales page. I’d need… well, we’re gonna get into what people like moi would need in order to pony up what is effectively a quarter of the average marketer’s annual salary.
But forget $20,000, which is a lot for almost anyone to pay for a single deliverable.
What about a $5000 invoice?
Is $5000 a lot to charge – or to pay – for a sales page?
I decided to ask a few top marketers. Here’s what they revealed.
These are the 14 marketers we asked
We reached out to some of the thought-leaders, marketers and general powerhouses growing today’s coolest (and most profitable [read: they can afford $5K invoices]) businesses online.
Among the handful of questions we asked them was this one:
If a freelance copywriter quoted you $5000 to write a sales page,
what do you think your reaction would be?
Although two declined to answer (because the question was optional), the other 12 reacted like so:
You’re probably not terribly surprised by those reactions. As you’d expect, there’s no consensus. There’s no certainty. There’s no definitive takeaway – no sense that, yes, freelance copywriters can always safely charge $5000 or, no, you never should.
The surface reactions aren’t the point.
The stuff BEHIND those reactions – that’s the point.
That’s why we dug into why these marketers reacted as they did. If you’re trying to get prospective clients to sign off on projects like $5000 sales pages, listen closely to what they told us. And see what you can do to put yourself in a better negotiating position.
What does “$5000 is too expensive” really mean?
Surprise! Most people aren’t in the top 1% of expertise in their field.
Bigger surprise! Most copywriters aren’t in the top 1% of expertise in their field.
Biggest surprise! Marketers and founders are wise to the random guesswork that happens too often in the copywriting world.
When I’m talking with marketers about how they hire freelance copywriters, a strong distrust of the freelancer’s skills comes through time and again. After all, there’s no reliable third-party stamp of approval for copywriters. No degree in copywriting. No peer-reviewed portfolios. So until clients see proven, measured results, they don’t really believe that their new freelance copywriter knows how to, well, write copy.
(And even when the results are present, there’s still this strange sense that, somehow, it’s a fluke.)
Perhaps the biggest reason for this distrust is this:
There are just far too many people calling themselves copywriters.
Check out how many freelance copywriters are listed on one of the most popular spaces for finding freelancers, Upwork:
And how many of those copywriters have data or proof that they’re actually skilled at the job?
When you refine your search for job success (a form of proof), you see this:
So 2000+ freelance copywriters have “experience” getting the job done right.
Which doesn’t help a prospective client make a decision.
Because there’s still no PROOF that you can do what the client needs doing. Job success is not synonymous with proven results.
For a top marketer to pay you $5000 for a sales page project sans sticker shock, one of two things needs to be true.
You either need to have a great portfolio of results. Or you need to do pay-for-performance – as in, you get paid after the page performs well.
A few of the marketers who were NOT in a rush to invest $5K in sales page copy said they needed proof + results:
“It better make me at least 2x that amount or at least exponentially more than it was making before. If it does the job, I’m happy to pay it.” – Nadya Kohja
“Ouch! Unless I know they’re great.” – Oli Gardner
“You better be damn good at what you do! ROI matters more than cost, so you better be able to produce ROI at that cost.” – Barrett Brooks
Clearly your prospects need to KNOW that you’re gonna do great work. They can’t take on all the risk in hiring you; they need to feel confident that their investment will bring a return of, as Nadya said, at least 2x. I’d push that 2x further to something like 10x. Why? Because most people considering proposals for a page think exactly like Peep describes here:
“Some freelancers will quote 2k, 3k – and that’s the hard part: it’s often VERY difficult to see how the 5k quote would deliver a better result. As they say, if I can’t tell the difference, why pay more?” – Peep Laja
You’ve gotta answer this question: “Why should a client pay more for me than for the next freelance copywriter?”
Your results need to justify your rate. Period.
Your clients need to believe they’re going to get a 10x return on their investment. Period.
Of course, you don’t know how your page will perform until you put it out there. And that’s where pay for performance can be an appealing option for you and your prospective client. But let me be honest: P4P is super-tricky. I wouldn’t rush into it. And even clients who perk up at the idea of it lose interest when they realize how much work it’ll be to track it – to say nothing of the % of their revenues they’ll be sending your way.
Instead of pay for performance, bring a strong portfolio of results to those early convos with your prospects. Results sound tricky to collect. In fact, they are not. There’s data about your work all over the place – you just need to go grab it. Quickly assembling a list of your results over the course of, say, the last 6 months is actually pretty easy, and it doesn’t require that you start participating in complex A/B tests or funnel optimizations.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Start measuring your work immediately so you can reduce the risk for your clients and charge more. A few ideas for you:
- Start asking for the before-and-after data (for traffic, conversions, etc) for the landing pages / websites you write for clients
- Grab open and click rates from MailChimp, ConvertKit or whatever platform you and your clients use to send the emails you write
- Set aside time each week to track week-over-week increases in shares, comments, traffic and more for the blog and social posts you’re responsible for writing
- Run your own Facebook ad tests for your business
- Run your own A/B tests for your landing pages inside Unbounce or your page platform
BTW, showing results is not optional.
No one would hire an SEO who couldn’t point to the traffic growth s/he had generated for clients. No one would hire a CRO consultancy without first reviewing highly persuasive, data-rich case studies. Possibly the only role that does get hired sans numbers is the role of the designer – but even that’s changing as marketers abandon gut reactions in favour of hard numbers.
Those who think $5000 is doable expect the same things as those who think it’s not: strong data going in, and strong ROI going out
Sorry, punkin, but there’s no escaping it: businesses dig numbers.
CFOs love numbers. They obsess over numbers like it’s their job.
Your skill with words will only get you so far as a freelance copywriter. Ultimately, you’re hired for the numbers, not the words. Here’s proof that measurable performance is everything when choosing a copywriter:
“Does this writer have evidence to support their claim that the copy will perform well? If yes, I’m ready to sign the quote. If it ranks and converts, $5K would be a bargain. ” – Andy Crestodina
“The biggest challenge would be to make the investment without knowing how the page would ultimately perform.” – Nate Turner
And let’s not forget the one marketer who said $5000 is too low
Lars Lofgren is the Senior Director of Growth at IWT. Unlike a lot of tech businesses and agencies, IWT uses long-form sales pages heavily – they’ve got a big ol’ team of copywriters – so Lars knows full well the power of a high-converting sales page. When I asked him the $5000 question, he said:
“If someone told me their sales page would cost $5000, I’d assume it would actually cause damage to the brand and not generate any tangible revenue. It’s going to hurt more than it helps.”
I couldn’t agree more.
When copywriters quote me $3000 to $5000 for a sales page, I know I’m going to have to do a lot of work on it. And truth be told: I’ve never had a freelance copywriter quote higher than $5K for a long-form sales page.
Now here’s a question.
Why is Lars the only one who said $5000 is too low for a sales page?
Is he just terrible with money? Has he got nothing but cash to burn? …Or is it something else? Is it that he’s not only written sales pages himself but also overseen the creation of some of the most profitable sales pages in online marketing?
That no one else reacted like Lars reveals one of the bigger issues underlying resistance to a $5000 invoice for a sales page: Not a lot of marketers have SEEN what a killer long-form sales page can do for their business.
And even worse?
Not a lot of COPYWRITERS have seen it, either.
The reality is that a long-form sales page is a one-page funnel. Imagine optimizing your funnel for just $5000. If someone quoted you $5000 to optimize your funnel, you’d have the same reaction Lars had: it’s not gonna work. Yet somehow a long-form sales page – which moves prospects from TOFU through MOFU to BOFU – isn’t obviously worth AT LEAST $5000 to many people hiring freelance copywriters. Do I blame those marketers and think they should all turn into Lars as soon as possible? (I’m actually pausing as I consider my answer.) …No. We copywriters just need to do a much better job of:
- Writing strong long copy and
- Telling the world about when it works and when it doesn’t so that
- More marketers can stop wasting money on low-yield initiatives when they really need to put their copywriting budget toward expensive but high-converting long-form sales pages.
All that said, how can you get more clients to recognize your value and pay you like a champ?
To justify solid rates for writing sales copy, copywriters need to connect their work directly to two things: lead generation and revenue generation.
We asked this group of marketers:
What was the business objective you were trying to solve for
when you recently hired a freelancer?
All answers fell into one of these 3 categories:
- We wanted to generate more revenue
- We wanted to generate more leads
- We wanted someone to execute
The third category shows that, in some cases, businesses just want to hire you to do the execution work of writing copy. Four of the marketers we talked to simply wanted a freelance copywriter to execute without a direct success metric; for example, one freelance copywriter was hired to remove the jargon from a landing page.
But ten of the 14 marketers hired a copywriter for an outcome directly tied to growth: revenue or leads.
Nobody said they hired a freelancer to build their brand. Or to revamp their voice. Or to generate creative concepts. That doesn’t mean that other marketers on the planet won’t be looking for the creative side of copywriting… but 14 out of 14 marketers (in high-growth, profitable businesses, with a history of hiring copywriters) said absolutely nothing whatsoever about hiring a copywriter for creativity.
Get inside your prospect’s head! You know what they want. Now use their words in YOUR copy…
So you know you need results to woo clients.
But what else can you do, say and share to tip the scales in your favour?
You can use what marketers want and don’t want to write more persuasive sales copy for your services.
And what follows can help you with alluhthat…
So if you’re writing a sales page to sell your email copywriting services… or drumming up testimonials and wondering what to ask your past clients to focus on… or putting together a proposal and trying to figure out what to say under “About Me,” you should use the words your prospects would use / have used. Because you’re a copywriter. And that’s what copywriters do.
We asked these 14 marketers how they’d describe their ideal freelance copywriter. These are the words and phrases they used, in alphabetical order:
- Brings a process
- Has courage
- Shows initiative
- Subject matter expert
- Takes ownership
And a few more insights into what clients want when they’re hiring freelance copywriters:
“A “dual-threat” SEO/conversion copywriter!” – Andy Crestodina
“Someone who ‘goes deep.'” – Nathalie Lussier
“In the past when I was looking for some help increasing conversions on a pricing page, I was looking for the best pricing page copywriter there was, and my search queries followed suit. So my ideal copywriter knows who they are, their strengths, and as a result, knows how they can help me better than everyone else.” – John Bonini
“Committed to staying a freelancer, able to write in multiple “voices”, good on the phone so I can trust them to call clients.” – Dana DiTomaso
And while you’re at it, overcome their biggest objections when you’re pitching
If you’re wondering why your prospective clients are skeptical about your value, chances are insanely good that they’ve been burned before.
Here are some of the frustrations these marketers have felt when working with copywriters. They may be the very same frustrations your next client wants to avoid. So consider them all when writing copy for your freelance services and/or talking to your prospective client on the phone.
FRUSTRATION 1. It’s simply hard to tell the great freelance copywriters from the ones who talk a good game.
‘Member all that stuff above about results? Yup, lack of results / lack of expertise is the #1 frustration people have with copywriters.
Tara Robertson, head of agency partnerships at Sprout Social, put it this way:
“Copy tends to be the hardest function to outsource for multiple reasons. For one, while loads of freelancers state they are ‘data driven writers,’ my experience has been more so that finding writers who are also great marketers is generally very hard to come by. Couple that with the need to learn a potentially new niche, product, or industry, as well as find your brand’s tone, really means you’re looking for a unicorn.
“There aren’t a lot of people in the world that truly “get it,” which is why this process can be both hard and cumbersome. I look at my outsourced team the same way I do as my internal team, and therefore it’s almost more important that your freelancer is able to deliver quality work as they’ll already be working at a disadvantage (less internal training, ramping time, etc).”
Nadya Khoja, Head of Marketing at Venngage, said:
“It’s hard to find someone who not only knows how to write well, but to write in a way that engages audiences. Naturally this can be said for any job or industry, but many people looking for a job tend to over promise and under deliver. When people claim to be a “writer” and we take a look at the copy written, it’s either overly academic, or poorly written in general.”
Nate Turner of Sprout Social said:
“[The most frustrating thing is finding] the right expertise and fit. There are plenty of resources available to source freelancers but it usually takes more time and effort to find people that have some expertise in your industry and can fit your objectives/tone/style.”
And Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media said it like so:
“[The most frustrating thing is] finding someone who can back up their recommendations with data.”
Your portfolio can help showcase your expertise. So can a case study cleverly disguised as a blog post (and shared in multiple places, not just on your blog). But be careful not to rely only on showing your expertise! Most people have no idea what goes into the work you do to create high-converting copy. So take the time to talk about and describe your process. Do as your math teacher said in elementary school: show your work. Don’t let your client guess at your expertise… ‘cos they might just dramatically underestimate you.
FRUSTRATION 2. The learning curve with new freelancers can be too much.
Your competition isn’t necessarily another freelancer. When your prospective client is considering you, she may also be considering simply training someone in-house to write the copy. Or getting her niece the English major to do it. It’s not that she thinks anyone can do your job; it may simply be that she doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of training a person who may not even be a great copywriter (see #1 above). Think about everything you need to know deeply as a copywriter:
- The market
- Market segments
- Specific personas and/or jobs to be done
- The product / service
- The company vision
- The brand voice
- The marketing ecosystem – how X plays with Y
- Editorial standards
- Where to find enablement stuff, like testimonials and research
- Creation and iteration processes
Oh, and you’ll have to be introduced to the team and integrated into it. You’ll need to use the right meeting tools… get added to specific Slack channels and kept out of other channels… get added to the right Trello board… not get in the way… know when to get in the way…
All that for a sales page?
John Bonini of Databox breaks down his experience onboarding freelance copywriters like this:
“You’ll spend a good deal of time chopping the wood with a copywriter in order to get them up the learning curve as quickly as possible… Everyone sees the output of a copywriter, but what they don’t see is everything that goes into defining the market, understanding the customer, and solving then real challenges businesses are facing.
“For example, improving plan mix for a SaaS company isn’t just about making the premium plan sound better – it’s more about understanding the motivations of their current buyer, the aspirations of the buyers they don’t yet have, and how to best position their plans to influence both.”
And Laura Roeder of MeetEdgar said that the learning curve is one of the hardest parts of working with a freelancer:
“When you’re working with someone for the first time, there’s so much to learn about each other’s needs. A lot of the time, it’s easier to work with someone you’ve worked with in the past and with whom you already have even a little bit of a professional rapport. Working with someone new can be great, but even in a best-case scenario, there’s a learning process involved!”
If you have reason to believe that the client you want to land is worried about the learning curve, what could you message in your copy? Do you have a unique system for integrating yourself into their world? Do you offer incentives for repeat work, given that the hard learning-curve stuff is out of the way after the first few jobs?
FRUSTRATION 3. The freelance copywriter is not hardcore.
The really, really good clients you want are the ones who 100% respect the work copywriters do. They don’t think you’re a wordsmith, and they don’t think they could do your job if only they had more time. They are hiring copywriters because they value copywriters. They have actual line items in their budget for “Freelance conversion copywriter.”
These hiring managers want someone who cares at least as much about the art + science of copywriting as they do.
No, scratch that. They insist that you care 100x more than they do.
As in, they need you to be hardcore.
Lars Lofgren explains well his frustration with hiring non-hardcore copywriters:
1) They don’t talk to customers. You know how hard it is to really get inside the mindset of a target market? You have to talk to HUNDREDS of people. Not surveys, not dumb Reddit threads and Amazon reviews, you have to actually talk to them and really dig deep. Great copywriters take every chance they can to talk to as many people as they possibly can. They feed off it. Most copywriters don’t and their copy is terrible. It’s just a collection of random copywriting templates they learned from the popular books.
2) They’re not willing to eat a giant dose of humble pie. You may have read all the books and collected a swipe file. Who cares? You haven’t even started yet. Until you’ve built funnels from scratch to six and seven figures by relentlessly failing and iterating until you finally succeed, pay very close attention to the folks that have. Most copywriters think they’re rockstars. Only a few are.
(Side note: Lars added that you can refer to surveys, reviews, etc. His frustration is when that’s ALL you look at – when you don’t actually immerse yourself in the head and heart of the customer.)
How can you prove you’re hardcore? If I were you, I wouldn’t start by being particularly subtle…
Finally here are some additional frustrations your prospective clients may have felt:
“[It’s hard to find] samples of their work in the right format.” – Oli Gardner
“It’s important that anyone I work with understand the mission of my blog.” – Nir Eyal
“The hardest part is finding someone who can understand my market, and also ramp up to the technical aspects of our software. I’ve hired from referrals, after seeing someone’s work in a Facebook group, and these have generally panned out… but it’s hard to tell how someone will write in a totally different market than their previous work.” – Nathalie Lussier
“It’s difficult to evaluate whether someone is a good fit for a particular gig.” – Peep Laja
“[It’s frustrating when a copywriter] checks the box to get the work done, but they don’t treat the work like I think they would if it were their own. In other words, the quality of output is often underwhelming.” – Barrett Brooks
Of all the takeaways, here’s perhaps the most interesting one, IMHO…
The people who were most enthusiastic about spending $5000 on a sales page had this in common: they’d written long-form sales pages before. They know how hard it is to write a great sales page. And they know how well a well-done sales page can perform.
Which means that if you can, in early conversations, get a sense for who on the client’s team has been doing the writing, you may be able to pull those people deeper into your conversations. And nudge them to share the challenges of writing this kind of copy. So the person making the hiring decision doesn’t rely on assumptions and her calculator when it comes to signing the proposal or not.
Now I gotta wonder…
…would you balk at a $5000 sales page?
What would you need to know about a copywriter before you’d agree to a $5000 invoice?
What’s the most you’ve paid for copy, and would you pay the same copywriter that amount again?
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