Are you charging enough for your time?

Last week, I wrote a blog post called, “Content mills are (almost) dead. Now what?” At the end of the post, I included this blurb:

“As a call to action to my fellow copywriting peeps, and I say this with the utmost love and compassion: If you are a writer working for $5 per 1,000 word article, stop it. You’re worth more. You really are. And I bet you would feel much better about your writing if you were compensated appropriately.”

There were a couple folks who provided another perspective to this comment.  Yuwanda Black said:

“I’ve seen SEO writing rates slowly creep up in the last few years, so it’s getting better, but there’s still a long way to go — and in the meantime, it pits some writers against others (eg, if you charge “x” you’re not a real writer and you’re bringing the rate down for all of us). It’s the nastiness I get tired of.”

And another comment hit dead-on with a number of new copywriters:

“So as I continue to churn out articles at sites such as Textbroker and yes, Associated Content I also am trying to learn other things that are important to make all of this work. This includes article marketing, proper grammar and punctuation and SEO and slowly building a portfolio. I mean let’s be honest, someone like myself who is just a blogger at heart who has no real skills to speak at the moment, is not going to get hired by a company that has clients that are their bread and butter.”

First – and this is an important point – having a higher per-page (or hourly) rate does not mean that you’re a “real writer.” Heck, if you’re getting paid as a writer, congratulations! You’ve already arrived! You’re already a “real writer.”

The challenge that more experienced writers have with Demand Media is that their rates are much, much lower than standard rates. No matter how good of a writer you are, the company still favors mass article generation rather than quantity writing. Realistically, if you’re only getting paid $5 per article, you’re probably not going to spend much time on it.

At the same time, if “fast writing for lower pay” works for your business model – fantastic. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to justify your rates to anyone except your clients…and your family.

And that’s where the second point comes into play.

See the thing is, one of the hardest things to determine is “How much should I charge?” To Lew’s point above, he’s a brand-new copywriter searching for opportunities. He needs a portfolio. Writing clips are crucial. So he’s looking at writing for clients like Associated Content as more of an educational process. That’s a good attitude.

At the same time, it’s very easy for creatives to sell themselves short. After all, there’s no magical bell that rings when you’ve “arrived” at a new level of Web SEO copywriting prowess. Clients rarely say things like, “You’re charging too little. Please, let me pay you more money.” Unless you are in a training environment, a mentor relationship, or part of a master mind group, no-one pulls you aside and gives you “Here’s what you should charge” advice.

Which means some writers (and other business creatives) get stuck working for peanuts forever. They compute their hourly rate and realize that working at McDonald’s would earn them more money (and provide benefits, too!). So they get frustrated, feel like their business owns them… and give up.

If this strikes a chord, consider if you’re selling yourself short. For instance:

  • If you haven’t raised your rates for awhile, tell your next prospect that your rates are 10% higher…and see what happens.
  • If you’re a brand-new copywriter, approach a local small business and see if you can work on their Website. You may not get paid much, but you will have a fantastic case study and a testimonial – which will help you gain higher-paying gigs.
  • If you’re feeling funky about raising your rates (for instance, you’re afraid that every client will leave you and your business will fail) talk to a trusted friend or a business mentor and get a reality check. Fear-based rate setting will do nothing but keep you struggling and slaving away. Besides, sometimes we need someone to tell us, yes, we’re that good. :) (BTW – the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting Group is a fantastic, friendly place to get some guidance.)
  • If you’re not sure if your skills are “good enough,” work with a writing mentor/coach and have him/her help. Yes, it costs more money – but you’ll have someone who can help you determine what your strengths and challenges are and work with you one-on-one.
  • If you know that you need to make more money per page – and your current client can’t pay it – consider referring them to another copywriter and looking for a new client. There’s nothing wrong with “breaking up” with a client if you can’t afford to keep them. Just make sure that you help time find another fantastic writer.
  • If you haven’t talked to your accountant/business mentor yet about your business plans enlist their help. They can help you set annual income goals, plus talk to you about the tax ramifications. Once you know how much you have to make to meet your personal income goals, it’s just a case of finding the right clients to make it happen.

At the end of the day, you can have a very successful SEO copywriting (or other creative) business. But first, you have to determine that you’re good enough to charge X rate, you’re smart enough, and dammit – people like you.

And only then will you be charging enough for your time. :)