How to charge for freelance copywriting services

Probably the most common question that freelance copywriters ask me is “How much should I charge?”

I know what these folks are really asking. They want me to gaze into a crystal ball and reply, “You should charge $X per page. If you charge that rate, clients will love you and you’ll make lots of money. Now go forth and write.”

If it was only that simple.

Pricing for copywriting services will always be a challenge. When you’re just starting out, you don’t know what you don’t know – so it’s very easy to undercharge (or price yourself too high.)

When you’ve been in business for a few years, raising your rates can be a very scary experience. You’re afraid of losing the clients you already have (or not being able to land new ones.)

Of course, it doesn’t make sense to stay in business if you’re never able to raise your rates…so you’ll constantly be facing this dilemma.

Then, there’s always figuring out the best way to charge the client. Per page? Per project? Come up with a magical number and hope the client goes for it (yes, we’ve all been there!) ;)

If you’re stuck in the “how should I charge for services” quandary, here are some guidelines to get you through.

First, you’ll want to start by asking yourself four questions. These questions are applicable if you’re brand new to freelancing, or if you have an established business. In fact, you may want to revisit these questions every six months or so and confirm that you’re still on track.

Question #1: What are your income goals?

This is an incredibly important point that many freelancers ignore. I’ve seen freelancers charge $10 a page just to get business in the door – without realizing the long-term impact of that decision. Think about it: If you have a $750/month rent payment, that means that you need to write 75 articles a month just to make your rent. That’s not counting food, electricity, gas, taxes…you get the picture.

Do you really see yourself writing 150 articles a month just to make $1,500? Nope. I didn’t think so.

To come up with an income goal, you’ll first want to determine what your monthly expenses are (both business and personal.) Then, increase that number by 35% (which represents what you’ll want to set aside for taxes.) This is the base amount you’ll need to make just to keep your doors open.

I would recommend adding another 10% to that number, too. That way, you can put money aside for a new computer, travel, or any other business expense that may pop up. Better to put that money aside now than put a purchase on a credit card later.

Question #2: Who is your target market?

Is your heart with small, local businesses? That’s fantastic! Just know that small businesses have smaller budgets  – and if you’re expecting mom and pop businesses to pay you $300 per page – or $250 an hour -  you’ll need to adjust your expectations. However, if you’re working within a specialty niche market, it’s possible to charge much more money.

Question #3: What’s your experience level?

Here’s a reality check: If you are new to copywriting, your rates will need to reflect that. You are not going to start out making $500 a page, no matter how many books promise “huge profits” in your first few months.  Once you can show results (happy client testimonials, rankings, case studies, etc.,) you’ll be able to charge your target audience more money.

Experienced copywriters can (and should) charge more. Have you gone through specialized training (such as the SEO Copywriting Certification training?). Have you written a book? Are you the recognized copywriting expert in a certain niche? Are you a recognized speaker and trainer? These feathers in your cap can (and should) translate into a higher per-page rate.

Question #4: What are other writers charging?

This one is trickier. Some writers will share their pricing information. Others consider it competitive information.  Chris Marlow developed a copywriting pricing guide that provides some guidelines. And sometimes, clients are very open about what other writers have charged in the past. Just remember – just because a writer is charging X doesn’t mean that you should charge the same thing.

So, now that you hopefully have a better idea of how to charge, let’s consider the various ways you can work with clients.

Hourly pricing:

Some freelancers love hourly pricing. On the surface, it looks like a great way to make sure that you’re getting paid for all of your research and writing time. However, this approach can backfire in a number of ways.

First, it works against you as a writer. When you first start out, it may take you five hours to write one page. A year later, it may only take half of that. That means that the better and faster you write, the less money you’ll actually make. You can compensate for this by raising your hourly rate, but the other challenge is…

…hourly pricing doesn’t showcase the value of what you offer. Since clients don’t know how much work goes into writing a page, they’ll often ask you to “only spend an hour” or “just a few minutes” to save time (and money.) That means you’ll be turning in sub-standard work and making less money. No fun.

Per-page pricing:

Most freelancers I know operate on a per-page basis. This structure is easy for clients to understand – they know that every web page you write is going to cost X.  It also allows freelancers to charge for the value of their work. After all, if you spend 10 minutes writing a page – and that page results in $10,000 worth of sales – charging $300 is a pretty solid investment.

The challenge with per-page pricing is that you need to have very clear boundaries. If your client asks you to “make just a few extra tweaks” (that weren’t originally in the scope of the agreement,) – you’ll “lose” money. Your contract should include information about how many revisions are included, how long you’ll spend on the phone with their team and what work is considered in and out of scope.  Be warned – a client who needs to chat with you 30 minutes a day to “make sure we’re on the same page,” will eat up your budget quickly – so make sure that you set expectations up front.

Project-based pricing:

This is also a popular way of pricing client projects. Rather than outlining your services and how much they cost, you’d quote a price for the entire project.  This can be an excellent pricing method if you’re afraid that the client will slice something out of the quote that you’ll need to do your job well (such as cutting out keyphrase research in order to save a few bucks. Yes. it happens.)

The challenge with project-based pricing is you may underestimate the time you’ll need to spend – so what you think will take you 10 hours may take you 25.  Sometimes, you can go back to the client and ask for more money…but usually only if you’re already addressed this in your agreement. Otherwise, it looks like a bait-and-switch.

Like per-page pricing, you’ll have to set some really clear boundaries. If this is your preferred pricing method, just make sure that the client understands what’s included – and what may trigger an additional fee (with the client’s approval, of course.) That way, you’re protected – and the client knows exactly what they’re paying for.

One final warning…

My final piece of advice? Don’t sell yourself short.  It’s tempting to charge a rock-bottom rate just to get business in the door – or be too afraid to raise your rates. As my father used to tell me, “If nobody is complaining that your prices are too high, you’re not charging enough.”

That’s excellent advice.

What about you? What pricing advice would you add?

 

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Photo thanks goes to 401K.