Crucial Prerequisites

Before you start prospecting, make sure you have the following:

1. A website
2. Your portfolio, displaying your best samples

Read my detailed recommendations on how to get your freelance copywriter portfolio up and running.

 

Question: How much do freelance copywriters make?

Freelance copywriter rates are a challenging subject.

Just how do you convince someone to pay you what you’re worth?

In the age of Fiverr, 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.

Freelance copywriter rates are harder to set in the age of Upwork

This comprehensive article is intended to guide you into making the pricing process of your copywriting business as seamless and easy as possible. (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, but they all fall under the same category in terms of what action to take.)

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 you 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 it.

If they don’t and they still reached out to you, they probably fall under Reason 1 or 2.

What to do if you encounter any of these reasons

Here’s the good news.

All three reasons fall under one action plan:

Walk away.

Because if any one of these reasons come up, they’re a sure sign you’re targeting the wrong audience.

A principle 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 Three Reasons elimination test.  

The correct mindset to have when prepping for the money conversation

Before we delve into the actual discovery 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 pull 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 pressure 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.

So set your expectations straight. Expect a little pushback. Pushback is normal.

And don’t treat a negotiation as a high-stress situation. A negotiation is not a confrontation between two 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 with.

There are two 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 a terrible deal. Consequently, you have more leverage. Thus, you feel less pressure to eat whatever 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.)

A quick way to disqualify poor leads

 

Include a minimum price for a specific service on your site (like your absolute minimum price for a blog post). This detracts potential hagglers, who’ll wince and turn away from your site as soon as they see that you’ve got the confidence to set a minimum. 

Better planning equals higher copywriting fees: Two schedules

You need two project fee 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). Copywriter Arthur Brodskiy rightly indicates that 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.

Adding an Upsell List to create the most powerful Master Fee Schedule

 

Your Master Fee Schedule should also include a list of potential upsells and cross-sells, which you can include or exclude whenever a prospect attempts to switch the focus of the negotiation over to pricing. (More on this in a later section in this guide.) 

 

Now let’s take the first step to creating 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 amounting to more than $100 an hour.

But make sure you don’t provide any hourly rates if you can. Flat fees are 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–and you can charge them for it.)

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 you.

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.

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 two 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 one of two pivotal questions:

  1. May I see your portfolio/samples?
  2. What are your rates?

The answer to the second question will almost always be, “Depends.” But the absolute worst thing you can say 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.

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 because you’re not another perceived opportunist because 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.

Now you’ve set your anchor price range.

In addition, 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 they didn’t have the budget for it later.)

Now tell them the following:

“Please 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 discovery call. (Good on you, you natural salesperson you.)

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 second is to see 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 discovery call. (And if you can master this, you can position yourself as a godsend for clients every time.)

Your singular purpose is to probe your prospect for needs. After all, having them elaborate upon their needs in greater detail will only increase your value in their eyes.

Side Note 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.

Really high.

And then I keep my mouth shut.

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 your rate. 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 discovery call

How to probe your prospect for needs

Begin by asking them to describe what they need. (Resist the temptation to price anything just yet. You’re just “probing” for now, so keep asking 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 marketing consultant, contacts me through Skype and tells me he needs his ebook lead magnet rewritten.

Interesting.

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 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 just marketing, and now I offer PR consulting as well, so…”

This opens up an entire busy intersection of potential questions.

For instance, as copywriters, we know an ebook lead magnet’s success hinges on whether all the other elements in the campaign have a congruent message (branding included). This means an ebook lead magnet reworking job 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 incongruent 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 if you’re into theatrics], as you may or may not know, it’s best to have…” and explain the challenge as simply as possible.

Then maybe end with, “If that’s not something you want to think about now, that’s fine. If you want, I could 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. How’s that sound?”

Notice that at no point did we discuss the money. Although this is an oversimplification of a typical discussion with a prospect, it shows you it’s all about what they need.

In other words, we’re both focused on value delivery, not on pricing.

At the very end of the discussion, now that you can quantify it, you can finally (and with confidence) hand them their custom rate. After all, now John expects such a quote (and will even welcome it.)

Now that we’ve gone through this little exercise, giving someone a quote before understanding their problem doesn’t make much sense anymore, right?

A rookie mistake: The “How much is that worth to you?” question

Many negotiators and pitchers advise you to ask this question during a discovery 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, and asking them to pay attention to your price, which is not something you want to do.)

So 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.

This probing and positioning exercise is a well-known sales tactic, and anyone with any experience in sales will see this question coming from a mile away.

Think about it this way.

The Likeability Principle dictates that you can get someone to like you if you’re both working toward mutual goals. Asking, “How much is that worth to you?” can generate some ill feelings, meaning you’re pitting yourself against your prospect.

If they sense this—or worse, know the question and tactic—they won’t be able to trust you.

Discussion over.

Remember: Get them to focus on ROI (value-based pricing, which positions your price as an investment), NOT the price (“cost”).

“Every request for negotiation is an opportunity to position yourself as the problem solver.”

What to do when your prospective client makes 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.

This will accomplish three 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.

These are your bargaining chips:

If they start throwing in terms like screenshots, tight deadlines, etc., these are bargaining chips.

Your basics boil down to these:

  • The amount/type of work to be rendered
  • The number of revisions to be delivered
  • Rush deadlines
  • Upsells (like keyword research, or if you work with a designer, a set number of branded illustrations) 

An easy road to raving fans

Whatever service you agree to provide, always underpromise your deliverables (even when negotiating), and always, always overdeliver.

 

There are times your rate will still be rejected, despite doing everything perfectly.

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 freelance pricing guides tell you to “be ready to walk away.” But they never actually tell you how.

Bad prospects are a dime a dozen. But if you only have a handful of prospects, each potential job will appear to be worth a lot more to you.

But if you find yourself in a pricing war, instead of a discovery call focusing on value delivery, you’re wasting your time.

The answer is to generate greater demand for your business. This is a topic we’ll cover in the next article. (Join our Facebook Copywriter Collective and get notified about this article as soon as it’s published. We also frequently link to amazing resources and exchange tips and recommendations.)

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.

If you find yourself negotiating your price with potential clients late in the game, you’re long overdue for a shift in how you communicate your creative practice and service prices. If you’ve ever felt that burning thought of getting cheated returning time and again during the course of the project, reminding you that you’ve handed yourself an unfair deal in the exchange somehow. And yet, somehow you might also blame the client for allowing you to barter so low for your skills.

This is what will happen if you start turning away hagglers. You’ll suddenly have a decrease in leads. But these leads will be quality leads. Instead of wasting your time haggling with every single headache that comes your way, you would be saving time and calling your prices. This will free up your time to actually deliver your service at a much superior quality.

Don’t be afraid to start turning away leads. It’ll feel liberating. I understand if you really need the cash, but only then should you consider it as an option, and still try to negotiate a mutually beneficial outcome (i.e., one that’s worth it for you as well).

I once read somewhere, Sales is a verb.

In closing, remember: Don’t be afraid to walk away. And a promise for future work isn’t money in your pocket. (Hint: Money in the bank is money in your pocket.)

A few great reads on this subject

In case you’re interested in reading further, here’s a few books I recommend (my affiliate links):

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