What’s the first question every new freelance copywriter asks? Invariably: How much should I charge? The answer is equally predictable: roughly what everyone else is charging.
So they consult that well-known pricing expert, Mr Google, to see what the going rate is. They’ll root out a few freelance copywriters who quote their rates online or check out organisations such as ProCopywriters (£342 a day according to its 2018 survey). Also, the evidence from earlier surveys shows that average copywriting rates have barely changed in a decade.
It’s easy to be misled by this approach. The numbers you find online are skewed. Most writers don’t quote their rates and no one who charges above-average ever makes a song and dance about it (for the record, that same ProCopywriters survey reports £800 to £2,000+ a day for senior copywriters).
No newbie wants to step out of line.
Twenty years ago, when I went freelance, that’s exactly what I did. How could I, as a newbie, justify a rate that experienced writers were charging? So I went in a bit below average.
But not for long. As soon as I had a few clients under my belt, I edged up the rate for new clients. It made no difference. So bit by bit, year by year, I pushed at the boundaries till I was charging a rate that made financial sense and still managed to win the kind of work I wanted.
Going low is a mug’s game.
Let’s face it, it’s a doddle to pitch for work with a rate that’s lower than everyone else’s. But what kind of client are you attracting? Probably the one that values price over quality. When the next project comes up, will they stick with you? Probably not because there’ll always be someone willing to do it cheaper. And in my experience, the clients who push hardest for a cheap deal are also the ones who are least likely to pay when the job’s done.
Average rate, average writer.
As freelance copywriters, we get brand differentiation. We understand that the audience for a Porsche is different to the one for a Škoda, so we adjust our pitch to reflect the two groups’ different approaches to brand value.
But somehow we struggle to do the same for our own brands. If you think your work is no better or no worse than the average copywriter’s, then the average rate is absolutely right for you. Ah, but maybe you do think you’re pretty good at what you do, or that you have a specialism that other writers can’t match. If so, what marketing message are you handing out to prospective clients by quoting an average or below-average rate?
Pricing by the job or by the hour?
Anyone who spends time on copywriting blogs will come across this pricing argument: should you price for each project individually or according to a fixed rate?
The project-pricers say that a fixed hourly/daily rate is limiting. Instead of counting out the number of hours, you’ll spend on a project, you should think about the value the project has to the client. If the project value is way above the time you’ll spend on it, you’d be selling yourself short by quoting for your time. This is true – and it works really well for a one-off project – but how does it help build a long-term relationship if a client has no idea how you calculate your fees?
I fall into the pricing-by-rates camp. I want my clients to understand why one job costs more than another. I can explain that there are complexities to a job that will add to my time and increase the cost.
A unique rate for every unique writer.
You’re unlike any other copywriter who’s ever read this blog. You bring different skills and insights to the job. As a marketer, your task is to use those differences to separate yourself from the crowd – and then to charge a fee (by project or by rate) that reflects that differentiation. If you get it right, you can charge what you’re worth, not what the market says. My guess is that you’ll be earning more than you currently are. Good luck.
Continue Reading: Found a copywriter? How do you make sure they write what you want?
About the author:
Chas Walton is a Bristol-based freelance copywriter, grubby-fingered mycophile, and show-off unicyclist. He’s at his happiest when the autumn woods are heavy with the smell of mushrooms. Even better if he’s rattling along on one wheel. He’s been a freelance writer for 20 years, during which time he’s sold close to £1.5m worth of words.