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This is the second in a series of five guest blogs from Nexus Copywriting.
In the first part of this guide on setting up a freelance copywriting business we thought about having enough money to see you through lean times in the early days of trading. This week we’ll consider the money you’ll actually receive from clients.
One of the most difficult issues when becoming a copywriter is deciding how much to charge. Even when you gain more experience this is often a tricky business and we have all got this horribly wrong at some point! Most professional copywriters don’t charge by the word, because the amount of time it takes to write some types of copy will be different from others. Instead they charge according to how long a job is likely to take, and this can be difficult to gauge – especially with longer, more complicated projects.
Sometimes copywriters work by the hour and charge according to how long the work actually took, but this means the client doesn’t know exactly what they will be paying, which can deter them from hiring you.
To help you in this you should be recording how long it takes you to produce different types of copy. Time-management software could be useful here, but you shouldn’t leave it to guesswork. Build up clear benchmarks of what you are able to achieve in a given time and then you can charge appropriately for the work you do.
However, time is not the only consideration. You also have to consider experience, and this can be even more difficult to judge! Clearly someone with ten years’ experience as a copywriter is going to be justified in charging more than someone with only six months under their belt. That can seem like a long road when you’re starting out, but another way of looking at it is to consider how it helps you win work in those testing early days.
When you set out as a copywriter you’ll have to charge at a level which helps you win work. Without a strong portfolio and list of satisfied clients it’s simply a truth that many other copywriters will look more appealing than you to hard-headed business people. You will naturally be selling your strengths and focusing on your USPs, but it stands to reason that businesses will often prefer someone with a proven track record.
However, one of the few ways in which you can clearly offer something more attractive than established copywriters is through price. There will be many businesses out there with a tight marketing budget. Obviously they want good quality, but they may well be swayed by an attractive price. Pitch it properly and you’ll find you’re in a better position to win some contracts than more experienced competitors.
It can feel galling to produce work for less than you know it’s worth, but look on it as an investment. You may not earn what you’d really like from that job, but what you also receive from it is another portfolio piece, another client and therefore greater credibility. In fact, if you’re finding it particularly hard to win those early clients you may even want to offer your services for free. Be up-front about your reasons and make it clear this is an offer that’s too good to waste. What can the client lose, after all?
The flip-side to this, however, is to make sure you review your rates and charge appropriately when you’ve earned more experience. Your earliest, rock-bottom rates will not last for long – no more than a few months. When you’ve settled into more viable long-term rates, though, it’s easy to become stuck in these. Not least because you will have many established clients after several years who will be used to these rates.
However, you’ve moved on in terms of experience and skill. In your own business you can’t promote yourself to a higher position with more pay! But this would happen in a salaried job, so you need to reflect this in what you charge. Explain to clients that as your services have become more in demand you’re revising your rates to reflect what you can bring to their business. You can even use it as an incentive for new work by setting a date from when this will happen, giving clients a chance to order work at the old rate before the change.
Next week we’ll consider why looking for new clients is only half the picture when you’re trying to generate new work.