“I never charge enough, and when I do, I feel guilty!”
I’ve heard these words or similar from three freelance writers this week alone. Sometimes it feels like it’s getting harder all the time to convince copywriters to charge a decent rate for the work they do.
Between the Craigslist ads and the content mills, clients are getting increasingly used to getting 500 words for $3, content-stuffing be damned, and freelance writers are internalising the message that anything they charge over that amount is a cheek and a liberty. And that the lower they can go, the better.
While it’s good to focus on your client, and the value they’re getting from you, it’s vital that you view your business as a whole operation with you at the centre, not just – let’s be blunt, here – the sum of as many cheap-ass gigs as you can fit into your exhausted, stress-filled waking hours.
Here’s six things your client should be paying you for – besides those words on a page.
It’s easy to think that writing a piece of content starts when you put fingers to keyboard, but it’s more complicated than that – especially if your client wants content that’s worth more than…well, $3. Good writing needs research, and decent research takes time. Your time is billable, so unless you’re doing that research for the sheer fun of it, you need to stick it on your client’s tab.
2. Customer CARE
If you’re a halfway decent freelance writer, you’ll understand the importance of looking after your clients. Great customer service starts from the moment your client gets in touch with a project: you’ll want to discuss what they need, confirm that by email, draft up a contract, carry out the work, get in touch to see if everything’s in order, adjust anything that isn’t, and seek feedback before invoicing them. That all takes time and yup – time is money!
While research is specific to a project, training also has a vital place in any serious freelance writer’s schedule. Seriously – give me one career where you don’t need to do some training to keep on top of your game. Copywriting training will vary hugely depending on your client base, niche, and service offerings, but you may need training for skills such as:
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
- Finance and admin (hello, end of year tax return!)
- Standard forms of editing
- Content marketing
- Sector-specific / technical training
The list is pretty much endless – the point is that you need to be at the top of your game, whatever kind of writing you do, and you’re not going to get far from the bottom without some regular training and development sessions.
If you’ve put time, energy, money and effort into getting where you are today, your copywriting clients are going to be reaping the benefits of that. Think about it: why else does a freelance writer of 10+ years experience charge more than a newbie? As your experience increases, so does your expertise – and so should your prices.
This is something I explain to coaching clients all the time when we’re talking about per word or per hour fees vs. value-based or project fees. Per word and per hour fees have their place, I think, but once you’re established as a quality freelance writer, it’s time to start looking at value- or project-based fees. Don’t charge solely with the intention of covering your costs – X words or X hours. Charge based on the value your client will be getting from the content you’re producing with the expertise you’ve worked hard to acquire.
6. Time off
“No man is an island, no copywriter is a machine” – me, just now.
OK, so terrible quote, but good point: you can’t work every day forever and not burn out. Copywriting is a creative business and in order for your clients to get the best quality work from you, you need to factor in things like:
- Sick days
- Training days
- Maternity / paternity leave
While you may be a freelance writer rather than a salaried employee, you need to take into account the days you’re not going to be working, and use those to inform your Minimum Acceptable Rate (MAR – more information on how to set your freelance writing fees here).
Put simply, if you work 12 billable hours a day, seven days a week, you can afford to charge your clients much lower fees. But, you’ll be working yourself into the ground. Factor in a reasonable number of days off before you start working our your MAR, and you’ll be a much happier, healthier freelance writer a result.
Freelance Writing: more than Just words on a page
At the end of the day, being a freelance writer isn’t about flinging X number of words at an empty page and hoping they stick.
While your clients may get in touch about a blog post of 500 words, or a press release of a page and a half, what they’re actually asking you for are results: increased traffic to their website. Better brand awareness. Product descriptions that will inform and persuade. And in order to get those results, they need your expertise. They need a freelance writer who knows her or his stuff, and has the knowledge, energy and resources to deliver on a project.
And while I’m definitely not suggesting you itemise these six points, I want every freelance writer who’s currently worried sick about how to charge more to read this post and know that it’s OK to charge more than the bare minimum. Earning isn’t shameful, profits are good, and you deserve to cover costs and more.
If your clients want quality, they’ve got to cough up – make sure you’re charging enough.
What do you think? Any items I’ve left off the list that you think freelance writer’s clients should stump up for? Let me know below or @LorrieHartshorn.