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We’ve all been there. A client asks for a price on a specific copywriting project. On the one hand, you really want the job, and you’re worried that if you quote too high, you’ll scare away the client or lose the job to a cheaper competitor.
On the other hand, you know how much work the job will take and you don’t want to underbid, leaving money on the table. What should you do?
The unfortunate truth is most copywriters cannot exist by being the lowest-cost providers. Walmart can, but you probably can’t.
Too many copywriters allow price to be their only differentiator. That’s a precarious position in which to be. With the click of a mouse, the customer can find a cheaper provider. If you compete only on price, you’re a contestant in the race to the bottom.
You always want to keep in mind your opportunity cost when agreeing to work with a low-paying client. Consider how long the project will keep you tied up. If accepting the work will cause you to have to pass on other potentially more lucrative clients or projects, then you should walk away.
Of course, you can’t predict the future, but you need to have confidence in your ability to find better, more lucrative clients.
When quoting work with clients, try to minimize the discussion about price. Selling yourself on price alone puts you in a much-compromised position.
You become a commodity supplier rather than a talented, skilled professional offering an in-demand service that will fill a customer’s need. And unless you can write so quickly that you enjoy vast economies of scale like Walmart, you’ll eventually find yourself broke.
An old sales joke comes to mind. “He’s losing $3 on every shirt he sells, but he hopes to make it up on volume.” With copywriting, making it up on volume is a fast pass to burnout.
Instead, find other ways to help your customers cut costs that have nothing to do with you lowering your prices. If you are fast and reliable, you can save customers time by getting them their marketing copy sooner, allowing them to start selling more quickly.
Your copywriting services might be worth more because you write better copy so your copy generates better results. “Businesses may tighten their belts, but they never cut the writing that leads directly to more sales,” according to Carol Tice, who coaches copywriters starting out.
Perhaps your style of writing aligns well with the client’s brand. Or the differentiator can be offering some sort of extra. Maybe you provide meta-tags copy for free with any web page you write, an add-on that takes you just a few minutes to do but has immense potential value for the client. Or perhaps for your premium prices, you package web copy with some other marketing tool, such as social media posts, giving clients more bang for their buck.
Bob Bly, a master-level copywriter, recommends specializing, either in a particular industry, such as financial, health care, or manufacturing or in a specific copywriting task such as case studies, websites or long-form sales letters.
Having a specialty that means you can hit the ground running in taking on the client’s assignment. Your expert status gives you the ability to demand higher rates.
“The more narrow your specialty — e.g., direct mail selling insurance — the more you can charge and the fewer your competitors,” says Bly.
Rather than lowering your prices, increase and improve your prospecting. Seek out businesses that recognize the value of professional copywriting and are willing to invest in it.
Employ the double-pipeline strategy in which you determine how much marketing you need to do to generate enough leads to keep you in business. Then do twice as much. When you have too much new business, you can cherry pick the clients you want.
Learn to be okay with losing a job to a competitor because of price. If the client was too cheap, they weren’t a good fit for you. Move on and find someone better.
“Stop caring about the outcome,” says Demien Farnworth of Copyblogger in an article about negotiating tactics for copywriters.
“That sort of indifference will not only help you to think clearly, but it will also allow you to pull off one of the best negotiation moves ever. In the end, after all options have been exhausted and you’re still not happy, exit the negotiation. Get up, and walk away.”
To be competitive, you have to know what you are delivering that makes you unique. How are you special? Continually identify and maximize your competitive advantage.
Figure out what’s working and then do it again. And again. That’s the right way to get paid what you’re worth and grow a sustainable copywriting business.