The following questions were asked of me by a reporter writing a story about freelance copywriters and how they can succeed in business. My answers speak to my personal experience and are meant to help other writers pursuing a similar path. — Susan Greene, Freelance Copywriter
My advice to small businesses is that they can’t afford to NOT have professional copywriting in their marketing materials (i.e. website, brochure, case studies, etc.). Quality copy is central to their ability to generate leads and convert prospects into paying customers. For small businesses with limited sales staff, quality copy essentially serves as their surrogate salesperson, promoting their company’s products or services. 24/7. Without it, they increase their risks of failure or at the least are limiting their potential success.
As a freelance copywriter, I do run into price resistance from some small business owners. At that point I have a decision to make. Assuming the small business isn’t just using a negotiating ploy and legitimately has a tight budget, I have two options: 1) Discount my rates or 2) Decline the project.
If the client is one that I sincerely want, I might agree to a SLIGHT reduction if price. An example would be a client in an industry that I’d like to eventually target.
If however, they can’t afford my rates or don’t value the talent and 20+ years of experience I bring to the table, I’m not the right copywriter for them and I pass on the project.
Yes, more times than I care to admit. Often it’s the client with the smallest budget who is also the neediest. They are so focused on getting their money’s worth, and often so inexperienced in working with a copywriter or marketer, that they are slow to make decisions and often change their mind. The additional time required to satisfy that client often makes a project with a low profit margin a losing venture.
You always want to keep in mind your opportunity cost when taking on a low-paying client. You have to 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/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 profitable clients.
The other repercussion of taking on low-paying copywriting jobs is that pricing can be precedent setting. Once you agree to write a page of copy for $100, it’s difficult to persuade that client to then pay $150 a page for their next job. No matter how many times you explain that your initial price was discounted to help them out, they will insist on the discount going forward. Every. Single. Time.
Most of the time, this is a negotiating tactic, and the client isn’t sincere about promising you the world in the future. Even if the client is well-intentioned, the likelihood of that second or third job ever coming through is slim or might be many months or even years down the road.
Startups often invest only the bare minimum in their marketing efforts until they see steady sales. Therefore, you shouldn’t price current work based on future potential work. I speak from experience when I tell you that the client’s promises rarely are fulfilled.
Lastly, I’ll remind you that pricing is precedent setting. Clients don’t like “giving raises” to vendors after just one or two jobs.
Increase and improve your prospecting. Seek out businesses that recognize the importance of professional copywriting for their marketing efforts and are willing to invest in it.
One of the points I usually make to small business owners is that their investment in professional copywriting can often be leveraged across multiple projects. For example, hire a copywriter for your website and you may be able to repurpose the web copy for brochures, direct mailers, ads and more, thus making it a more justifiable expense.
Those websites and others like them do put pricing pressure on freelance copywriters who operate independently. It’s so easy to shop around online that clients don’t hesitate to solicit pricing from multiple sources.
For that reason, I try not to target the types of clients who frequent those sites and I’m quick to point out the advantages of working with me versus an Upwork/Fiverr freelancer:
With a freelancer on a contracting website, you’re taking an increased risk that your copywriter is a foreigner, beginner or hobbyist. If the copy the client gets is ineffective in generating sales for their business, was it really a better value than the copy they could have obtained from a proven professional?
I don’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good strategy. I know many freelance copywriters who’ve been successful by serving just one or two specific niches such as healthcare or e-commerce.
I’m fortunate to have had good success being a generalist. I enjoy the diversity of my clientele. I like learning about different businesses and industries. Or I guess, to state it another way, I’m a specialist but in dozens of subject areas.
I think every copywriter needs to find his or her own path. What works for me may not work for others. If you’re a freelance copywriter, you are a business owner. Create the business you want to have.
I know my actual copywriting fees are the information most freelance copywriters reading this article are probably seeking. And while I’m happy to offer general advice and to help other writers, I am cognizant of the fact that those same people are also potential competitors. I’m sorry, but I don’t wish to publish my prices. It’s taken me a long time to determine what the market will bear in terms of rates and also get comfortable charging what I’m worth. Other copywriters will need to undertake their own journey.
Learn how to sell. You can be the best copywriter in the world, but if you aren’t good at prospecting and landing business, you won’t be successful in attracting clients. And without clients you have no business. So stop avoiding selling. Accept that it’s critical to your success and get busy doing the things that generate leads and sales.