I received the following email from a freelance copywriter trying to determine what to charge for her services, which were expanding beyond copywriting. I thought I’d share both her question and my response in the hope it helps other copywriters who find themselves in similar situations.
— Susan Greene
I’m a freelance copywriter who mainly writes ads, websites and other marketing materials. I recently began working with a client who is starting a tax preparation business. The business is just a few weeks old but it’s well funded and has an aggressive growth plan.
I was initially hired to write a single ad for a local publication, but the client is now talking about so much more – a website, brochure, direct mail, Facebook ads and other marketing materials. I plan to develop prices for each item individually. But here’s where I run into a problem.
Some of the projects he’s now asking me to do go beyond copywriting – buying ad specialty items like t-shirts and promotional gifts, researching vendors, organizing a grand opening at his location, promoting tax seminars, setting up a call center and even selecting office furniture.
I’m excited to do the work and feel confident in my abilities, as I’ve had to do similar tasks when I worked for a full-time employer many years ago. My question is, as a freelance copywriter how should I charge him for this mish-mash of copywriting, marketing, researching and consulting? I’m at a loss.
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First of all – WOW! You must have done something very right for the client who hired you to write a single ad to now want to entrust you with all these added responsibilities. No doubt he recognized in you the ability to take on so much more. Congratulations!
As for how to price all these additional responsibilities that go well beyond copywriting, I don’t have a cut-and-dry solution so I’ll offer up a few options to consider.
This situation could be an opportunity to charge a retainer, a monthly fee for which you commit a set range of hours to work on the client’s projects exclusively.
A retainer would cover any time you are working on the client’s behalf. That includes phone calls, emails, research and copywriting. Everything is billable time. And, of course, if you have to hire outside help or purchase products or services, those are extra.
Retainers have their good and bad points.
The problem with a retainer fee is that the client often finds a way to take advantage of the situation and extract more hours of work from you than they would have if you’d been billing them hourly or per project. As soon as the client feels they’re not getting the best end of the deal, they end the retainer agreement. I’ve seen this happen many times.
However, I’ve also seen ad agencies and marketing firms make good, steady money with retainers, anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 a month. The question is whether your client can afford a retainer that would be large enough to justify the amount of time you’d be putting in.
Also, be sure this is a client whom you feel you can trust. You don’t want to be committed to someone who isn’t fair-minded or appreciative of the talents you bring to the table.
Put together a retainer agreement that spells out the details. It needs to be a mutually beneficial situation – you’re guaranteed revenue and the client has access to a skilled consultant providing the services and expertise his company needs.
When you specify the amount, add a caveat: you reserve the right to charge an hourly rate for any significant overages. A few hours over you can probably let slide. But when the time you invest at the client’s request becomes excessive, you want to be compensated.
Now let’s explore another option. If instead of a retainer you go with an hourly fee, you are trading time for money. The benefit of working for an hourly rate is that it keeps the client honest. They can’t extract more hours out of you than they’re being charged.
On the other hand, the faster and more efficient you are, the less you make, which doesn’t seem right. And with a finite number of hours available in your day, you have a limit on what you can earn.
For these reasons, you might come up with a hybrid model of payment. You could give a project price for copywriting. For everything else that is difficult to quantify and not within your typical marketing or copywriting projects, you charge an hourly rate. Then it’s up to the client to determine whether it’s worth it to have you doing things like furniture shopping and looking for t-shirt vendors.
Of course, as a freelancer versus an employee, they’re not paying any taxes or healthcare insurance for you, so they are likely still coming out ahead, especially if you’re doing a great job for them.
Something to keep in mind when setting your hourly rate is that if you’re tied up doing this client’s work, you’re not available to take on other copywriting jobs during that time. So factor in an opportunity cost to when deciding on your hourly rate. And don’t forget that the client is paying not just for your time but also for your skills, experience and ability to get results.
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Thanks so much for your reply!
I’ll have to put more thought into this, but I think the hybrid model that you’re suggesting might be the best thing for me. It makes sense.
The more I talk with this client, the more that I uncover that they need. I have some great strategies in mind for them that I’d love to put into practice to see how it goes.
Thank you for your thoughts. I have a tendency to undercharge clients, so I’m glad to have your input.
I’ll keep you posted as things unfold with this client. Have a great day!