Copywriters already get a bad wrap with clients.
Most clients have been burned at least a time or two by a high-falootin’ copywriter promising the world and delivering… a pile.
That means your potential clients are savvy to most of the tricks and tactics people before you have attempted to use to pull one over on them.
Now, this is primarily true with direct response copywriting and not so much for content marketing or writing blog posts…
But… how you price yourself immediately builds a picture in your prospect’s mind of what working with you is going to be like.
If you don’t charge enough?
They’re going to assume you are inexperienced, lack confidence, and can’t deliver on what you’re saying you will.
Charge too much?
You’re getting into an actual sales process that requires you building value in yourself, then portraying that value to the client in a way that resonates with them.
Find the balance?
All you have to show is proof of past results, let the client know what to expect, when to expect it, and how you’re going to back up what you’re claiming to be able to do.
I’ve tested this theory dozens of times, too.
Here’s what I’ve learned…
Charging > 2 Cents Per Word
This is where most writers start.
Or, worse, they lack the experience (or confidence) needed to even charge 2 cents per word and jump straight to the bottom of the barrel.
Now, if that’s you right now, don’t take offense to what I just said. I’m going to be real with you and let you know that charging 2 cents (or less) per word is why you are stuck.
If you can write in English, you can write in a conversational tone, and you have even half-a-personality, you need to be charging at least 2 cents per word.
Something happens when you tell a client that you’re charging more than the average bear — they take notice.
They have respect for you (even if it’s only a little) because you’ve shown that you respect yourself.
You are immediately showing you have been through the bottom of the barrel, you’ve learned a lesson or two, and that you value your time.
Again, even if it’s only a little.
I’m going to run down some mathematics for you so you can see the difference.
Let’s assume you’re writing an article a day.
Each article is 2,500 words in length.
If it takes you more than a day to write that you are thinking too hard. Again, don’t take offense — I’m here to help you get better.
The first part of getting better is facing what you’re doing wrong head-on and fixing it.
At 2 cents per word, that 2,500-word article is going to pay you a massive $50.
Not bad in many parts of the world but if you live in any developed country that 4, 6, or even 8 hours of work for $50 isn’t going to cut it.
You’re going to get burned out.
At 2 cents per word, you would be better off working at a car wash for $8.50 an hour. You would actually earn more and wouldn’t be wracking your brain to do it.
But, let’s go one further and assume you’re writing 2 articles in an 8-hour day.
You’ve made $100 for 5,000 words of content. Congratulations.
I was in your boat in 2014. I was forced to either get a job or prove I could provide for my family so I took gigs paying 2 cents per word just to get my foot back in the door.
This is coming off the back of a highly-successful life insurance “mini-career” where I realized I enjoyed writing and working from home more so I bailed.
But, those 5,000 words a day at 2 cents per word got me to $500 a week. For that, I was forever grateful. I could finally provide for my daughter again even if I was living on my momma’s couch. (A story for another day… maybe a podcast episode?)
But I knew I couldn’t stay there for long.
Knowing what I knew about SEO and driving traffic, I put myself in a position where I was surrounded by people I knew would pay more for my skills.
That’s when I started…
Charging 2 Cents to 5 Cents Per Word
It didn’t take me long to get burned out.
The first time I used freelance writing to pay the bills was in 2007. I was learning SEO and how to use my writing “abilities” (if you can call them that) to rank websites in Google by posting a bunch of articles all over the interwebs.
That strategy still works today, and I’ll teach you how to use it for passive income later, but when I did it I charged a penny a word.
That means it took me all of 6 months to realize, even though I had doubled my rates from my first foray into freelancing, I wasn’t going to get very far.
Writing 5,000 words per day isn’t sustainable. Even on your own projects.
You only have so many mental calories available and unless you’re in tip-top shape upstairs you’re going to quickly run yourself into the ground.
That means the quality of your work will drop and you’re going to be back at the beginning of the pack, competing for lower-paying work with the rest of the yahoos willing to charge less than 2 cents per word.
And, remember, I’m not calling people yahoos to offend you but to wake you up if you’re in that group. There are better ways. I will show you the ways, Young Padawan.
When I got smart and doubled my rates, my clients improved.
Instead of working with new entrepreneurs and business owners that didn’t understand the value of content and the impact it has on their business, I started working with people who had long-term visions and goals.
They wanted someone they could rely on and trust. They needed to know their investment in their business was being taken seriously.
They weren’t the type to hire people who only charged 2 cents per word. They’d already been burned too many times on that one, too.
They knew that paying less meant they had to spend more time working with the writer to portray their ideas, they had to spend more time editing the content they got back and that as the hours added up it kept them from focusing on the areas of their business they were good at.
In other words, they realized that “you get what you pay for” and that “time is money”.
Those are my types of people.
But, still working with SEOs and affiliate marketers meant that my income was capped.
I found more gigs paying between 3 cents to 5 cents per word or $150 to $250 for the same 5,000 words a day, but it was still 5,000 words per day.
It left me completely tapped out and unable to work on my own projects — which, again, is something I want to show you how to do so you can build a true career from your writing skills.
I don’t want you being a freelancer your entire life. It’s a long, hard road, and I’ve met more freelancers that bailed than I have ones who figured out building their own businesses was the key to sustainability.
Compare this to charging 2 cents (or less) per word on “value seekers” who didn’t see the long-term vision in their business, it was like night and day.
I made more, my clients made more, the relationships were easier to manage, and I didn’t have to do much selling.
But, again, I was capped.
Writing 5,000 words per day doesn’t leave a lot left in the tank to work on your own stuff. So I went back to the drawing board to figure out what needed to change, and how I could “upgrade” myself again.
I knew that I needed to…
Charge 5 Cents To 10 Cents Per Word
I hope you’re starting to see a pattern here.
Every time I’ve gotten burned out, I’ve always resorted to figuring out what I needed to do, as a writer, to increase the rates I was charging.
Usually, that meant learning how to re-position the value I was delivering to the people I was working with.
It also meant increasing the quality of people I was working with.
Very rarely did I ever successfully increase my rates with existing clients.
I learned pretty early on that trying to do that, especially after they had fed you so many projects, was nearly impossible to do. While it did happen a couple of times it always changed the relationship and that relationship usually fell under shortly after.
Instead of trying to charge my existing clients twice as much as I’d been charging them before, I started searching for clients who would pay my higher rates.
I spent my time figuring out where other writers were who were charging the same already, what they were doing differently, the types of people they were working with, and why the relationships worked so well.
I reverse engineered other writer’s successes to figure out where I was going wrong.
That’s something else I want you to think about.
Everything I have learned has been hard-fought wisdom. I haven’t had mentors guiding my way — at least, not until 2017 and 2018 when I actively sought out people who were in a position I wanted to be in and paid them for their time.
Which, again, that’s a story for another day and what took me to the lessons I’m going to break down for you at the end of this post.
For now, I’m going to keep you focused on what I did to break out of the 2 to 5 cents-per-word range to break into the 5 to 10 cents-per-word range.
This is where I had to start believing in the long-term. Most of the work I did at this time revolved around my own beliefs. I had to go back to the days when I was ranking websites and the value of a piece of content paid off for years.
From 2007 to 2012 I had pieces of content that ranked in Google and made money day after day the entire time. I had to remind myself that’s what people paid good money for because they knew the money was more than just their initial investment.
They truly believed in the long-term sustainability in their own business and knew that getting the sustainability they wanted took working with someone else who put the same level of quality into everything they did.
Or, they would rather work with someone who had their same long-term goals and knew that keeping quality high was the key to keeping work flowing. That constantly evolving my own skills was a way they would benefit more and not have to hire a full-time employee.
I was becoming an asset to their business instead of a commodity.
Instead of just writing content, I was coming up with marketing strategies, helping them optimize conversions, create new offers, target new audiences, uncover new competitors, rank for new keywords — growing their business with them instead of just handing off a piece of content with an invoice.
And, as time goes on, I’m going to teach you those same skills. When you can become an asset to a solopreneur, blogger, marketer, or website owner, you become irreplaceable. They don’t balk about your invoices even if you charge 10 cents per word.
You set the stage for them going forward — they won’t hire a writer for less than 10 cents per word again. They begin to see the quality you deliver and compare it to what they’ve gotten in the past and then look at your relationship as valuable to the future of what they’re doing.
Now that you have a bit of a visual of what working with clients who pay more tends to feel like, and how they view their relationship with you, let’s run some more mathematics.
At the 5,000 words per day and 2 cents-per-word I was making $100 per day.
Raising the rates to 5 cents per word gave me 2.5 times the same pay. For those 5,000 words I would get paid $250 per piece of content.
At 10 cents per word, that same $250 piece of content cost the entrepreneur $500.
But, again, you have to think about it from their side of the table. Over the lifespan of that content (some of my clients from 10 years ago are still using my content to this day), they’re making far more than $500 off of their investment.
One entrepreneur makes $20,000 per month from an article I wrote 5 years ago that is still ranking in Google today. That’s a massive ROI.
Not all clients will achieve those results, but I let you know to show you how they’re viewing the service that you are offering them. They see the $250 to $500 as a drop in the bucket. They’re happy to trade $500 for investing into the next handful of years in their business.
And, charging more for what I did had another side effect… I got addicted to the same results and kept pushing, trying to figure out how I could charge even more for what I did.
But, at 10 cents per word I wasn’t writing 5,000 words per day anymore. It was more like 2,000 to 3,000 words a day, and the projects didn’t happen every day.
So while I was making more, on average, I was working less, too. I didn’t have to grind non-stop to be able to pay the bills and I didn’t dread when a client reached out to me knowing I was about to be grinding for 2 weeks straight to finish a project.
Me being me, though, I ventured out and started trying to figure out how to start…
Charging 10 Cents To 25 Cents Per Word
Now, I’m going to be upfront with you.
I’ve only had a few clients in my 12-year career as a freelance writer / content marketer that have ever paid me 25 cents per word, as a per-word rate.
I have had quite a few projects that I earned, on average, 25 cents per word (or more) which I’ll break down in the next section of this post, but actually charging a client 25 cents per word for content doesn’t happen very often.
I’m telling you that to let you know to shut your dreams off now.
When you stumble across one, embrace them, give them exactly what they want, help them solve problems, and focus on growing their business, but don’t expect to just start charging 25 cents per word at any form of scale.
For the most part, a “good” freelance writer is going to settle in around 10 cents per word.
If you’re working in more commercial-based niches or high-dollar niches and industries like finance or marketing, you may come across clients willing to pay 25 cents to a dollar, or more, per word.
But, the content is going to be incredibly in-depth, well-researched, sourced, and incredibly accurate.
So, while the rates may seem great on the surface, they’re usually the only piece of content you are working on for a week at a time.
You’ve gotta think about your dollar-per-hour average when you’re thinking about your rates, too.
If you can write 10,000 words per week at 10 cents per word, you can make $1,000 for your 40 hours.
If you’re only writing 2,500 words at 25 cents per word, you’re making the same $1,000 for your 40 hours, but more of your hours are focused on research, editing, and going back and forth with your client.
In my experience, clients that pay from 5 cents to 10 cents per word tend to stay hands-off. They hired you because you know what you’re doing and they can trust that you’ll deliver what they (or their audience) wants to see.
Ideally, 10 cents per word should be where you settle in, in my humble (but experienced) opinion.
It’s not hard to make $1,000 a week when you’re charging 10 cents per word. There are plenty of clients who expect to pay it and you can offset yourself with lower-paying content at 5 cents per word until you find enough to ramp up and build your skills.
The difference in quality between 5 cents-per-word and 10-cents-per-word is non-existent.
The changes you’ll have to make are the types of clients you’re seeking out and looking for, your ability to show them the long-term value of what you’re doing, your ability to maintain a relationship with them, and your skills in other areas — primarily, content marketing, SEO, advertising, etc.
At a certain point, you are going to have to upgrade from being “just a writer” to a “content marketer” or a “copywriter”. They are different. I’ll put together another post breaking down the differences later.
For now, just realize that the difference, for most people, between making 5 cents-per-word and 10 cents-per-word is having the ability to ask for it and believe you’re worth what you’re doing.
If you believe it, clients will believe it, too.
If you don’t, they’re going to lowball you and you’ll learn what not to do next time.
Another way to increase what you’re making from your work and cross that coveted $5,000 per month mark, where you finally feel “free” as a freelancer (again, in my opinion — Florida is expensive and health insurance + taxes is no joke) is to start…
Charging Per Package
I mentioned earlier about ways I’ve been able to sell my services and make out better than 25 cents-per-word without writing direct response copy.
And, again, I’m going to tell you very specifically that content marketing is incredibly different than direct response copywriting.
Content marketing helps your clients drive traffic. Copywriting helps them drive sales.
The sooner you realize that, the better.
Article writing is a commodity that gets beat down to the lowest bidder. Entrepreneurs that buy “articles” think that words on a page constitutes having a business and they’re always looking for whoever will do it the cheapest.
Avoid them like the plague.
While you’re getting your feet under you, though, you can start packaging your services together.
Since you know an entrepreneur is going to be using your content to drive traffic, you also know that they’ll be publishing the content to multiple different traffic sources.
To give you an example, one of the packages I regularly sold was blog content + an FB post/ad + an email. It was relatively easy to sell a 1,000-word blog post, a short FB post, and a short email for $250.
The client already saw the value — they could share to their social media and email their list, driving traffic to the optimized blog post you just created for them. Over time, they would get search traffic from the content, on top of the social and email traffic they got on day #1.
There’s quite a few different packages you can put together so you can raise your per-word rate, but that’s a quick example of one I’ve used successfully in the past.
The clients you are selling them to aren’t looking at you as a per-word writer-for-hire. They’re buying a service from you but you’re delivering it as a package result.
Once you reach the point of productizing your services, you can also start spending money on advertising and landing those sweet, sweet retainer deals.
This is, pretty much, the Holy Grail for freelance content marketers and copywriters.
Whether you realize it (or not), having that income coming in consistently can dramatically improve your work life and help you focus further down the road.
When you’re moving from project to project you are constantly on the lookout for the next project. You’re always waiting for a client to randomly pop up wanting you to do some work for them.
Retainers come in a few different flavors, though. Sometimes they’re disguised as jobs. You have to pay attention for when an entrepreneur wants to lock you down and when they’re trying to get you to commit to working for less.
They’re also something that tends to favor more of the copywriting side of freelancing, instead of content marketing.
If you land a client that runs a well-maintained blog, for instance, they’ll bring you on to write a post each week, along with some social media content and some email content.
You can rely on the weekly work coming in while taking on smaller one-off jobs in between the time each post is due for your “retainer”.
So, even if you aren’t being promised a specific amount of work on a regular basis, when you’re asked to do the same thing over and over again you can assume that they’re viewing you as their writer.
Treat those relationships with the utmost respect and you can live off them for years.
Agencies are usually quicker to offer retainer deals than entrepreneurs and bloggers will, simply because they are already accustomed to hiring employees.
When you’re working your way up the freelancing ladder, keep an eye out for potential retainers but don’t pass up other work just because you’ll only settle for the consistent work.
Again, as I start breaking down more of the copywriting and content marketing side of the business, I’ll dive more into retainers and contracts.
For now, I am focusing my efforts on helping good writers escape the grind, charge more, land better clients, work less, and make just as much money.
The high-end stuff is being saved for a later date!
So How Much Should You Charge?
More than you’re comfortable with.
This is something I learned from another copywriter and email marketer, but it’s a saying that goes something like…
“I charge more than you’ll want to pay but less than I want to make.”
It’s incredibly powerful for putting your potential client back at center, where you’re showing them you have respect for what they’re doing but you also respect yourself.
I tend to look at pricing a few different ways — I know that I need to make between $50 to $100 per hour of actual work to be able to cover my bills and feel like the project is worth my time.
When you’re just getting started that may not be possible.
However, once you figure out a dollar-per-hour figure that you need to hit, you are able to stand behind your rates with more confidence. That confidence affects your client’s perception of you and makes them want to hire you even more.
People who respect themselves (especially where pricing is concerned) get respected, in return.
Right now, I have a couple retainer deals. I have a handful of clients that pay per word with some paying 5 cents per word that I’ve held onto for years. Others that pay 10 cents to 25 cents per word that came along as I raised my rates and let go of bad clients.
Then, every so often, I get large direct response copywriting packages worth multiple figures.
Those are the icing on the cake and are the exception, not the rule. I do know a ton of copywriters that only focus on high-ticket direct response packages but I also think they work a lot harder than they should.
My business is what I consider a “lifestyle” business. I make enough to be happy and I work enough to stay moving forward. What I don’t do, though, is work my ass off, burn myself out (been there, done that, three different times), and I make sure that my clients understand I have a life outside of work.
It’s taken me a long time to get to this point but I wouldn’t trade my business for anything.
Even after The High Paid Writer becomes a success, my niche blogs start generating passive income, and my eCommerce site starts turning regular revenue, I don’t think I’ll stop freelancing.
Keeping my sword sharp and having more than one stream of income is my priority now, and going deep into the future. There’s no point spending years building a skillset only to turn your back on it when the tree starts to bear fruit.
So, if you aren’t where you want to be right now, focus on your business, focus on your client’s results, and focus on keeping yourself happy and healthy. The rest will fall into place.
If you want a goal to aim for, here’s one that I recommend to every writer…
Packages & Products Are Easier To Sell
If you’re not looking for retainer deals (because they can feel like having a job at times) and you’re wanting to get away from charging per word, packages and products are the easiest way I know of.
Whether you create a digital product that you sell yourself, or you use your writing and marketing skills to sell physical products on a website or blog that you control, products will always give you the most profit for the least amount of work — after you get the ball rolling.
Package deals are what I consider “icing on the cake”.
For me, getting a large, high-ticket direct response copywriting package is where I thrive. It’s where I’ve spent the majority of my time honing my skills and seeing my clients get results because of the work that I’ve delivered is an incredible feeling.
To give you an example, taken from my previous post “7 Types Of High Paid Writing”, you can bundle a package for SEOs and affiliate marketers.
You already know they’re trying to rank in major search engines and have been commissioned to create content that will achieve that goal for them — bringing in organic search traffic.
But, how hard do you think it is to sell email marketing and social media marketing to those same clients? Do you think they’ll say no to you if you are giving them an extra email and a social media post that they can use to drive email and social traffic to their content?
What started as a $100 SEO blog post turns into a $250 SEO blog post because you’ve increased your value to the client (which lets you raise your rates) and you’re giving them more sources of traffic to tap into. Instead of just delivering a blog post and moving on, they’re getting an email and a social media post.
This type of packaging works well to get you out of the “price per word” crowd and into selling packages and also lets you become known for something besides being a “writer”.
Another type of package is catered to marketers that are driving traffic in hopes of making a sale.
If you are learning direct response marketing (or you’re already proficient) you can sell large packages that bring a visitor from brand new to engaged customer.
I’ve sold countless packages that include everything from the landing pages, cold ads, retargeting ads, email copy, sales page copy, and order forms. This isn’t on a price per word basis. It’s a much larger 4 and 5-figure package because you’re solving a very specific problem for the client.
So, if you’re trying to get away from charging less than you know you’re worth, and you know you are delivering value and solving problems, spend time digging through this post to figure out where you’re at and what you need to overcome to get to the next level.
Then, spend your time wrapping your mind around how you can package your services so you can sell them for a fixed fee instead of being treated as a commodity in the marketplace.
Commodities are easy to replace.
Assets are not.
When you become an asset, your path to becoming a High Paid Writer gets a whole lot easier.