How to charge for freelance copywriting services

Probably the most common question that freelance copywriters ask me is “How much should I charge?”

I know what these folks are really asking. They want me to gaze into a crystal ball and reply, “You should charge $X per page. If you charge that rate, clients will love you and you’ll make lots of money. Now go forth and write.”

If it was only that simple.

Pricing for copywriting services will always be a challenge. When you’re just starting out, you don’t know what you don’t know – so it’s very easy to undercharge (or price yourself too high.)

When you’ve been in business for a few years, raising your rates can be a very scary experience. You’re afraid of losing the clients you already have (or not being able to land new ones.)

Of course, it doesn’t make sense to stay in business if you’re never able to raise your rates…so you’ll constantly be facing this dilemma.

Then, there’s always figuring out the best way to charge the client. Per page? Per project? Come up with a magical number and hope the client goes for it (yes, we’ve all been there!) 😉

If you’re stuck in the “how should I charge for services” quandary, here are some guidelines to get you through.

First, you’ll want to start by asking yourself four questions. These questions are applicable if you’re brand new to freelancing, or if you have an established business. In fact, you may want to revisit these questions every six months or so and confirm that you’re still on track.

Question #1: What are your income goals?

This is an incredibly important point that many freelancers ignore. I’ve seen freelancers charge $10 a page just to get business in the door – without realizing the long-term impact of that decision. Think about it: If you have a $750/month rent payment, that means that you need to write 75 articles a month just to make your rent. That’s not counting food, electricity, gas, taxes…you get the picture.

Do you really see yourself writing 150 articles a month just to make $1,500? Nope. I didn’t think so.

To come up with an income goal, you’ll first want to determine what your monthly expenses are (both business and personal.) Then, increase that number by 35% (which represents what you’ll want to set aside for taxes.) This is the base amount you’ll need to make just to keep your doors open.

I would recommend adding another 10% to that number, too. That way, you can put money aside for a new computer, travel, or any other business expense that may pop up. Better to put that money aside now than put a purchase on a credit card later.

Question #2: Who is your target market?

Is your heart with small, local businesses? That’s fantastic! Just know that small businesses have smaller budgets  – and if you’re expecting mom and pop businesses to pay you $300 per page – or $250 an hour –  you’ll need to adjust your expectations. However, if you’re working within a specialty niche market, it’s possible to charge much more money.

Question #3: What’s your experience level?

Here’s a reality check: If you are new to copywriting, your rates will need to reflect that. You are not going to start out making $500 a page, no matter how many books promise “huge profits” in your first few months.  Once you can show results (happy client testimonials, rankings, case studies, etc.,) you’ll be able to charge your target audience more money.

Experienced copywriters can (and should) charge more. Have you gone through specialized training (such as the SEO Copywriting Certification training?). Have you written a book? Are you the recognized copywriting expert in a certain niche? Are you a recognized speaker and trainer? These feathers in your cap can (and should) translate into a higher per-page rate.

Question #4: What are other writers charging?

This one is trickier. Some writers will share their pricing information. Others consider it competitive information.  Chris Marlow developed a copywriting pricing guide that provides some guidelines. And sometimes, clients are very open about what other writers have charged in the past. Just remember – just because a writer is charging X doesn’t mean that you should charge the same thing.

So, now that you hopefully have a better idea of how to charge, let’s consider the various ways you can work with clients.

Hourly pricing:

Some freelancers love hourly pricing. On the surface, it looks like a great way to make sure that you’re getting paid for all of your research and writing time. However, this approach can backfire in a number of ways.

First, it works against you as a writer. When you first start out, it may take you five hours to write one page. A year later, it may only take half of that. That means that the better and faster you write, the less money you’ll actually make. You can compensate for this by raising your hourly rate, but the other challenge is…

…hourly pricing doesn’t showcase the value of what you offer. Since clients don’t know how much work goes into writing a page, they’ll often ask you to “only spend an hour” or “just a few minutes” to save time (and money.) That means you’ll be turning in sub-standard work and making less money. No fun.

Per-page pricing:

Most freelancers I know operate on a per-page basis. This structure is easy for clients to understand – they know that every web page you write is going to cost X.  It also allows freelancers to charge for the value of their work. After all, if you spend 10 minutes writing a page – and that page results in $10,000 worth of sales – charging $300 is a pretty solid investment.

The challenge with per-page pricing is that you need to have very clear boundaries. If your client asks you to “make just a few extra tweaks” (that weren’t originally in the scope of the agreement,) – you’ll “lose” money. Your contract should include information about how many revisions are included, how long you’ll spend on the phone with their team and what work is considered in and out of scope.  Be warned – a client who needs to chat with you 30 minutes a day to “make sure we’re on the same page,” will eat up your budget quickly – so make sure that you set expectations up front.

Project-based pricing:

This is also a popular way of pricing client projects. Rather than outlining your services and how much they cost, you’d quote a price for the entire project.  This can be an excellent pricing method if you’re afraid that the client will slice something out of the quote that you’ll need to do your job well (such as cutting out keyphrase research in order to save a few bucks. Yes. it happens.)

The challenge with project-based pricing is you may underestimate the time you’ll need to spend – so what you think will take you 10 hours may take you 25.  Sometimes, you can go back to the client and ask for more money…but usually only if you’re already addressed this in your agreement. Otherwise, it looks like a bait-and-switch.

Like per-page pricing, you’ll have to set some really clear boundaries. If this is your preferred pricing method, just make sure that the client understands what’s included – and what may trigger an additional fee (with the client’s approval, of course.) That way, you’re protected – and the client knows exactly what they’re paying for.

One final warning…

My final piece of advice? Don’t sell yourself short.  It’s tempting to charge a rock-bottom rate just to get business in the door – or be too afraid to raise your rates. As my father used to tell me, “If nobody is complaining that your prices are too high, you’re not charging enough.”

That’s excellent advice.

What about you? What pricing advice would you add?

 

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37 replies
  1. Daphne Gray-Grant
    Daphne Gray-Grant says:

    Hmm, I have to say I think the most important question is: What VALUE am I bringing to the client. The only way to understand this is to interview the client and get a firm understanding of his/her challenges and how you might be able to help.

    DON’T quote quickly. Take your time. And really understand the client’s needs, first.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Good point about not quoting quickly. Some prospects want you to throw out a number after a 10 minute conversation – and that’s not advisable. Get a feel for what the client needs, consider what value you bring to the table and THEN quote. Otherwise, it’s way too easy to sell yourself short.

      Reply
  2. Susannah Noel
    Susannah Noel says:

    Thanks Heather. This is an especially tough area for me since I’m used to the book editing world, where everyone charges by the hour.

    I definitely suffer from the fear that if I give a potential client the per-project fee – and it’s high, like $1,500 – they’ll balk and go elsewhere. But if I say $50/hour, it seems more palatable. I need to get over this!

    Reply
  3. Heather
    Heather says:

    Ha! Yes, Susannah, you need to get over that (but know that we all go through it from time to time.) You will lose some gigs because of price. Then again, that frees you up for other, more fun gigs that can pay much more…. :)

    Reply
  4. Amy C. Teeple
    Amy C. Teeple says:

    Love this:
    As my father used to tell me, “If nobody is complaining that your prices are too high, you’re not charging enough.”

    This is so true. Yes, I have lost some gigs because of my prices (although my business coach will say it’s because I didn’t properly “sell” the value of the service), but that’s OK. Some people shop on price, not value and I am not the right fit for them. People who have been referred to me by satisfied clients will happily pay my rate because they already know my value.

    Thanks for the reminder not to sell yourself short too. It can be tough when you just want the business to flow. Great (and helpful) post!

    Reply
  5. Heather
    Heather says:

    Exactly! Never sell yourself short. There will always be “price shoppers,” – and those probably will never be a good fit. If you keep on selling your value, you’ll attract happy clients who are thrilled to pay for your services. :)

    Reply
  6. Tash Hughes
    Tash Hughes says:

    That’s a nice list as pricing is not an easy task – finding a balance between client expectations and your own value, need for work and for ROI, your time and unexpected extras, etc is a constant task.

    I have never priced by the page as so much of what I do is not page based – web content and emails are often less than a page long but often takes more effort because of it’s brevity.

    Clients often prefer a project price because they can’t judge the final price from an hourly rate – it also evens out a fast writer charging more per hour than a slow writer.

    Reply
  7. Heather
    Heather says:

    Tash, very true about the brevity point. Some folks think that it’s “easy” to write email content because it’s short. Ah, if only that was the case. :)

    Thanks for your comment!

    Reply
  8. Katie
    Katie says:

    I would include that charging too little can often “price you out” as well… Prospective clients often correlate cost with quality (as in, if you only charge $10/page, you must not be very good).

    Reply
  9. Heather
    Heather says:

    You’re right, Katie. Prospects who are “in the know” will associate price with quality. If you’re only charging $10/page, prospects will think, “I’m going to get what I pay for…” – and hire someone else.

    Thanks!
    :)

    Reply
  10. Jennifer Nice
    Jennifer Nice says:

    Heather,
    Thanks for a helpful and timely article. I’m still a relative “newbie” and tend to ruminate over my price quotes. I agree with everything you’ve written, as well as all the comments! I would like to add that being willing to negotiate and come to a mutually agreeable contract is a good strategy. Recently a potential client (could become a “big-time” client for me!) didn’t want to pay me my per price page for all 10 pages and instead suggested 2 to start with. I am willing to do this, hoping that once he sees the quality of my work it will lead to more.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Jennifer, that sounds like a VERY smart compromise. Reducing your rates after you’ve already quoted a client is rarely good (the client will think that they can always get it for less.) But starting out with a mini-project is smart! Good luck!

      Reply
  11. Scott
    Scott says:

    It is always good to be reminded that your freelance rates need to change over time. Remember the hourly babysitting rate you charged as a teenager? You still don’t charge that same rate for the work you do today as an adult, right? Your copywriting hourly rate should also match your growing skills and increased experience you gain over time.

    Reply
  12. Lynda Goldman
    Lynda Goldman says:

    The best advice I got was from a web design company. I was writing for some of their clients, and they advised me to have a standard fee. I always begin with “My standard fee for 5 pages is…” and no one complains. If they want more pages, or something different, I adapt the price. If it’s something different (eg. a case study) I say, “In the past, I’ve charged X for this kind of work. It that within your budget?” I always ask for their budget, and frequently don’t get it, but every so often someone gives me their budge, and it’s often more than I was planning to ask. -Hope this helps!

    Reply
  13. Stacey Herbert
    Stacey Herbert says:

    This was solid. I started out writing for $15 per 500 world article, more than some, and far less than most. To make it worse, I was used to earning GBP. This soon got old, but I realised the quickest way to increase my earnings was to increase my skills. It’s a work in progress, but I’m happy to say I haven’t worked for $15 an article for a long time. At present I charge by the project, but you’ve made me think about the way I structure my working agreement. Quite often it take more time that originally thought to complete some projects due to unfixed guidelines, and if you’re not careful you can end up working many hours in overtimes-for free!

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      What a fantastic comment, Stacey! You are so right when you say, “the quickest way to increase my earnings was to increase my skills.” So many writers forget that ongoing education/training can help them make a LOT more money. Especially when clients are highly motivated to work with experienced writers (and they’ll pay more for experienced writers, too!) :)

      Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  14. craig wright
    craig wright says:

    Another interesting read. I’ve been discussing prices recently with some other UK copywriters and we all kind of agreed that the per hour rate is to vague for clients. There are just too many variables – how long is it going to take to research the area, come up with ideas etc.

    One thing I would like to find out is the average amount of copy people produce per day. Personally, I can write about 2000 words of good quality copy before my brain turns to mush (a bit more if I’m writing technical documentation as I find that more straight-forward). I’ve heard of writers in London agencies being expected to produce 5000 words a day. Recently, I had a client expecting 4000 words a day on a business I had absolutely no knowledge of…needless to say, that target didn’t get met!

    Reply
  15. JR John
    JR John says:

    Hi Heather,

    That’s an amazing article!

    One thing: I NEED HELP! I’m only charging around 1 cent per word (and dare I say it) even less!

    I need to get myself confidence to be able to charge more…and have the ability to present my prices to a client that won’t want to run off to the lowest bidder. How do you suggest I go about doing this?

    Taking the writing from my blog, http://www.jrjohnfreelancerforhire.wordpress.com , how much do you think my writing would be worth (on a per word or per hour basis)? I’m no earth-shattering writer, but I do think that the value I present is considerably more than 1 cent per word.

    Sincere Regards,
    JR John

    Reply
  16. Marian
    Marian says:

    Just remember guys that great content right now is one of the most important factor to get more readers and followers to your business. You know your capable of so don’t be afraid to ask for higher price.

    Reply
  17. Riza
    Riza says:

    hello! I can relate to all of the pricing styles you shared. I’ve tried all of them and the most recent experience I had was with a project based quote where, yes, the client wanted to chop off the research part. Not to reduce the fee but to reduce the time it would take before we start producing output. For me, it’s a learning process until now. Sometimes it’s about learning how to communicate value to clients, other times it’s simply learning to say “no” to clients who don’t have similar values as you. But of course, when you’re just starting, you might have to take start small. You can’t really choose. But as you grow in skill and even the ability to even help potential clients understand your side, you get better at it. :) Another thing to consider is that with the trend in online/outsourced writing nowadays, sometimes you’re competing with those from countries with lower cost of living and average compensation rates.

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin
      Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Hi, Riza-

      Thanks for your note!

      You’re right – learning how to talk to clients (and show your value) is a learning process. One thing I’ve noticed is it’s impossible (or close to) to compete on price – especially if the client is willing to outsource to non-native language speakers. Plus, those kind of clients are the types you don’t really want in the first place. Even if you do slice your rates, they tend to jump to the newest, shiniest (and cheapest) writer they can as soon as they can. And that’s no good for you.

      Sometimes it IS about saying “no.” That’s OK. It’s better to say “no” than get stuck with a client who you can’t really help – and who doesn’t’ value your time.

      Thanks for your comment!
      :)

      Reply
  18. Jared
    Jared says:

    The reality, however, is that some clients would settle for lower fees even if the quality of work is questionable. This forces freelance writers to lower their fees just to land a project.

    Reply
  19. Pete
    Pete says:

    I have worked on both the hourly and the project basis with new clients. But either way, I try to define the scope of work carefully (including a reasonably generous “not-to-exceed” cap on hours when estimating a job). Fortunately, I have enough job history that I can be reasonably accurate. Typically, once I establish my credibility with an agency client or an experienced corporate client, I simply accrue monthly hours and bill them at the hourly rate without having to quote each job separately. But I recognize that might not be the case with new, less experienced accounts.

    (This whole discussion reminded me of an inside joke my old creative director used to tell about clients who asked him how much he would bill per hour for a particular job…”Well, that depends on whether you want me to lie about my hours or about my rate.”)

    Reply
    • Heather Lloyd-Martin
      Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Pete – ooh, I like the inside joke. Very funny and very true. Thanks for sharing it! :)

      Yes, it’s much easier to estimate time when you’ve got a few years under your belt. During my early days, I think I ended up working for fast food wages more than a few times. Not fun in the moment – but those experiences taught me how to estimate my time pretty accurately…

      Reply

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