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How to increase your day rates as a freelance copywriter

Leif Kendall

Kendall Copywriting Ltd

PRO

Every year we publish a survey of freelance copywriters. And every year we hear from copywriters who want to raise their rates.

But few copywriters know how to raise their rates.

On the surface, it’s easy: you just ask for more money.

But in reality, raising your rates is difficult.

Many of us are hamstrung by our existing clients, lack of new opportunities and fear of losing out.

You can’t afford to repel your current clients in the pursuit of better pay.

But that doesn’t mean raising your rates is impossible – or unreasonable.

If you don’t raise your rates, your earnings will gradually decline as the costs of living increase.

Progressively increasing your rates is an absolute necessity.

So let’s explore a few strategies for increasing your freelance pay, without taking any major risks or alienating your existing clients.

Stay true to you

Before we get into the details, there are many different ways to increase your rates as a freelance copywriter.

The approaches you use depend on your personal preferences, your approach to running your business and your appetite for change. The techniques in this article may work for you, but feel free to ignore this advice if it doesn’t suit you.

We’ll explore these ideas in depth, but firstly, here’s a summary of the challenge and the solutions:

How can you charge more as a freelance copywriter?

  1. Find new clients that have larger budgets
  2. Justify your rate increase
  3. Get more leads so you can be more selective
  4. Develop your skills and services
  5. Work on your brand and professionalism
  6. Avoid freelance job sites and content mills
  7. Become an expert in a niche you love
  8. Deliver the news sensitively

Typical rates for freelance copywriters: know the facts

According to our most recent survey of copywriters, your peers are charging an average of £342 per day, with a range of rates spanning £1300 to £175 per day.

Our survey also finds, consistently, that many freelance copywriters want to increase their rates, by an average of 33%.

Strategies for increasing your freelance rates

Before you start increasing your day rate, you must accept that raising your rates could drive away your existing clients.

Good clients will tolerate rate rises, but those that are focused on price (rather than quality) may go looking for a cheaper copywriter, even if it means a dip in quality.

This is why my first suggestion is to insulate yourself from client losses, before you make any changes to your rates.

Get more leads

Your clients should not be too surprised if you raise your rates each year.

This is a reasonable thing to do, considering your increased costs and the additional experience and knowledge you have gained by working with a broad portfolio of clients.

But you can only push this so far. Your existing clients may resist major price increases – or choose to find a more junior copywriter.

If your clients value your skills and services, then they may tolerate a substantial price rise.

You will probably have a sense of which clients value your skills and experience, and which clients just see you as a hired pen. This understanding of your clients can help you plan your rate rise, and also consider which clients you are happy to lose.

While existing clients may be uneasy paying you more for what seems to be the same service, new clients might be a better bet.

With new clients, you can start the relationship on a fairer footing, charging the rate you deserve right now.

Before you can get new clients, you need to generate more leads.

By getting more leads, you will also have some cushioning if any of your existing clients want to jump ship.

Having more enquiries gives you more confidence to decline requests for discounts and stand firm when you lose opportunities.

Okay – so you’re wondering how to get more leads…?

Do more of what you’re doing – with a focus on improving your website so it performs better in search results (start local – and aim to rank in the top 10 for ‘copywriter [my home town/nearest city]’. Once you’ve dominated local searches, expand nationally and then globally).

Also:

  • Get networking – it might be painful, but it does help
  • Use ProCopywriters to share your blog posts, run a webinar, take part in Twitterchats
  • Contact agencies that are likely to need copywriters (very few digital agencies have copywriters in-house)
  • Update your ProCopywriters every week (this moves your profile to the front page)
  • Update your LinkedIn profile every week (gets your name in front of your contacts)
  • Blog like hell (amazing for SEO and gives clients a window into your brain)

Get different leads

If you currently find clients on content mills, then you will struggle to raise your rates.

Clients on freelance marketplaces are generally more price sensitive; they want something done for the best price. You won’t have much luck offering a premium service to clients motivated by price alone. This is why Harrod’s doesn’t have concessions in Lidl.

If you want to charge more, you may need to move away from the sources of leads you’re currently using.

If content mills and freelance marketplaces won’t pay more, go elsewhere. Make your own website more effective. Generate your own leads. Instead of scrabbling for low-paying opportunities, make leads come to you.

If your hometown doesn’t generate good quality leads, go global. There’s no need to be limited by your location in this digital age. You can work for anyone, anywhere, so why restrict yourself to the lowest-paying clients, just because they’re next door?

If your current niche doesn’t pay well, change it. You might choose to earn less because you love writing about fashion, or working with charities, but if you resent being paid less, gradually reposition yourself to a more profitable field. After all, few of us want to spend our lives working; if you get paid more, you can work less, and spend more time enjoying life.

Inbound marketing

This point is so central to the concept of getting more leads and being able to select the leads you want to pursue, that it needs to be singled out.

Inbound marketing means getting people to come to your website.

Inbound marketing is the opposite of chasing leads.

Instead of running after low-grade leads, you create a website that draws in high-quality leads from clients who think you look like the ideal copywriter for their project.

Yes, inbound marketing is a slow-burn technique.

It won’t win you clients overnight.

But if you start improving your website now, you can have a powerful lead-generator in three to six months.

Learning about search engine optimisation (SEO), the cornerstone of inbound marketing, is not as difficult as it may seem. With a little research, you can make sure your website appears prominently in search results.

If you haven’t shared your blog posts with ProCopywriters yet, start now; this is an easy way to get links back to your website and network with your peers (who can be a great source of leads).

Build a client base

If all your work is one-off projects, then you will never have much certainty around your finances. Every enquiry that comes along may feel like a lifeline – a necessity to pay the bills.

If some of your work is on a monthly, retained basis, then you will always have some guaranteed income, and the confidence to pitch your rates higher; if a prospect decides your rates are too high, then you can accept the lost opportunity, without fretting about your income.

Regular work might mean progressively improving a client’s website or marketing collateral, writing blog posts, managing their social media, developing print campaigns, or sending newsletters and marketing emails.

Start looking for opportunities to help your clients regularly. Keep your eyes peeled for situations when you could take a task, responsibility or challenge off a client’s desk – or help them do something more effectively.

Establish the basis for your rate increase

You don’t necessarily need to explain your rate increase to your clients, but it may help to soften the blow, and giving reasons for the change might make clients more likely to accept the increase.

But whether you share this information with clients or not, it’s helpful to justify your rate rise to yourself, so you feel more confident when asking for more money.

There are a few ways to define your new rates:

Research. What are people charging right now? Our survey of copywriters includes lots of detail on rates. You can also look at other copywriters’ websites – or ask around. Get a sense of what is normal.

Experience – have your rates stagnated for a few years? In that time, you will have gained a huge amount of experience, which translates into greater value for your clients; you can likely achieve better results with less time. Your clients also benefit from the knowledge and insights you’ve gleaned from working with other companies in unrelated industries. Make sure your rates reflect this value.

Professional development – have you completed any training, read any copywriting books or attended any copywriting conferences lately? You have invested in your business, and it is appropriate for your rates to reflect the knowledge you have gained.

Peers – ask copywriter friends to swap pricing secrets. How much do they charge – and how do they charge? Their day rate only tells you half the story, so ask about their pricing structure and how much they typically charge for an average project. Also ask about the typical relationship they have with a client; is it a one-off project, or an ongoing campaign?

Services – do you offer additional services? Do you now offer SEO, content strategy, social media or tone of voice services? Even if your clients want pure copy, your work will be infused by these other skills, and it’s reasonable to raise your rates accordingly.

Warning: don’t charge what you would pay

One of the biggest advantages I had when I started freelancing was meeting a chap called Michael Bailey. He was an experienced web developer, and he was familiar with freelance rates. I asked him what I should charge.

“Don’t charge less than £250,” he said.

And that’s what I did.

Michael saved me from the pain of plucking a number out of thin air.

And he saved me from undercharging, because I probably would have a struck on a smaller amount.

Why?

Because when we put a price on something, we usually use references to decide what’s appropriate. We either price things according to what we’re familiar with, or used to paying, or what we would pay, hypothetically.

When I started freelancing, I had never worked in an agency, hired a freelancer, or even spoken to another freelancer. I didn’t have a frame of reference for freelance rates, so I would have priced myself badly – had Michael not saved me from myself.

Don’t charge the rates you would be prepared to pay.

Charge the rates that are fair for the value you provide.

Don’t imagine raiding your savings to pay for your own copywriting services, because you are not your ideal client.

Your own attitude to money should not affect your pricing.

Don’t consider how you would feel paying £342 for a day of your time – because you aren’t selling your services to yourself, or even to people like you; you are selling your professional services to companies that are investing in their marketing so they can sell more stuff.

And definitely don’t compare your freelance day rate to the amount you earned in full-time or part-time employment, because you are no longer employed and you no longer have holiday pay, an office, IT support, HR, sick pay, free training or any of the other hidden perks of regular employment.

Your freelance day rate has to carry you a long way, so don’t feel shy about asking for hundreds of pounds for a day of your time.

Pay Pal

This is an idea I’ve stolen from the brilliant Jackie Barrie. She mentioned it during the webinar she did for us (check your dashboard for the recording if you’re a member of ProCopywriters).

Essentially, you need to strike a deal with a copywriter friend to be mutual Billing Buddies or Fee Friends (Feeriends?). Whenever you’re putting together a proposal, you share it with your partner who can make sure you’re not totally crazy and are charging a fair rate for the work you’re doing.

This gives you an external perspective and some reassurance that your rates are comparable to a peer.

Choose your Billing Buddy carefully; you want someone who will encourage you to charge a good rate – not slash your fees.

Brand yourself

Branding is seductive. No matter how much we might think we’re immune to branding, we’re all susceptible. People spend more on brands that they like. People attribute greater value to entities that have a recognisable and distinguished brand.

Being a freelance copywriter doesn’t excuse you from being professional – or from looking like a real business.

In fact, because freelancing is a world fringed by ill-trained wannabes, it’s incredibly useful to look established, as this can reassure potential clients that you’ll still be available next week.

Branding your business – and by this I mean getting a company name, a logo and a website that doesn’t look like a botched GCSE project – shows people that you have invested in your business, which demonstrates two things: firstly, you’ve made enough money as a copywriter to invest in your branding; secondly, you are committed to your freelance career.

Get professional

Small steps to look more established can help you raise your rates. The following are all things that can help you charge more:

  • Limited company – more onerous for you to manage, but some larger companies (those with larger budgets) will only deal with limited companies.
  • VAT – charging VAT makes it harder to work for any company that isn’t VAT-registered, but it is another sign that you are committed to your business, and it suggests to clients your turnover is more than £85,000 (the current threshold) – even if it is not.
  • Renting an office – or a desk space – gives you the appearance of being a dedicated freelancer. That’s not to say you can’t work from home, but having an office is another marker of professionalism that clients may notice.
  • Contracts – asking clients to sign a contract demonstrates a commitment to your work. After all, the contract is binding for you as much as them.
  • Deposits – asking for money up front is normal in business. Be confident in demanding a deposit before you start work. The only people who don’t like paying deposits are people who don’t like paying.
  • Letterhead – This is a simple touch that reminds people of your business. Why not add your logo to the header of every document?

The benefits of increasing your rates

Are your clients rude, tight-fisted and never satisfied? It could be because you’re charging too little.

That sounds surprising, because you might think that charging less would cause clients to appreciate the bargain they’re getting. But it doesn’t work out that way.

Instead, charging low rates makes people assume you’re no good.

After all, if you were good at writing copy, you would charge a fair rate.

If you’re cheap, they reason, you must be crap, or new, or naïve.

Some clients want to pay as little as possible, and they know they won’t get a great result; they accept middling results as a trade-off for the low rate they pay.

They aren’t focused on good results, great copy and building a brilliant business; they’re focused on ticking a box, meeting a need and making more money. Their motivations are negative.

If you find yourself having lots of client disputes, arguments about the copy you submit and trouble getting paid, it might be because you’re attracting the worst kind of clients.

Become a niche specialist

This isn’t for everyone, because many copywriters delight in being generalists (myself included).

But specialising may be beneficial in terms of charging more. Becoming a recognised expert in your field may make it easier to charge more. Clients may value your knowledge of their industry, and may be prepared to pay more for the ease of working with you. Lucrative niches for copywriters include technology, direct marketing, business, medical professions and science.

Great clients pay fair rates for great work

Successful, established businesses have budgets for marketing. They are comfortable paying reasonable rates for professional services. They understand their contractual obligations. They know your copy will help their business, and they also know it’s not a magic formula; their expectations are reasonable. They also have processes for paying suppliers, and people responsible for making payments on time.

Great clients are less focused on money: the most important thing is the work.

Delivering the news: telling clients about your rate increases

You could try to sweeten the pill by cushioning the news of your increased rates with some insights from behavioural science.

Framing. You might frame your rate increase as a percentage, or by comparing your rates to more expensive freelancers. This can make your rate increase seem more reasonable.

‘Because’. Give clients the reasons for your rate increase: “I’m putting my rates up because I’ve gained a lot of experience and skills in the past year.”

Social proof. There are different ways to use social proof in this context. You could either show clients what other copywriters are charging, or you could demonstrate that you are busy and in demand.

Scarcity. If your copywriting services are in demand, make sure your clients know that business is booming; they will appreciate having your support even more.

How to tell clients about your rate increase

You could send an email, but this is a horrible way to tell people that you’re increasing your rates.

In most cases, it’s far better to mention it in person, or over the phone. You don’t need to schedule a special call to deliver the news, but try to mention it during a catch-up or a project discussion.

If you want your clients to feel valued, you might offer them a preferable rate. So if your rate is going up by 20% for new clients, you could reduce this to 10% for existing clients. Or you could give people a three month grace period on your old rates.

By talking to clients about your rate rise, you can gauge their attitude to pricing.

And if they are horrified by the rise, or reluctant to pay more, you have a chance to negotiate, or accept losing the client.

Money isn’t everything

You may be reading this article and wondering whether these techniques are essential to raising your rates. They are not. You can raise your rates in other ways. These are just suggestions.

Also, who says you have to raise your rates?

If you want to keep your fees low, perhaps to make yourself affordable to small companies, entrepreneurs or charities, that’s absolutely fine, and completely valid as a commercial decision.

You need to work in the way that feels right, and allows you to sleep at night.

Money isn’t everything.

Many people go freelance because they want more freedom. More self-direction. More varied work. More autonomy.

For some freelance copywriters, loving work is more about the perks and less about cash.

And that’s great.

Change won’t happen overnight

Many of the techniques discussed here are long-term changes. You can’t rebrand yourself overnight, or find an entirely different set of clients in a month.

This all takes time. And you’ll probably find the change is incremental.

You might increase your rates with existing clients by 10-15% and increase by 20-25% for new clients.

And then for six months you might develop your brand and work on your professional development. After that, you might add another 20% to your rates for new clients. As you tease your rates upwards, you will see what impact they have on your acceptance rates.

Go at your own pace, and increase your rates by amounts that you can justify to yourself.

It’s never easy to lose a client you want to work with, but in the long term it makes better sense to do less work with better clients for more money – so stick with it.

Change must be constant

If you go through a process of increasing your rates, you may eventually arrive at a rate that you’re completely comfortable with.

You can now sit back and relax, and enjoy the feeling of earning a fair rate for your efforts.

But not for long.

If you stick with your current rate for too long, it will fall behind as inflation races ahead.

Increasing your rates should be a constant process.

Once your rates have reached a fair market value (or whatever rate you’re happy with), make sure you incrementally increase your rates each year.

Otherwise you will fall behind and may need to battle to push your rates up again.

You may only need to add 5-10% each year to keep up with your experience, expenses and expectations.

Anything to add?

Have we missed any good strategies for raising your freelance rates?

Please leave a comment below so we can all get better at charging a fair rate.

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Comments

10th December 2018

Rose Newell

Crikey, Leif. You’ve outdone yourself. I’ve always been impressed by the work you’ve put into supporting your colleagues, but this here is priceless advice. A must-read for any copywriter – indeed, any translator, any graphic designer, any web designer, any freelancer AT ALL.

I always have SO much to say about pricing whenever it comes up on any forum or in any chat with colleagues. You may have some idea why – I’m a big advocate of developing skills to become irreplaceable, and charging premium rates to match.

It says plenty that right now I have nothing to add. Well done, Leif.

7th January 2019

Jackie Barrie

Thanks for all the great advice… and for calling me “brilliant”!

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