So you’ve gone freelance. You’ve been putting in the hours trying to drum up leads. And now it looks like you’ve got your first client – brilliant.
“How much do you charge?” they ask.
In my first few months of freelancing, it was the topic that vexed me the most.
What does everyone else charge? How much am I meant to charge? Will the client think that’s too much? Am I underselling myself? They’re questions that freelancers of all stripes will be very familiar with.
It can often feel like you’re simply closing your eyes chucking a dart at a board. £30 an hour? Yeah, that’ll do. £400 a day…why not?
While there’s no ready-made answer to how much freelance copywriters should charge, there is a path to clarity and reason.
The key is to follow simple, rational steps to come up with your own pricing structure – one that you can stick to, be confident in, and that works for you.
Step 1: Do your research
Find out as much as you can about what other people charge. That’s not always easy, but there’s information out there if you look.
One great resource is ProCopywriters’ annual survey of average rates. But other copywriters may also publish their prices on their websites, or talk about them in forums.
Do some googling and gather as much data as you can. And if you know any freelancers and don’t think they’ll mind, try asking them, too.
Step 2: How experienced are you?
Once you’ve got an idea of the rates others charge, have a think about your level of experience.
If you’ve been copywriting for 25 years and have a series of ECD positions on your CV, you can probably charge a whole lot more than the national average. But if you’re just starting out, you should begin by operating at the lower end of the scale.
Step 3: What type of rate?
There are many ways to charge a client. Some charge by the hour, others charge a day rate, and others still charge a single fee for the entire project. None of these is right or wrong, and each has its purpose.
As a rule of thumb, the bigger the project, the more a day rate or project fee will probably suit – it’s a simpler process for both parties than totting up lots of hours. But hourly rates can work for smaller projects, where you’ll only spend an hour or two on the job.
The key is to work out your own policy and be confident in it.
You might use hourly rates for little jobs and day rates for bigger ones. Or you might use hourly rates for everything. Think about what you’re most comfortable with.
As long as you’re transparent with your client about how you’re charging them, and what they’ll get for their money, you won’t go far wrong.
Step 4: Think about your finances
The most important thing in all of this is that you earn enough money to make freelancing financially viable.
So, once you’ve got a rate in mind, a crucial step is to do some calculations and work out how much you could expect to make in a year (or a week, or a month).
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just multiplying a day rate by 365. You’ll need to think about all the time you’ll spend not doing paid work: replying to emails, sorting your invoicing, calculating your taxes, going on holiday, doing the washing up – the list goes on.
And remember, there’ll be lean times — you might go a week or two (or more) without any work at all at various points in the year.
So do some sums, and be honest with yourself. Think about worst-case scenarios.
If you’re thinking of charging by the hour, how many hours of actual, chargeable copywriting will you accomplish in a day? If you’re contemplating a day rate, how many days in a year will you not be working?
‘Stress testing’ your rates in this way will give you more clarity on what you should charge, and will help get you to a figure that works for you.
Step 5: Go with it – and stick to your guns
Once you’ve worked out your rates, go out and use them!
Try your best to stick to them – don’t be too tempted to work for less (or for free) just because someone offers it. This may help you get work, but it’s a dangerous path.
Do you really want to be working for someone who isn’t willing to pay you? And what happens when they offer you more work – will you be ‘stuck’ at a lower rate?
Keep detailed records of your jobs, the rates you charged and how long they took you. That way, you can constantly monitor how well your rates are working for you, and if you want to tweak them here or there (as most freelancers will, especially early on).
To sum up
Working out how much you should charge is a tricky business – but it doesn’t take much to crack it.
Doing a little work upfront to calculate what’s best for you, and to give your rates a basis in fact, will give you the peace of mind that you’re charging what’s right for your level and your situation.
It will also mean your clients will trust that you’re being fair. There’ll be times when you’re out of their budget, and times where they’d have paid more – but you can’t, and won’t, win them all. As long as you’re consistent, honest and up to date with the going rates, you’ll be well on your way.