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Setting Your Fees as a Freelance Writer or Copywriter.

By Susanna K. Hutcheson

Probably the most common and frustrating problem any freelance writer has is setting his or her fees. If you're too high, you cut yourself out of a lot of good business. If you're too low, you get far too much work and you can't do the client a really good job because he hasn't paid you enough for your time. So you can't spend as much time on his project as you should. Or if you do, you lose money.

In addition, if you don't charge enough, you look like an amature. A raw beginner. And, to make matters worse, you make it hard for all copywriters to make a decent living because prospective clients get the wrong idea that we shouldn't charge a fair fee for our services. A good copywriter deserves good pay.

So what should you charge?

The first question you should ask yourself is how much experience do you have and exactly how good are you? Can you compete with the pros? Or are you still learning? Be honest with yourself because you'll have to be honest with your clients.

Then look around at what the other copywriters are charging. Most post their average fees on their sites. Not all do. But probably most of them do. Why? Usability studies show that people like to have a general idea of what a consultant or writer charges. One of the most common complaints is that there are no fees on their sites.

You'll notice that the copywriters who charge an enormous sum of money are the ones who have written books. In the minds of many, this gives them an abundance of credibility so they can charge more. But keep in mind, their clients are mostly Fortune 1000 businesses. So unless you're in that category and want that type of client, you'll have to charge less.

Then there are those who charge so little that it's almost sad. Unless you're very new and have very little experience, stay away from these fees.

The great majority of copywriters have ten or more years of experience and have a reasonably large portfolio of small to medium sized businesses and perhaps one or two Fortune 1000 businesses. Those writers can charge on the high end of the scale but considerably below what Joe Vitale and Bob Bly can charge.

It's not that those writers or any writer is any better than you. It's just that many factors allow some people to charge more. It's perhaps that they've had books published or are on the speaking circuit or that their clients are Fortune 500 members.

Finally check the Writer's Market online and get a general idea of the going rates for the type of writing you do. They're a bit on the low side. But it's good to have a guide.

A far better guide is the Copywriters' Council of America Estimated Copywriter Fees. Unfortunately, it has a very wide range of fees. That means it's hard to know where you fit. But you can take into account your experience and your market and come to some reasonable fees.

There are methods to figure out what you need to earn and what you should charge to earn that amount. But the bottom line is that you have a certain worth in the market. The market will pay a certain amount. You select your market. Find out what that market can and will pay. Couple that with what you're worth and you should have your market value.

But don't undercharge! People don't put enough value on copywriters. As a result many copywriters don't put enough value on themselves. And it is, after all, the copywriter who can make or break a business.

Many people shop for copywriters based on their fee. Nothing else. Those people are dumb and will not enjoy much success. Don't give in to them! Don't negotiate. You can do less work for a smaller fee. But don't do the same amount of work for a smaller fee. That is what an amature would do.

For example, when I have a prospective client with a tiny budget I might offer to do the work but offer no rewrites or revisions (I will do up to three for a full paying client.) Or I might take something else of value off the table in exchange for a lesser fee --- perhaps take more time to do the job, for example. But don't ever offer to cut your fee just to get the job. Never do it.

The stories they'll tell to get to you.

Another thing some people will do is to give you a sob story or a to get you to lower your fee. These are cute. I love to hear them but only a young, inexperienced person would fall for them.

I've had people ask for a cheaper fee because:

* They are a christian.

* They are a woman alone with five kids.

* They just don't have much money and everything is riding on this one project.

*...and on and on...

Other tricks they'll play.

And there's always one out of three prospects who tell you, "I could do the job myself but I just don't have the time." Well, of course they can't do it themselves. You know it. I know it.

In this ruse they're attempting to lower the value of your work in your own eyes and get you to lower your fee. Don't let it work. Copywriting takes a master. Not even a good writer can necessarily write sales copy. Copywriting is only about forty percent writing at best. The rest is marketing through words.

What I tell them.

"You do your job. I'll do mine. And you'll make more money, get more leads and sales than you ever dreamed possible. No, you can't do it yourself. Not if you want to be successful and not if you want a professional image. Only a professional can do a professional job."

Not everyone will play these games with you, of course. Most real businesspeople with class and those who are used to dealing with professionals like us know our value. But there are just a whole school of them out there who will try to get to you one way or the other.

And remember, you can always play with your fees until you get them right. When you begin to get a lot of requests for quotes and a lot of business (but not too much), you'll know that you've set your fees just right. If you're getting a lot of business at small fees, you're not charging enough. Who wants to work all the time? I'd rather have a few clients at a fair fee that I can live with and be able to devote enough time to them then to have a lot of clients who are high maintainence and low paying.

As an aside and a bit off fees, I want to add one other piece of advice and I hope you hear me well. Some clients will try and stiff you. They'll stop pay on checks and even credit cards. I stopped taking credit cards. And if you offer a guarantee (which you should NOT DO!) some will say the copy didn't work and make you give them back their money. Stop these things before they happen.

Have a tight Letter of Agreement and address these things. You work hard for your money. Don't let some dishonest person take it from you. Life is hard enough without that.

Final thoughts about setting fees.

There's no real secret to setting fees. But take a word from someone who has made a living with words for close to forty years. Get what you're worth. The people we write for make lots of money from what we do for them. You deserve to earn a good living. When you earn good money, you do a good job.

So if I could only offer you one word of advice it would be --- get what you're worth. Value yourself and your skill. Only then will others value you with the same measure.

About The Author

Susanna K. Hutcheson is a professional advertising and direct mail copywriter. She was the first copywriter to utilize the Internet as a place to market this type of service. Susanna has clients all over the world. She writes everything from Web site content to direct mail and radio spots. Visit her Web sites are at and


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