Ready to sell your writing skills? How to work out how much to charge

How-big-salary-to-ask-for-in-a-job-interviewOne of the most scary things about becoming a freelance writer was deciding how much to charge clients for my work. Like many writers, I found it hard to sell myself. Deciding to charge money was easy – but the act of sending an estimate to potential clients took me right out of my comfort zone. I had to re-evaluate how I valued my skill and work out how to sell that value to clients. Then, asking for money felt more natural. So how did I get to a point where asking for money became easier?

Don’t think in terms of money – think in terms of time

A former colleague enjoyed telling me a story about a street artist who charged people in return for a portrait sketch. It took him less than five minutes to do an incredible portrait for which he would ask £20. When one potential customer questioned how he could charge so much for just a few minutes’ work, the artist replied, “But it’s taken me 20 years to learn how to do this.”

This is the point about attaching value to your work. If you really don’t know where to start, try and think how long it would take the client to write to the standard you will write. How long would it take the artist’s customer to draw a sketch to the same standard? Value your work in terms of time. I know I can write a 12-page website in a day, maybe less, while a client might twice that amount of time. How much does that client charge an hour? How much “billable time” would he lose if he did the writing? There’s your starting point for setting a value.

Less is more – though some clients find this difficult to understand

A favourite question of journalism tutors is, “Which is the more difficult newspaper to write for, The Guardian or The Sun?” The typical response is The Guardian, but in fact The Sun takes a greater degree of editing skill. Why? Because you have to tell the same story in fewer words. That’s difficult. Headline writing is a real talent. Writing taglines and catchy slogans takes a lot of time and effort. Advertising agencies charge £1,000s.

The best way to discover how hard writing short, tight copy is, is to try it for your own business or web page. You’ll write plenty of rubbish before you end up with a shortlist, and even then there’s hard work to do. Can you get across what the product or service is and does in five or six words? Can you tease without giving everything away? Could it be too vague? Does it use the right words and tone for the client’s audience?

I still get clients asking me, “Can you just come up with a slogan for my website?” and I always answer no. Even now, with 20 years in this game, there is no “just” when coming up with slogans, taglines and headlines. Convincing the client of this is the hard part. When you know how long it takes, charging for it is easier.

Research the competition – but don’t be frightened by it

It stands to reason that if you charge twice as much as someone else, you’re less likely to get work. But don’t be scared to be more expensive. I despair at the dreadfully low rates some bloggers appear willing to work for. If you don’t value your work, why should any client? Let’s face it, if writers thought that price was the only reason for choosing to work with them, we’d all be billing at a fraction of Minimum Wage. They don’t, and that’s because most clients (not all, I’ll tell you) know that low price often leads to low quality.

So when you research the competition, be honest with yourself about the quality of their work. If it’s on a par with yours, then you’re competing on price and customer service. The latter can make the difference. If you think you’re the better writer, be bold, charge more, and tell clients yours is the superior service.

Clients will go elsewhere, don’t worry. I’ve lost plenty in my time. I used to reduce my prices to get work. Now I stick to my guns, believe in my quality and customer service, and wish clients that go elsewhere “all the best.” They may well get as good or better for less dosh. Good for them. Chances are they won’t, though. Like the artist, I’ve been doing this for 20 years. You’re buying experience, know-how, skill, and that innate “instinct” to know what works and what doesn’t. That only comes from experience, including losing clients as well as winning them.

Add value rather than reduce price

This is one I’ve learned over the years. The great thing about writing is that it can be repurposed. By that, I mean that with a little light editing you can reuse it in multiple instances. For example, a press release can also be a blog post. A blog post can be an email newsletter. An email newsletter can be broken up into social media posts. Tell the client they’ll get more for their money. It won’t add a huge amount of extra work for you, but it’ll preserve your pay rate. That helps pay the bills but more importantly, when you’re finding your way as a writer, it will build your confidence.

Good luck!

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