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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!

How to earn money from writing

moneyI earn a living from writing. Not writing short stories, poetry, or novels. Copywriting. Blogging. Thanks to the phenomenon of “content marketing” there is huge demand for informed, good quality writing. Most of it is only published in electronic form, but that does not make it any less read or useful. On the contrary, most buyers of writing also want their writers to be Internet-savvy too.

If you’re struggling to earn a living from pure creative writing, why not turn your hand to blogging or copywriting? Chances are, someone out there is willing to pay for your knowledge and your writing ability. You just need to believe in yourself, and sell your services. That’s what I did. It was hard, and at first I was convinced I’d never earn a proper living from it. Now I find my scepticism laughable. I wish I’d sold myself as a writer sooner.

So if you’d like to earn some money from your writing but don’t know if you can do it, or where to start, read on.

I’m a writer but what’s my value?

That was the first question I asked myself when I left a marketing agency to start my own copywriting business. I was lucky in that I already had an idea from the agency that businesses needed a writer. I had written text for websites, press releases, flyers and brochures, and even a script for a health and safety video. I’d never done this stuff before and, other than once being a journalist, I’d had no formal copywriting training. I was self-taught. I read a lot and put what I read into practice. I enjoyed the challenge it presented – a very different challenge to writing short stories. I learned how to research the business so I could write about it. I learned what questions to ask. Most importantly, I actually learned that there was a lot I didn’t need to know. I’ll explain what I mean by this later.

It sounds crazy, but I realised not everyone could write as well as I could. I was writing text for some really clever people. Some of them spoke and wrote in jargon. Others would send me something to edit. I’d soon come to understand that while some people were great at writing about their products and services in great detail, they had no idea how to translate it into benefits for their customers. Some would write 500 words when 50 would do. Others would use the passive voice or write sentences so long any reader would give up half way through. You’d be amazed how many people see short sentences as something a child would write. Short sentences work. When was the last time your saw a billboard with a sentence featuring multiple subordinate clauses?

I adapted my writing and suddenly people were paying me for doing it. That was my value. I could translate what a business wanted to say in a way its customers could understand and engage with. What’s more, I could do this without being an expert in the business. Some of my clients needed persuading that this could be a good thing. I learned that not being distracted by the detail meant I could write clearly and succinctly. Now I tell my clients that to engage with customers, I write from their point of view. I don’t need to know everything. All I need to know is what this product or service will do for me. Being outside the business is actually a good thing. That, and being a good writer of course.

Being a writer is YOUR value

I used to think no-one would pay for writing. Everyone can write, can’t they? No! Not to a suitable standard. Many businesses find it hard to sell themselves and simply get a mental block when they start thinking about words on a page. This is where you jump in. You have confidence in words. You’re not weighed down by a wealth of knowledge and distraction. You can write the text for their website, their brochures and flyers, there blogs and adverts. Read what works. Read about other copywriters. Then try it yourself. You can do it and get paid for it.

My first copywriting job

I charged a local business £120 to write a brochure, a six-sided, folded A4 document. I had no idea how much to charge. I was terrified of charging too much and being laughed at. But they took me on. I met with them and asked them questions. I captured far too much information, way more than I needed. The customer thought it was great but with hindsight I didn’t need to spend half the time I did with them. Then it took me a full day to write it. I took a sheet of A4 and folded it the way the brochure would be folded, then tried to work out how much text I could include on each panel. I thought of how I could break information up into 6 sections, and come up with 6 titles. Most of it was bullet points. When I finished the job I found it hard to believe the client couldn’t have done it themselves. Yes, even then I was doubting the value of what I did! Now I don’t think twice about it. If they hadn’t come to me, they would have asked someone else. If they hadn’t asked someone else, chances are that brochure would never have been produced.

What could your first job be?

If you’re already a blogger, then get yourself a paid blogging gig. I’ll cover this in another post. If not, my advice to you would be to try and get yourself a one-off job. Ask family and friends. Ask someone who knows someone who runs their own business. Then get in touch. Introduce yourself as a copywriter. Ask if they need any help. Brochures and flyers are ideal to start with, as are individual web pages. Adverts are harder. Press releases are a specific skill, which I’ll cover in future posts. What I’m saying is, do something small to start creating confidence. Prove to yourself that you can do it. Once you’ve done a couple of jobs, you’ll see that there’s some money to be made. Writing is in big demand. And you’re a writer.

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