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When You Start a Copywriting Side Business, What Should Your Rates Be?

When You Start a Copywriting Side Business, What Should Your Rates Be_

All right, you’ve started your copywriting side business. Now take a deep breath. Money makes most people nervous, if not downright paranoid, and it can be uncomfortable to talk about these things even with yourself.

All sorts of fears swirl to the top when $$$ comes up: What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t charge enough to be worth my time? What if I charge a lot and someone hires me and THEN THEY KNOW WHAT A HORRIBLE FRAUD I AM.

Calm down.

You’re not a fraud. You may not be an expert yet, but all that means is you can’t charge quite as much … it doesn’t mean you’re taking anyone for a ride or overcharging by merely existing, which is frankly how a lot of creatives feel starting out. And honestly, not starting out. I still feel like a fraud WAY too often!

Perhaps the first step here is to say no to Fraud Feelings. They won’t help; all they’ll do is make you sell yourself short. Need a minute to sort of soak in that self-loathing before you say goodbye to it? Fine, go ahead. Sooooaaaaaak away, till your fingers get all pruney. (If you know which Meg Ryan movie that quote hails from, email me and I’ll marry you.)

Okay, got that out of the way? Great. Let’s get to work.

According to the 10,000 Hour Rule, you’re an expert once you’ve spent 10,000 hours doing something. So ask yourself: how long have you spent doing what you do? Has it been 10,000 hours? If so, awesome. You’re officially an expert and should charge expert prices. If not, you should probably shoot lower, accept a reduced caliber of clientele for a bit (you probably won’t be writing for Sony quite yet) and work on improving your skills and racking up those hours.

Of course, that begs the question, what are “expert” and “non-expert” rates? I think it’s up to you. If you look online, you’ll see anything from $.01/word to $1/word, which is obviously a huge range.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, writers and authors make about $29/hour. If you’re like me and can churn out between 1,000 to 2,000 words per hour, that’s around 1.5 and 3 cents per word. I say, no way. Even the newest copywriter should be charging 5 cents per word, because it makes you look more credible to hit that minimum.

If you’re an expert, of course, you get to scale this up as high as you feel comfortable charging.

The best metric, in either case, is whether clients a) say “okay” in the first place and b) come back to you again and again. If the latter seems to be the case, that’s your green light to keep raising prices until someone gives you a funny look (literally or figuratively), in which case, it’s time to enter a holding pattern until your work reaches a new level once more – which eventually, it will.

Confidence also plays in. You want to quote a price you can spit out proudly, not an amount you have to try to play off with “uh, is 10 cents a word … okay … with you?”

No. That’s not only going to sound negotiable to a client – and they will try to talk you into going lower if they can – it’s going to make them doubt your abilities. So don’t do that. Choose a number; stand strong.

Then there are other factors that should weigh-in to your decision making, including:

  • Where you live: You can charge more in NYC than in the boonies.
  • Where you went to school: Columbia School of Journalism? Top rates. Community college? You can still build an excellent career as long as you have the chops, but you might need to work a little longer to get to optimum earnings. Just accept this and get to work; don’t bemoan it.
  • Degree level: If you have a master’s you can charge more than if you have a bachelor’s, which enables you to charge more than an associate’s.
  • Experience: If you’ve worked for some big-name clients, either in school, in another job or on your own, you can up your price.
  • How old you are: Sorry, but people are just willing to pay 35-year-olds more than 22-year-olds. Again, accept your fate, sit down and write.

As you can see, all these factors create a fairly complex equation, so the best approach is to try and find a good number and then see how clients feel about it. If they pay readily, great. If they balk, lower it. If they snap it up too eagerly, or say “really? That’s all?” it’s time to raise.

The same rules apply to your hourly rate, which can range from $15 to $250, depending on your level of experience and your resume. I advise not charging less than $15. Much like the 5-cents-per-word rule, any lower just makes you look unqualified, so take a deep breath and believe in your own expertise. If you’ve made it this far in the course and have any knack for writing whatsoever, clients will go for it. Now let’s do some exercises to settle on your exact rates … for now.

Here we’re going to take a direct approach. I still can’t tell you exactly what to charge, but the guidelines below will help you to find some pretty specific rates.

You’ll start by choosing a number you think you can safely get away with, then modifying depending on your specific circumstances.

First of all, you need to take into account how much experience you have Here are some general ranges to keep in mind:

  • 2 years or less: Shoot toward the lower end of that 5-cents/word and $15-dollars/hour spectrum.
  • 2-5 years: Anywhere between 5 and 15 cents per word and $15 to $75 per hour.
  • 5 to 10 years: Anywhere between 10 and 50 cents per word and $50 to $200 per hour.

I’m guessing most people who are reading this are going to be in the 2-years-or-less range. Even if you’ve been writing for longer than that, chances are you don’t have the kind of business you’d like, and might feel shy asking for these rates. Don’t.

You can modify your numbers below, but for now, pick an amount that roughly correlates with your years of experience. For instance, at 3 years you might charge 8 cents per word and $25 per hour.

What are your rates? ________________

Now I’m going to ask a series of questions. For each question, check yes or no. For a yes, shift your price up a bit (maybe a cent per word or $5 per hour). For a no, bring it down. Write down the new estimate each time.

Do you live in a big metropolis?

New estimate: ________________

Did you go to a well-known school?

New estimate: ________________

Do you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree?

New estimate: ________________

Do you have a lot of experience?

New estimate: ________________

Are you older than 25?

New estimate: ________________

Are you older than 30?

New estimate: ________________

So there you have it. Your final estimate is your starting price. “Starting” can mean what you charge as a brand-new direct marketing copywriter, or as a professional who has been working for a while and is just now raising your prices (don’t ever lower them!). It’s time to road test this number with clients, remembering to adjust up or down based on reception.

And remember: confidence. It means everything, and even if all you’ve ever done is taken this course, you’ve earned it. Settle on a price that truly represents your skill level, then own it.

OWN IT, MY FRIEND.

I’ll accept nothing less.

Want to learn more about starting out in the writing field, so that you can get some experience behind those rates? Check out the Free Resource Library below!

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