Notebook with dollar signs represents pricing strategy Image by kstudio on Freepik
Notebook with dollar signs represents pricing strategy Image by kstudio on Freepik
Missteps in Pricing

If you’ve followed along over the last week or two, you’ll see I just started a new blog series. This series is all about those mistakes I made during my first year as a copywriter—in my case, the mistakes I made when I decided to go full-time. 

I’ve told you about how I went on the cheap and mistakenly invested in a poorly designed website (something I am happy to say is behind me now that my new website is up and running). I also shared with you my second mistake—failing to have clients sign a service agreement and statement of work, agreeing to the scope of our project. These were some pretty big doozies I paid dearly for last year.

But, I’m back again to tell you that the mistakes didn’t end there. So what was my third mistake? It was not charging what I am worth and the failure to create an established rate card for my business. And as with any mistake, this is still one I am working to correct today.

Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement

If you’ve studied anything about marketing and advertising, you know it is all about product, price, promotion, and placement. And, of course, the pricing discussion really needs to start with the product. What is it that you are selling? In my case, I was and am selling my skills as a content writer. I am a copywriter and content writer who creates SEO-optimized content to help businesses drive more website traffic.

That type of service—aka my product—doesn’t come for free. In fact, it can come at quite the premium, especially if you want high-quality content that doesn’t sound like it was written by a robot and isn’t full of grammatical and typographical errors.

So, how do you determine the right price for your product, especially when it’s a service? When I started as a copywriter back in 2019, I charged just 4 cents per word. At that time, this was the cost of entry. While I had all the right skills, I needed to develop a reputation in the marketplace to command a higher rate down the road.

By early 2023, I was charging 9 cents a word, and very shortly after, I brought it up to 10 cents per word. Why the increase? Raising rates can help weed out low-quality work and attract more meaningful and rewarding projects. As you build your portfolio and client base, you can justify higher rates by showcasing the value and quality of your work. Pricing is not just about covering costs; it’s about positioning yourself as a professional who delivers highly valued services worth paying for.

While I will tell you more about my specific mistakes related to pricing later in this article, I want to take some time to dive deeper into how copywriters should approach pricing their services, especially when first getting started. Honestly, I wish I had someone who had taught me all of this back in 2019. Who knows how much more revenue I could have brought in, or how many more high-quality clients I could have secured?

Pricing Yourself as a Copywriter 

Here’s the thing that can make this whole pricing situation that much more complicated. And in many ways, it boils down to semantics. Are you a copywriter? Or are you a content writer? While these two “jobs” are similar, they’re a bit different when you get down to it. 

Copywriter vs. Content Writer

As Neil Patel puts it, copywriters create copy that sells—the text on your website that drives conversions, turning browsers into buyers. These are the words that tell the story in digital ads, on billboards, on emails, and so much more. Copywriters craft persuasive messages designed to drive actions, such as purchasing or signing up for a newsletter.

Content writers, on the other hand, create helpful content that helps a client to solve a problem. It engages and informs your audience. This includes blog posts, articles, eBooks, and social media updates. Content writers work to help build relationships with the audience, providing helpful information that keeps readers coming back for more. It’s about building trust in customers through the expertise, experience, and authority that your content demonstrates—yes, that’s my little plug for Google’s EEAT methodology. But that’s a topic for another day.

Paychecks and Perception

What’s the difference between copywriting and content writing when it comes to those paychecks? While you can make a great living content writing, copywriters generally get paid more. 

This is because they play a direct role in facilitating sales and revenue in an organization. Their words are the driving force behind conversions, making their work highly valuable to businesses looking to grow their bottom line. And trust me, if you are a great copywriter, you can totally command a premium rate. Why? Because the words you write for your client can help generate thousands and thousands of dollars. You shouldn’t do that work for free.

Why I Call Myself a Copywriter

This all said, most of my work is content writing—it’s what I love to do—yet I call myself a copywriter. Why? I’ll be honest that many clients don’t know the difference between the two roles. By identifying as a copywriter, I can leverage both skill sets, offering a full range of services and not getting pigeonholed into the content space only.

Thankfully, I have the skills and ability to do both. In my view, clients need excellent content for their websites to draw people in (that’s the content-writing part), and when visitors land on their site, they need great content that converts (that’s the copywriting part).

Positioning myself as a copywriter allows me to charge higher rates and demonstrate my role in driving client results. It positions me as versatile, flexible, and ultimately, far more valuable than just one or the other. 

What’s the Right Price?

And now, back to our topic at hand of pricing yourself as a copywriter. The truth is that there are a lot of approaches to take, and my approach might not be the best one for you. But, I am going to tell you the path I took to get where I am today, with a healthy salary that continues to grow. 

I won’t tell you what I brought in during 2023 or what I anticipate for 2024. Yet, since many copywriters will share articles on helpful tips on how to earn a six-figure salary as a copywriter, I’ll tell you that I am there and more.

Starting Low and Climbing the Ladder

So how did I get here? As I shared earlier, when I started copywriting as a side hustle in 2019, I was charging just 4 cents a word. I knew at the time that I was on the low end, but the fact was that I needed to get some clients. I gradually increased my rates from 4 cents to 7 cents, then to 9 cents, and eventually 10 cents per word. Today, I charge 12 cents per word, which is a good place to be—for now.

Market Research and Rate Setting

To establish my rates, I conducted extensive market research. According to research from Peak Freelance, 91% of writers in their first year make less than $30k, and 50% of writers have worked 6-10 years to get into the $100k club. Thankfully, that’s not me, so I must be doing something right—for now. It’s just that I waited too long to get to where I am and maybe I’m waiting too long for that next rate increase. 

Common Rates Among Freelancers

Here are some common rates that you might see among other freelancers:

  • Entry Level: $.03 to $.06 per word
  • Intermediate: $.07 to $.12 per word
  • Experienced: $.13 to $.20 per word
  • Expert Level: $.21 to $.30 per word

While I would consider myself at the experienced to expert level, I know I’m sitting at the high end of that intermediate level. Why? Because it’s all about supply and demand. I have a regular stream of work coming in and don’t need to spend a lot of time marketing my services. But perhaps most interesting is that when I was priced below 10 cents per word, I had to sell myself, hard. Interesting, isn’t it?

How to Know When to Increase Your Copywriting Pricing Strategy

I know I framed up this article about my mistakes with pricing. And it’s true. I waited too long to increase my prices when business picked up. Who knows how much money I left on the table! Well, I know—it was thousands of dollars.

But deciding how and when to change your pricing strategy can be complicated. You worry that you’re changing your prices too often or not enough. You might worry about how your clients will respond.

However, it’s important to understand that your clients are increasing their prices, too. Actually, everyone is increasing their prices. Groceries are more expensive. Putting gas in your car costs more than ever (or at least it seems that way). Utility prices are on the rise. The message? It’s expensive to live.

And what do sellers do when creating their product or service starts to cost them more? They increase their prices. So, it stands to reason that we, as copywriters, can do the same.

But a disorganized approach can get you into trouble. It can make your rates unpredictable and cause discord with your clients. So here’s what I’ve learned about how and when to increase those prices:

  • Evaluate Annually: Review your rates and expenses at least once a year. I now increase my rates annually—in January of each year.
  • Set Clear Guidelines: My contract specifies a maximum yearly rate increase of 5%. Does this mean I will always increase my rate by 5%? Of course not, but it offers me some protection and flexibility. (Though, when we’re talking about per-word rates, 5% is pretty insignificant. But for my hourly rate, 5% is quite impactful).
  • Communicate Early: Inform your clients about potential rate increases well in advance. This transparency helps maintain trust and allows them to budget accordingly.
  • Reflect in Your SOW and Service Agreements: Your prices (and approach to rate increases) should be clearly outlined in your Statement of Work (SOW) and service agreements. This ensures that you and your clients are on the same page and reduces the likelihood of disputes.

The Grandfathering Approach to Your Pricing Strategy

Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, we’ll grandfather you in at the original rate?” This is a relatively common practice for sellers of all types of products and services. But it can get you into some trouble if you don’t have a set strategy for how and when you’ll start bringing those prices closer to your current published rates. We’ll talk about the concept of a rate card shortly.

You might consider grandfathering in a client at old rates for many reasons. Here’s how I have approached it.

  • Respect for Loyal Clients: Honoring lower rates for clients who helped me get my start shows appreciation for their loyalty and support during my early days.
  • Exploring New Niches: Offering discounted rates allowed me to explore new niches and industries I might not have experience in, which helps expand my portfolio. Note: notice the past tense of allowed, not allows.
  • Securing Long-term Projects: Sometimes, offering a lower rate can secure a long-term project or retainer, providing steady income and building a stronger client relationship. I’ll talk about this more in a bit.
  • Building Trust: Maintaining lower rates for certain clients can build trust and goodwill, creating a positive working relationship and encouraging referrals.
  • Testing New Services: Providing lower rates can be useful when testing new services or offerings, allowing for valuable feedback and adjustments without the pressure of higher prices.

While I don’t have any clients at my original rates, I do have some at slightly discounted rates for these reasons. This approach has allowed me to grow my business while respecting and valuing my long-standing clients’ relationships. However, I know I can’t keep those clients at those rates forever. More importantly, they know it, too—and they don’t expect me to.

Getting “Older” Clients to Pay Your “Newer Rates”

When you’re a small business owner like myself, you might feel bad when you need to communicate a price increase. However, no client will expect you to stay at those low rates forever. They’re not doing that in their business, so they shouldn’t (and likely don’t) expect you to do that either. So, I suggest you work to get your clients to your current rates sooner rather than later. 

Here’s why.

  • Fair Compensation for Your Work: Continuing to charge old rates undervalues your skills and the quality of work you provide. Ensuring clients pay your current rates means you are fairly compensated for your time and expertise.
  • Avoiding Burnout: Locking yourself into a long-term project at a low rate means you’re doing the same amount of work that you could be doing for a new client at your new rate. This costs you money and can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction with your work.
  • Maintaining Business Growth: Consistently working at old rates can hinder your business growth. As your expenses and experience grow, your rates should reflect that to maintain profitability and allow for future investments in your business.
  • Setting a Professional Precedent: Keeping clients at outdated rates sets a precedent that your rates are negotiable or static. This can lead to the undervaluation of your services and make future rate increases even more challenging.
  • Encouraging Client Respect: Clients who value and respect your work will understand the need for rate increases. Communicating these changes professionally reinforces your value and ensures that clients who stay with you are those who appreciate your expertise.

Creating a Rate Card as Part of Your Copywriting Pricing Strategy

I pride myself on being a smart person, yet I didn’t think about creating a rate card until earlier this year. To borrow words from Pretty Woman, that was a “Big mistake. Huge.” 

There are prices everywhere—at the grocery store, at the local department store, even at your favorite spa. They’re either listed on a board on the wall, on a flyer, or on the product itself. So why shouldn’t you have some way to share your prices, too? This helps avoid questions and gets everyone on the same page. For copywriters, this means creating a rate card.

What is a Rate Card?

A rate card is a menu of your services and their associated costs. It provides potential clients with a clear understanding of what you offer and how much it will cost them. This transparency helps manage client expectations and positions you as a professional who values their time and expertise.

How to Prepare a Rate Card

  • List Your Services: Start by listing all the services you offer. This could include blog posts, website copy, social media content, email marketing, etc.
  • Set Clear Prices: For each service, specify the price per word, per hour, or per project. Be clear and concise to avoid confusion.
  • Include Package Deals: Consider offering package deals for clients who need multiple services. This can make your offerings more attractive and provide added value.
  • Highlight Your Expertise: Use your rate card to showcase your expertise and experience. Include brief descriptions of each service and any relevant credentials or accomplishments.
  • Update Regularly: Review and update your rate card regularly to reflect any changes in your pricing strategy or services offered.

Sharing Your Rate Card

Your rate card should be shared with each and every new or prospective client. This creates transparency from the get-go and sets the stage for your annual rate increases. By providing a rate card, you eliminate guesswork and makes sure that your clients are fully aware of your pricing structure from the start. It also makes communicating any future rate changes easier, as clients will already be familiar with your professional approach to pricing.

A Clear Copywriting Pricing Strategy Sets You Up for Success

Part of the process of being a great small business owner is learning from your mistakes. And we all make plenty of them—I’ve shared three pretty big ones with you already. 

And why am I sharing these with you? First, I wish I had had someone to hold my hand throughout the process over the last several years. Second, why reinvent the wheel? If you can learn from someone who has already down the same road you are on, why not leverage their learnings.

The pricing mistake has been a big one and one I am still figuring out today. But one thing I have learned is that my clients appreciate my transparency. In fact, I’ve had some rather enlightening conversations with clients who were just waiting for those increases to come, and they didn’t bat an eyelash.

The message? Think through your approach to pricing from the get-go. Document it, communicate it, and refine it as your business grows. And be sure to charge for the value that you provide. It’ll be worth it and in more than just your paycheck.

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