Are you trying to build your freelance writing career around price? Do you figure if you offer the lowest rates, you'll be more successful than all of those writers who "charge too much?" Have you ever lowered your rates just because you saw cheaper services getting picked more often? Do you assume more freelance writing jobs equals a better writing career?
Uh oh. You may have committed a major freelance faux pas.
Do you ever wonder how the "big dogs" got to where they are, where they can charge just about anything they want for their copywriting or other freelance writing services? They didn't do it by competing on price. And neither should you! Ever! I mean that - NEVER!
(Newsflash: even the not-so-big-dogs running successful careers, who you'll probably never hear about, don't compete on price.)
What is Competing on Price?
First let's be clear on what we're talking about here. When I say never market your freelance writing services based on price, I mean that should never be your selling point, your USP (unique selling position / proposition), etc. You shouldn't brand yourself the "cheapest" type of freelance writer you happen to be. You shouldn't build your reputation around low rates.
- I do NOT mean you should never lower your rates (sometimes sales make sense, sometimes you really may have set your rates too high for your experience level or target market to start with, etc.).
- I do NOT mean you should never mention your prices unless pressed by a prospective client - they're still a part of your overall marketing mix.
- I mean you should never mistake your price (or your client's cost) with "value."
Why You Shouldn't do It
How many hours do you have in a day? Sometimes I feel like I must be missing out on something with the way some freelance writers I see throw their time around - they must have a secret stash.
A reality check, shall we?
Your TIME is your most valuable asset when you work as a freelance writer!
Let's say it again.
Your TIME is your most valuable asset!!!
That's a concept no freelance writer has an excuse not to understand. That's something every freelance writer should have been absolutely clear on before they jumped into freelancing. If you didn't, oops! You didn't plan very effectively. Better to remedy that now than continue making career-killing mistakes, right?
You need to understand that your time is a finite resource - in other words, it's not unlimited. You're not Wal-Mart. You can't streamline to "mass-produce" service hours the way you can mass-produce cheap products. Any smart service marketer understands this - do you? Let's break it down some more.
What You Shouldn't Do - An Example
Let's assume you work a total of 40 hours per week (remember the difference between working hours vs. billable hours from when I was teaching you how to effectively set freelance writing fees?).
Now let's look at things conservatively, assuming you're still a new freelance writer with a lot of startup work to deal with - you may be spending 50% of your time working on administrative tasks and marketing and only the other 50% on actual billable hours for client work - those are the hours your rates will be (or should be) based on.
So you're down to 20 billable hours per week. That's not really a lot, is it? Let's look at a worst-case scenario, based on a common sad scene in the webmaster world - We have a writer (let's assume their quality is decent, but they're just clueless on handling the business side of being a freelancer). They churn out $3 300-word articles, jamming five articles in per billable hour.
That's $15 per hour (not to mention a hell of a jam-packed and hectic schedule). To some folks that doesn't sound too bad - $300 per week with a full schedule of freelance writing gigs. For many (if not most of us here), that's a pretty lousy wage to earn for full-time working hours, isn't it? (We'll get to that oh-so-persistent "global market" argument soon enough.)
This writer chooses to write at very low rates simply because they decided they wanted to be a "Web writer" or "content writer," and they saw writers with similar titles targeting webmaster clients, bidding on being the cheapest even if they know they can't realistically get by on what they're earning. I'm sorry, but this writer would be an idiot. Let's help them out.
How Target Markets Play Into the Pricing Question
I know you've heard me go on and on (and on) about choosing the right target markets here before. You cannot market your freelance writing services effectively if you don't have a specific market in mind, and if you don't understand their needs and desires and what your services can do to fulfill them.
When you start working as a freelancer, you begin building an image around your name and your work almost immediately - just about everything you do contributes to this (your website, your network, your portfolio, your rates, etc.). Shaking an image, once developed, can be a very difficult thing to do.
If you assume charging insanely low rates now is OK because you can "always raise them later," you're being naive - very naive. The reality is that most freelance writers FAIL! Raising rates by any significant margin is not easy to do. It means completely starting from scratch in the bulk of cases. Why? Because the market you target with your low rates is NOT the same market you'll need to target to build a steady stream of work at significantly higher freelance writing rates.
In other words, by charging too little (not enough to cover what you need to get by) in the beginning, you're not investing any of your time into your career - you're wasting it and forcing yourself to do double the marketing work in the long run. That's bad business.
At the same time, it can be very difficult to convince higher-paying clients to take you seriously once you've built your reputation in a low-paying market. What you're demonstrating to those "better" clients is that you don't understand the concept of value - the value of your own work as it applies to the needs of the client (and those paying bigger money don't want to work with writers who don't understand their value and role in the client's site, publication, or project).
Cost vs. Value
Let's talk a bit more about this "value" thing that a lot of Web writers specifically overlook. "Value" does NOT mean "low prices."
Value, to a client, is when you can offer them something that will address a need or desire, and give them some sort of return that exceeds what they're paying in the long run. That doesn't mean "cheap."
For example, let's say we have a client looking to hire a sales letter writer for a high-end product selling for $2000. They post an ad looking for sales letter writers, and get two responses:
- Writer A is a relatively new sales letter writer with no official marketing background (to understand marketing and sales copy). They offer to write the sales letter for $500 and promise a 3-day turnaround.
- Writer B is an experienced sales letter specialist with a strong history of conversions for clients in similar high-end markets. They put in an offer for $5000 and at least a two-week turnaround period.
Can both of these writers offer some value? Sure. The client would need to sell just one copy of their product to earn a profit on the first writer's work, and only three to earn a profit on the work of the second writer. BUT - being able to earn a profit faster doesn't equate to more "value."
Let's look at what might happen in each case (and don't give me the "well, Writer A might have been a great sales letter writer and just building a portfolio" crap - in MOST cases, your rates speak volumes about your abilities both in writing and marketing, both essential in copywriting, and NO ONE should ever assume they're going to be, or get, the exception to the rule).
A few months go by with the sales letter being live, equally promoted by the client in each case:
- Writer A's letter has brought in 10 buyers overall, for a total of $20,000 - a profit for the client of $19,500. Doesn't sound too bad, does it?
- Writer B's letter, however, has brought in 30 buyers because the writer, being a specialist with a lot of experience in this kind of product line, knew how to persuade and sell to the client's own target market. The client earned a total of $60,000 - with a profit of $55,000.
Hmmm. So that's why people are willing to pay bigger money than bottom of the barrel rates. There's a greater overall return when they go with writers who can prove their "value" to the client - in this case the need to drum up sales through the highest conversion rates possible.
"But copywriting is too easy," you might be thinking. "Clients earn directly through conversions, so it's easier to demonstrate value. What about things like Web content?"
There are many types of value that your work may have with your target clients. Here are some examples that cover a variety of writing types:
- Your writing will lead directly to sales, sign-ups, registrations, subscriptions, etc.
- Your writing will lead to significant exposure.
- Your writing will help them build or improve an image.
What other value points can you think of?
Let's look at a few specific examples:
- Copywriting (for a newsletter subscription sign-up page) - Even if they're trying to get free sign-ups to a mailing list, your work has value because of what they can later do with that large subscriber-base, such as newsletter ad revenues or later sales.
- Press Releases (Press releases are designed to bring exposure - companies want to get their name "out there" in front of their own audiences, and your writing fills that need and therefore has value to the client.)
- Authority Web Content / Articles (High quality content can help the client build an image as an authority source, which can later lead to higher traffic and therefore better ad conversions, more incoming links and word-of-mouth / viral marketing amongst readers, and even more lucrative private advertising deals.)
- SEO Web Content / Articles (Articles solely focused on SEO have value too - and beyond $5. Your articles aren't just site candy - they bring in search engine traffic, and possibly links. That traffic is one of the main influencers in how much your client is able to then earn from their site - the more earning potential they have - due to your well-optimized content - the more value your work has).
The Global Market
Very little bores me more than hearing people go on and on about the so-called global market of freelance writers on the Web. It's complete BS. Why? Because those who believe that don't understand the basics of markets (which we've discussed above). They look at the Web as one global market for writers, and that just isn't true.
There are MANY markets for writers. Some will have cheap international competition for gigs, but most do not. (And for the record, I know writers from India and other countries who charge much more than many American or UK-based writers do, because they've put in the effort to master the language and they can offer a specialized skill set desired by English language publications. So never assume you "should" charge low rates just because you have a lower cost of living - price on your needs and the value to your clients; not on external factors).
What most people are talking about when they say things like this is the demand for super-cheap Web content written solely for search engines. Even when the clients say they want perfect English, they don't. They just want the best they can get for as little as they can pay. Many can't even tell if something is written in "proper" English. These clients are made for the writers who market only on price, because they both don't understand what value is. These are the little kiddie types of clients who just want to say they "make money online." Others are ones who intentionally exploit writers by trying to convince them their work isn't worth much. You don't need any of those types of clients on your roster.
Not All Clients are Worth Convincing
Should you try to convince clients like those that it's worth paying you more? Probably not. In some cases, it won't matter because the client simply can't afford to have professional work done, whether they understand the value or not. Others are so afraid of taking a risk for that value that they probably don't belong in business for themselves anyway. And with others still, you're simply replaceable.
Your job as a service provider is to demonstrate value, and find clients who understand that enough to pay at least the minimum rates you've set for yourself. You need to find the right market segments.
There's no reason to feel like you should have to compete with low-rate writers, just because they seem to get a lot of gigs. Those gigs aren't worth much in the grand scheme of things.
Would you rather cram 10 $5 articles into your schedule or one $50 article? How about one $200 article? Yes, if you charge more, based on your actual value, you'll get fewer gigs. That's the beauty of it! Smart writers will always do less work and earn more money. So if you're not there already, start re-thinking your strategy and join the ranks!
Marketing services based on price is a stupid thing to do, and a sure way to kill your writing career in the long run. If you ever want clients to value your work, you need to value it yourself first.
Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.
She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.
Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.
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