Are you getting paid what you’re worth?

money offeringForget writer’s block and building a clientele, the single hardest task for a copywriter is deciding how much to charge for a project. Behold, the many reasons this is so difficult…

  1. There are no golden rules, no definitive guide book that mandates we get paid $400 for a press release. Some writers get $15,000 for a sales letter. Some writers get $10 for a blog post.
  2. Client factors. Some have money, some don’t. The ‘what they’re willing to pay’ factor is distressingly subjective.
  3. The economy. When it’s good, so are rates. When it’s bad – and I mean really bad, like now – you may have to adjust your rates according to what the market can bear.
  4. The plate issue. Is yours full? Then you’ll ask for a lot of money to add another project to the table. But, if your plate is empty, you might be willing to take a job for less.
  5. The ego. Us. You and me. The level of self-worth. How does your internal conversation go? Do you doubt your abilities, do you value your time? Are you confident, professional, fair? What do you think you deserve…and how did you come that conclusion?

If you’re struggling over fees – in general or for a specific project – I recommend the following:

  1. Talk to your peers. Find out what they would charge and let their input guide you.
  2. Check with professional sources. While this isn’t the end all and be all (remember, I just told you there is no golden rule book), you can still find resources that will be helpful.
  3. Try them on. Literally role play. Try on $200, try on $500, try on $800. Does $200 make you feel angry and devalued? Does $800 make you feel like you’re stealing? Maybe $500 will feel just right. Wear each fee around for a few hours, tell your spouse, best friend, mom what you’ll be making – how do you feel when you say it out loud and to someone else? Proud? Embarrassed?
  4. Weigh the economy, plate and client factors that I listed above. They’re real and they have influence.
  5. ‘I choose my choice’ It’s not only one of my favorite Charlotte lines from SATC, it’s a great mantra. Simply put, when you do settle on a fee, sign a contract and start the project, there is no looking back – choose your choice. You’ve made a decision, now deal with it...nah, make the very most of it.

Image credit: Pink Sherbert Photography

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Ron Miller says:

    I can honestly say there is no such thing as a fee that’s too large in my book. If the client will pay it you’re worth it. But the opposite is not true. There most definitely is a fee that’s too small, and keep in mind, even if you’re feeling desperate, that the next big job is on the horizon. After 20 years as a freelancer, I’ve come to understand that even if it doesn’t feel that way at the moment.

    If you take a job for less than you’re worth, you may be tied up with that lousy job when a good one comes along that pays you your regular rate, so be careful about accepting just anything. You may live to regret it, and as Julie points out, you may resent it.

  • Sarah Bray says:

    Right on, Julie and Ron! Every time I’ve taken a job that was lower than my rate out of fear that I wouldn’t get another one, it SUCKED. It sucked my momentum. It sucked my joy. It sucked future opportunities that came my way. And for some reason, those people were never entirely happy, even though I put everything I had on the table like I always do.

    I have to keep reminding myself of this (especially now, since 8 out of the 9 projects that I’m working suddenly went “on hold” in some freak coincidence). It’s never worth it to charge too little. Not even because of the money, but because of all those other things that de-valuing yourself brings.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Oh, Jim – that’s half tragic and half hilarious. Raising my beer bottle to you.

  • Susan says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve been grappling with this question a lot lately – with many different folks giving wide-ranging advice. Here is one set of guidelines from the Professional Writers Assn of Canada:
    http://www.writers.ca/whattopay.htm

  • Julie Roads says:

    Thanks, Susan. What a great resource. I also wrote about this in my ebook – which is free: http://writingroads.wpengine.com/ebook-how-to-become-a-successful-copywriter

  • Great post! For me, I don’t know when this happened, but at some point in my freelance career I crossed this invisible line where I knew with complete confidence that I wasn’t willing to take on a project for less than a certain amount. It’s saved me so much time to no longer have to debate this topic with myself.

    Unfortunately in our business it’s not uncommon for some writers to start off working for free or very little, or for exposure, but the problem is how do you work up from that? How do you realize your worth?

    I love the idea of “trying on” your rates. I always say to myself, if I work on this for eight hours straight, will I be satisfied with the resulting fee?

  • Julie Roads says:

    Thanks, Natalia – I agree – there really is something to standing in the experience to find out of it’s really ‘okay’….

  • Quandary: I’m not being paid a penny for the writing I post on my blog but I don’t want to cover it in ads and make it scream commercial either! Still, surely I’m worth something:)

  • Julie Roads says:

    Annabel – this question is really about being paid by clients for projects. Writing your own personal blog brings a different sort of worth and value. For some, it’s ads. But for me, and perhaps you, it’s about the writing itself, connecting with readers and having a place to just be you. Good luck – I’m sure you’re worth a million bucks!

  • Mary says:

    Julie, you’re so right about judging by the way you feel about a price. I’ve decided to go with that in many cases, which has led me to reevaluate where I’m taking my career. This has been such wonderful advice.

  • Kelly says:

    After kvetching at dinner (if my Yiddish is off, I’m sorry. Too pooped to look it up) w/ a friend she did research on rates for me and sent this post. I’ve got a coupla things.

    1. Thing 1 is in who’s world are we able to charge $3/word for writing? Ok, it’s Canada so we’ll say $1.50 bc of devalued dollar. $650 for 500 word article? With Elance and third-world writers competing, I’d honestly like to know who is getting this rate.

    2. I started off very low, practically free, because I could and built a following with whom I’ve increased my rates every 6 months to a liveable (not thriveable) wage. Once they are pleased, they will pay…or at least that’s my experience.

    I like Sarah and Natalia’s comments. Rock on my fellow writers! NO ONE but us knows how hard we work…

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi Kelly,
    I know a lot of people being paid that well – but when you say $3/word – it makes me think that you’re talking about freelance journalism. And that’s not what I do or what this article is about.

    This is about freelance commercial copywriting – or writing marketing copy. Very different in terms of pay.

    As for #2, I’ve experienced that the amount you charge attracts the clients that value you at that price. Just something to think about.

  • Eric Mott says:

    Nice article. Even when our workload is slim we try to stick to our guns and quote prices that will make our efforts worthwhile. Almost without fail, when we lower our standards and offer a low-ball price, the job/client is less than desirable and a waste of our time.

    We try to scare half of our leads away with our pricepoint. That leaves the good clients still standing.

  • Eric thanks for stating that. The lowering of prices can sometimes bring out the riff raff, not only in our business, but in the clients that we are working for.

  • […] Writers: Are You Getting Paid What You’re Worth? So many variables go into project pricing. Writer Julie Roads of @WritingRoads helps you sort through the issues and decide on pricing you can live with. […]

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