Ten ways to make more money as a freelance copywriter

From nailing the numbers to finding the right mindset, Fiona Thompson generously shares her top ten tips for a profitable freelance copywriting career.

When you’re a freelance writer, dealing with money can be like surfing. Sometimes you’re riding high, cash rolling in as you’re buoyed up by a huge cresting wave of big fat projects and regular work. Other times, you’re dumped into the ocean by disappearing clients and unpaid invoices, no idea which way is up, fighting your way to the surface again.

As a non-surfer who can barely bodyboard, I’ve probably taken that simile far enough. So let’s just say here are ten ways to catch the groundswell and avoid the troughs. 

1. Ask your client to say their figure first

When you’re negotiating a fee, never say the figure that you want first. Always ask the client what their budget is.

And if you’ve said a number that they don’t like, don’t immediately chop 25% off the amount you initially suggested. Let your client suggest a new number. You might be pleasantly surprised.

2. Never simply drop your fee

If your client can’t stretch to pay your full fee, you can choose to accept a reduction, but make sure you get something in return. Ask for the full fee to be paid upfront or reduce the scope in some way. That way everyone’s happy. 

3. Keep things clear with a contract

Trusting in the universe is a beautiful thing. It can also leave you painfully out of pocket as a freelancer. So:

  • Send your clients a contract. Create your own or learn from these two written by John McGarvey and Andy Clarke.
  • Outline your payment schedule.
  • Invoice new clients 50% upfront so you a) get into their accounts system, and b) make sure you’re paid.

4. Believe in abundance

If you’re not getting well-paid work, enough work, or any work, it’s easy to fall into the poverty mentality trap where you expect little and get less. You have to turn that thinking around, or you’ll get to the stage where you’re grateful for poorly-paid scraps of work.

The opposite of poverty mentality is believing in abundance. But that’s not just about lighting a candle and saying affirmations. It has to be backed up with action. I like this article by copywriter Jonathan Wilcock – How I slapped myself out of the freelancer doldrums. With just the right balance between empathy and tough love, it shares some brilliantly practical ways to drum up business when you’re having an attack of the money blues.

5. Choose a project rate over a day rate

One of the first questions that potential clients ask is: “What’s your day rate?” However, the reality is they don’t care how long you spend on your copy. They just want beautifully crafted words that hit the spot.

So opt for a project rate rather than a day rate whenever you can. For more in-depth reasoning, here’s what Mike Reed of Reed Words has to say on the subject.

6. Know when to put your rates up

If you’re busy and a new potential client contacts you, this is the perfect time to test the water by putting your rate up. If the client doesn’t bite, that’s fine, you’re busy anyway. If they do, you’ve established a new, higher rate for yourself.

As Nick Parker, trumpeter and copywriter, says: “If you’re busy all the time, you’re not charging enough.”

7. Offer tiered pricing

When you’re sending a proposal for a new project, offer a range of three different options at different price points. Ilise Benun, author of The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money, says tiered pricing is the way to go because:

  • You immediately open up a conversation where you can negotiate, rather than just giving the other person the chance to say yes or no.
  • Clients feel more in control as they have a choice of options.
  • Clients probably need more from you than they think they do. Presented with three options, they’re likely to go for the one in the middle or for the one at the higher end of the scale.

8. Make friends with the finance team

When you’re all fired up with a new project, you’re probably not thinking: “I must say hi to the guys in finance.” But you absolutely should. Because if you know them by name, and have their phone number and email (not just the default accounts@… address), they’re far more likely to respond when you chase an invoice.

9. Get to know and love other copywriters

Copywriters who are just starting out often don’t realise that other copywriters can be a wonderful source of leads. I frequently recommend other copywriters when I’m too busy or a project’s not right for me, and many copywriters have been kind enough to do the same for me.

How do you meet them? You get networking. Join 26, which offers writers of all stripes a chance to meet up, take part in creative projects and learn from each other. Become part of ProCopywriters, a network of 800+ copywriters. Follow the prodigiously well-connected @VikkiRossWrites on Twitter and go along to the #copywritersunite pub chats she organises.

By networking with other copywriters, not only will you make new friends and maybe pick up some work opportunities, you can also share ideas about how to get paid what you’re worth.

10. Remember it’s not all about money

Of course, enjoying your working life is about so much more than money. It’s also about how rewarding and interesting the work is, what the people in the company are like, whether the client appreciates you and the work you do, and how well organised they are.

Try this test to find out who your star clients are. Based on an exercise by copywriter Ed Gandia, one of the authors of The Wealthy Freelancer, you might find the answers illuminating.

– Fiona Thompson

Fiona Thompson started as a journalist, writing features for national newspapers and magazines. She runs her own copywriting consultancy, Wordspring, where her clients include Nike, Nokia, the Paris Opera House, Save the Children, Help Musicians UK and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Fiona was President of the D&AD Writing for Design jury in 2018.

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