This isn't going to help you get a decent fee

Watch out all you freelance copywriters!  You’ve left money on the table… You’ve lost that job… You’ve lost any chance of lucrative repeat business!

These are just a few of the scenarios that will rattle round inside your head simply because you didn’t get the psychology of copywriting rates right.  Knowing what to charge is a long and winding road – and one that’s littered with banana skins and tear-stained invoices.

So how do you get it right?  Can you always get it right?  Is getting it right 50 per cent of the time the best that you can hope for?

The best approach is to boil things down to basics: what will the job stand?  How big is the client’s budget?  Or how much would you guess the client might be willing to spend?

Is there repeat business in the offing?  Will it be regular work?  Can a monthly retainer fee be negotiated that will inject your cash-flow with a healthy wealthy glow?

Are you living in exciting times – or has the recession mentality taken over?  Are you working in a buoyant sector?  Is your client based in China?!

These are some things for your wish-list – and others you have to work your way around.  It all begins with that first crucial meeting – the body language, the personal chemistry, the perceived balance of power between the two parties where skill sets and knowledge are bartered, outcome-against-outcome, skills versus value, costs versus profit.

With a telephone enquiry, think on your feet.  Be prepared to negotiate a fee – or at the very least a ball-park figure.  Be – and feel – sharp.  Don’t have a hangover.  Get a good night’s sleep.  Talk confidently and clearly and with conviction.

If you’re responding to an e-mail, offer more than one option.  ‘Take it or leave it’ may not cut the mustard with every client, especially when they’re making comparisons with other copywriters’ quotes.

Don’t forget your business head

These are important

It’s often said that copywriters lack a business head.  That means they enter into a client costing negotiation already at a psychological disadvantage.  The reality is: you have a potential client sitting in front of you (or on the other end of a phone line) who needs the copywriting skills that they themselves don’t have.

Don’t fall for the line that “If I had the time, I’d do the copywriting myself.”  Not only does this show disrespect towards the professionalism and skills you’re offering; it may also be a negotiating tactic to devalue what you’re selling.  In other words, they’re positioning themselves as a client who doesn’t (on the face of it) place any value on quality copywriting.

People like this are playground bullies.  They’re relying on the fact that they may just be in a stronger negotiating position – that the copywriter probably needs the work and the price they quote can be Dutch-auctioned south anyway.

As with all bullies, you have to stand your ground.  Will the would-be client want to risk you walking out of his office having wasted a lot of time and emotional capital trying to browbeat you into a cul de sac position?  And what does a copywriter have to lose by spurning a cheapskate when there are plenty of decent offers just around the corner?

To leave without the work but with your professional pride intact is surely a price worth paying.  There’s nothing worse than accepting work for a price you know to be below the market rate.  The odds are, you’ll feel resentful while doing the work.  And it will probably show so clearly that any hope of repeat and regular business will evaporate.

These are just a few of the banana skins to avoid when it comes to establishing copywriting rates.  Some you won’t spot until it’s too late.  Others will be strewn before you, Palm Sunday-style.  Either way, being prepared for a fair chunk of the possibilities is a good starting point.

Look out for Part 2 of ‘Copywriting Rates: Avoidable Banana Skins’ right here, on Unmemorable Title.

About the Author:

Mike Beeson is a UK freelance copywriter, journalist and PR consultant.  Mike’s company, Buzzwords Limited, was established over 20 years ago and is located in Cheshire (south Manchester).  You can find Mike on Facebook and Twitter.

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