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This Fallacy Trips Up a Lot of Writers (and Limits Their Income…)

I got this email recently from a newly-minted commercial freelancer:

I recently quoted a tri-fold brochure and three cover letters for a local university. I gave a range of $650 to $735 for the project, but my proposal was turned down because of budget. Could you offer any advice about pricing writing jobs that fit with the going rates in a particular area (we’re a smaller market than Atlanta).

Okay, several points worth making here:

I don’t think she can come to any conclusions about the opportunity, try to imagine “what I could’ve done differently,” or alter her pricing strategy, based on ONE possible gig. If anything, $700-ish for that scope of work seems on the low side to me.

She (or anyone starting out) needs dozens of situations like this to gather any useful knowledge. One is meaningless, except as a single brick in your wall of experience as a commercial writer. One has to make a TON of contacts to get to critical mass and have things start happening.

But for today’s discussion, here’s the most important point…

There’s no such thing as some set copywriting pricing for all copywriting clients; that implies all clients are reading off some “standard price sheet,” and of course, they aren’t.

Yes, it’s good to have some idea of ballparks when quoting rates in a particular market, but know there are different tiers of freelance commercial writing clients, all with different fee thresholds. Our not-easy job is to find those willing to pay the good rates (and that’s more likely to be in business than academia).

The discussion of “going rates” in any given area is related to my last blog post, “There IS No Copywriting Industry.” I’d planned to include this with that post, but felt it deserved its own dedicated post.

I routinely get asked about “going rates” in the commercial writing field. If there’s a “Copywriting Industry,” then there’s some “going rates” for that industry, right? Sure, what a commercial writer can command in NYC is likely more than they’ll get in Peoria, but the longer I’m in the business, the more subjective I believe rates to be.

Add in a wired world that invites us to prospect anywhere, and it makes the idea of “going rates” even more irrelevant.

Most importantly (see the sidebar, “Debunking the Myth of “Standard” Writers Rates…” on p. 171 of The Well-Fed Writer for the fleshed-out version of this idea):

Following some “industry pricing guide” or the anecdotal advice of other commercial copywriters (even those in your area) will give you, at best, only a partial view of the rates-picture in your area.

Just because a copywriter or guide says you can “expect” to make $ ___ per hour—given a certain experience level or geographic are—while useful as a ballpark guide, does that mean that’s all a copywriter can hope to earn at those levels, and in that locale?

Absolutely not. ALL it means is that some copywriters are making those rates, and some clients are unwilling to pay more. Sure, many clients think $50 an hour is too much to pay even a pro, but there are also plenty who won’t flinch at $125 an hour. And I’m working for a bunch of them.

What’s sad is that tons of talented commercial freelancers (and yes, you need to have the chops to be able to consistently land high rates), are making pathetically low hourly rates for NO other reason than that’s what some guide told them they can expect to make at their experience level, and because they’re working for clients who pay no more than that. Just because it’s your world doesn’t mean it’s THE world.

Meanwhile, other writers who never got that memo (like me when I started out, and perhaps those who read my books), and don’t realize that they shouldn’t be able to command higher rates, are doing just that. All because they looked in different places, believed different people, and found those willing to pay more.

Heck, land a few entrepreneur-type clients with big budgets—which I’ve happily done quite a bit over the years—along with big egos that drive them to pay high rates for “the best,” and all discussions of “standard rates” go out the window. When people like that routinely pay, say, $400+ an hour for legal services, $125 an hour for a professional writer will make them downright giddy.

One caveat: Someone starting out with little experience and armed with the concept of “going rates” can end up deluding themselves into thinking they should be able to ask for and get the “standard rates,” when they’ll likely have to work up to them.

Sort of a “Duh,” but more commercial copywriting experience (in general) will boost what you can ask for, and more industry-specific writing experience will boost it even more (assuming you’re pursuing work in that industry).

Just know that the concept of rates is far more fluid than we’re often led to believe, and sticking to “conventional wisdom” can limit income potential significantly.

Have you ever used others’ guidelines to determine your copywriting rates, only to land a client that defied rates expectation? In other words…

Have you ever had an “Aha!” moment when you got far higher than you expected to, and henceforth rewired your thinking about what you could ask for?

Have you had a sense that you’re shortchanging yourself when it comes to rates?

Any other thoughts or ideas on the subject?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

Is Your Website Bio Creating Trust or Indifference? (Guest Post)

Thanks, Stephanie, for a great post on a rarely-discussed component of our freelance copywriting web sites. It’s all about having everything on your site (yes, even the information about YOU) geared towards those things your visitors/prospects really care about—not just talking about ourselves.

When your clients, or your clients’ clients, visit a page you’ve written, the last thing you want them to think is “Why are you telling me this?” Because the moment they start thinking that, they’ll begin to feel like the website is wasting their time.

And the only sites that can get away with that are the ones where the readers KNOW their time is being wasted, but they’re having so much fun, they keep on giving it “just one more click, and then I swear I’ll go to bed!” anyway.

On the other hand, a well-written bio or “About Us” page can give the readers a sense of trust and hope. It shows them that the owner of the website knows what they’re talking about, understands their problems, and truly is well equipped to help them.

Unfortunately, whether you’re writing the copy for your own website or a client’s, knowing how to create an effective bio seems to be a rare skill.

Many business owners, entrepreneurs, and even copywriters fill their bios and “About Me” pages with information that sounds meaningful to them, but to the reader is mildly encouraging at best and actually off-putting at worst.

What’s the difference between a page that bores the readers into closing the tab, and one that makes them want to know more?

There are several, but the one most commonly missed is relevance.

So you have a history as a journalist; how does that make you a better marketing copywriter?

Yes, you had a glorious career in the military, but how does that relate to your ability to help your clients buy a home?

How does having been raised on a farm make you qualified to be a home decorator?

Yes, you’ve got a lot of fancy abbreviations in your description, but what do they mean to ME? (And no, I’m not going to take the time to look them up, because you haven’t gotten me interested enough that I’d want to know!)

If your readers can’t see how your life story or the history of your business makes you better equipped to help them, it may be a mildly interesting read, but it ultimately means nothing to them.

So how do you make the bio, “Story” or “About” page catch the reader’s attention and make them more likely to buy?

1. Use a story the reader can identify with.

When have you or your client been in a position similar to what the target audience is suffering through? Or, if you or they haven’t been through a similar situation, what pain did you or they see someone else going through, that created a desire to learn how to help people experiencing that same difficulty?

By showing that you or your client have been through, or have experience with, the challenge your readers are struggling with, you show them their suffering is understood. You make them realize “This isn’t just some clueless person trying to help with a problem they don’t understand. They know what I’m going through, and they know how hard it is.”

2. Show them why you or your clients are passionate about the industry.

It goes without saying that someone who’s passionate about a job will be much better at it than a guy just trying to pay his bills. The bio or “About” page should reflect this.

Why is the site owner excited about the problem they solve and the change and benefits they create? The more you show the emotional charge they have for their work, the more you’ll engage the reader’s emotions in turn. And emotion, not logic, is what really persuades people to invest.

3. Give the reader hope that their problems can be overcome.

Don’t just show that the site owner has experienced the problem; show how they’ve overcome it to create a better life for themselves. Help the reader see what’s possible, and show them that if one person or company can make these changes, they can, too.

4. Show how the site owner’s past makes them better at what they do.

Earlier in this post, I asked, “So you have a history as a journalist; how does that make you a better marketing copywriter? Yes, you had a glorious career in the military, but how does that relate to your ability to help your clients buy a home? How does having been raised on a farm make you qualified to be a home decorator?”

If you can answer these questions, and tie your past or your client’s to the quality of the service being offered, it can help you or them to stand out in a whole new way.

You could tie your journalistic career into your commercial writing by saying,

My time as a journalist taught me to convey stories and messages in ways that are compelling enough to catch the reader’s attention, yet concise enough that they’re willing to read to the end. Because of this, I know how to write your sales pages in a way that gets your readers hooked, and makes them keep reading all the way through your offer instead of leaving halfway through the page.

Or, you could tie your client’s past to their current career by saying things like,

My time in the army instilled in me a toughness and integrity that I bring to everything I do. I’ll fight to get you the very best deal on your house and mortgage, and I’ll make sure that you don’t get caught in any of the common traps that cause people to end up overpaying or stuck in a bad contract.

Or, While I was growing up on the farm, we lived a couple hours away from town, so going out and buying things with which to brighten up the house wasn’t very practical. I learned to use whatever I had at my disposal in unique and creative ways, even if I didn’t have much to work with. Because of this, I know how to make any house beautiful on any budget, so you don’t have to pay through the nose to create a gorgeous home.

See how much more interesting and compelling the story is when it’s tied in to the problem at the top of the reader’s mind?

If people are reading your website or your client’s, they’re doing so for a reason – because they want to know if the answers to their questions and problems are there. By making good use of bios and the “About” or “My Story” page, you can earn their trust, inspire them to believe that their challenges CAN be overcome, and make yourself and your clients stand out in a way that few other things can.

Have you ever used any of these strategies for you or a client?

If you have several stories from your life that seem like a good fit, how do you pick one?

What methods do you use to draw an inspiring life story out of your clients?

What is the most common mistake you see people making when they tell their stories on their sites?

AboutUsPagesStephaniePicStephanie O’Brien is a copywriter, marketing coach, entrepreneur, novelist, and self-growth addict. She uses her twelve years of fiction-writing experience to make her copywriting fun and inspirational as well as effective, and her lifelong exploration of the human mind helps her to get inside her clients’ heads, pick out the words they’re trying to find, and put them onto paper. To learn more about Stephanie, and to discover who your ideal client is so you can get a better idea of how to write your story, visit her website.

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

What’s Your “Discomfort Threshold” for Growing Your Writing Business?

During one of my commercial writing group-coaching series a few years back I had a candid email exchange with a participant about a question she’d submitted to be addressed in session. It was:

What can I do to stay motivated during those periods when my business-building efforts yield nothing?

She then analyzed her question—rather dispassionately, I’m proud to say, writing:

I now realize that first question was something a lazy person who gives up easily (my past life) would ask. I’m fascinated by how a lot of what you and your book say dovetails with what I’m reading in one of those books on how millionaires think.

It contains wealth principles like: “If you are willing to do only what’s easy, life will be hard. But if you are willing to do what’s hard, life will be easy.” I guess our comfort zones have to expand to include taking more risks.

I thought it was a very…adult realization. Seriously, we’re all lazy, but if you want a life unlike that of most people—perhaps have a successful commercial copywriting practice?—you’ll have to do things most people aren’t willing to do.

As I’m fond of reminding people, this path isn’t easy, so don’t expect it to be. And if they’ve never built a business before—much less a commercial freelancing business—then building a successful one will entail doing things they’ve never done before in their lives.

Let’s get real: this is the crux of success in most businesses, and certainly ours. We all have our thresholds—the points beyond which we just don’t/can’t (as yet) go.

If your comfort level demands that, you only, say, prospect for commercial writing work by bidding on online job sites, and only communicate with prospects and clients by email, unless you’re a prolific marketer, your income will likely be limited.

Simply put, the better-paying marketing copywriting work takes digging to find and land. And, as a rule, its greater complexity (relative to, say, articles), demands a greater involvement/discussion with clients—by phone, in in-person meetings, etc.

And let’s face it, all that opens us up to having our skills be judged by those paying us—especially if we’re being paid well.* All fertile ground for some pretty serious discomfort.

(*If you started out being paid peanuts—or perhaps are still there—it’s less intimidating, isn’t it? After all, how much can they expect for such low wages? But making more money raises the stakes, the stress, and hence, the discomfort. Interesting, no?)

Hey, I hate being uncomfortable as well, but when I started, I knew that success was going to require stepping out of my comfort zone in a big way, for a certain period of time. But here’s the key: the discomfort I felt was really quite fleeting.

And how can it be not be, when suddenly, you discover, for instance, that cold-calling isn’t that hard after all, that people are actually nice, and that—imagine!– some of them are actually interested? Not to mention that they’re all unfazed by your call, when you thought it was going to be some big uphill battle to explain yourself.

Some writers will move past their blocks, realizing the discomfort not only is never fatal, it’s both fleeting and finite as well. In most cases, you’re left wondering exactly what you were so afraid of in the first place. And, it’s not going to stretch for year after year—unless you’re doing it very part-time, and in fits and starts.

Have you expanded your comfort zones since you started? How so?

What sorts of things scared you to death early on, but are now second nature?

What advice would you give someone still held back by their comfort zones, from making a truly good living as a commercial writer?

Any other thoughts or comments on the subject?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

Do You Manage Your “To-Do” List, Or Does It Manage You? (Guest Post)

Got this great guest post from writer, author and coach Daphne Gray-Grant, with an intriguing take on “To-Do” lists. I must confess, I never looked at it this way, but, when you stop to think about it, it makes all the sense in the world: if you don’t tackle the things that are important, but not urgent, then you’re simply operating in reactive mode. I’m going to put these ideas to work. Enjoy. Thanks, Daphne!

I’ve been addicted to “to do” lists since I was 13 years old. They taught me that putting tasks on a list helps me to remember to do them. They helped me learn that really understanding my priorities makes it easier to say “no” to the things that will waste my time.

They gave me the undeniable thrill of being able to stroke a firm line through a task I’d just completed. And when I started using them for tracking my writing progress, they reminded me that writing is not just about letting my fingers move over a keyboard: it also involves research and phone calls and fact-checking.

But, recently, my “To-Do” list had gotten out of control.

Frequently 30 items or longer, it daunted me every time I looked at it. Instead of inspiring me to action, it made me shiver with dread. One writing job, in particular—some 9,000 words of angst—lurked on it like a mild tooth ache certain to erupt into a tooth so decayed any sensible dentist would call for a root canal.

But, here’s the interesting thing: Because there was no immediate urgency/penalty attached to this job (the deadline was still three weeks away), I didn’t even feel a sense of failure about it. [Aside: Isn’t it easy to let big writing jobs lurk?] Although, of course, I had a growing unease as time ticked inexorably by.

As there are few things I like better than organizing myself (for me it’s like a back massage, a glass of really great red wine and fabulous haircut all thrown into one), I spent a couple of hours thinking about how to make my “To-Do” list work better.

Eventually, I remembered a column I’d written about Steven Covey, and reflected on his four quadrants. Remember those?

(1) Tasks that are important and urgent
(2) Tasks that are important but not urgent
(3) Tasks that are unimportant but urgent
(4) tasks that are neither urgent nor important.

Many people think items in quadrant one should be the highest priority, but Covey argues—and I agree—that box number 2 is actually the most crucial. After all, if you allow the urgent stuff to take control of your life, you’re constantly rushing to put out fires. Only by making time to do what’s really important—for example, planning, reading, writing a book—can you be really productive.

I decided I needed better names for my list—titles that would inspire me. Here’s what I came up with:

(1) Things I Most WANT to Do Today. I liked the way this sounded. Strong, determined. Motivated.

(2) Must Do Today. Here was the note of urgency and a realistic assessment of the time required. I now try for no more than three per day and I really do them. And, by the way, I always do them using pomodoros. This intense 30-minute commitment is like a magic bullet for writing procrastinators.

(3) Quick Things Due Today. Each of these tasks can be done in five minutes or less. As such, I can knock something off the list when I’m between phone calls or wanting to take a quick break after some difficult writing.

(4) Optional Tasks. Quickly, I realized that I should outsource as many of these jobs as possible. I have three teenagers in my home and they’re always eager to earn $12/hour.

I also added a column titled “Personal” for the personal things I need to do during the day and another one called “Meetings” so I don’t forget about them, either.

Did this new system help me get my big writing job done? Sadly, I’d left developing this new list too late for that. I had ended up leaving the job to the very last minute and shocked myself by writing 9,000 words—while keeping up with my other urgent tasks—in four days. It was absolutely exhausting and involved my starting work at 5:30 a.m. and going until 8 p.m., twice.

Since then, however, the new list has worked like a charm. I’m getting more done, sooner. I’m not feeling a clench in my gut every time I think about my “To-Do” list. Best of all, I’m accomplishing more of the things that I really WANT to do.

In short, it’s done more than make me a more organized human being. It’s made me a better writer.

Typically, how long is your daily “to do” list?

What special tricks do you have for getting the really important stuff done, despite the deadlines you have to meet?

How do you stop yourself from frittering away time on fun but (mostly) inconsequential stuff like Facebook and Twitter?

If you haven’t before identified the accomplishments that are most important to you, how might doing so change your writing life?


DaphneGrayGrantPicDaphne Gray-Grant is a former daily newspaper editor, a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book “8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better.”

Sign up for her newsletter, Power Writing—weekly, brief and free—through her web site.

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.