Pricing our commercial freelancing work. How do you do it? Me? I became a convert to the Flat Fee Channel (“All flat fees, all the time…”) some time back. Rates are best quoted within the context of a particular project. Tell a client your hourly rate is $100, without relating that rate to a specific job (he’s thinking, “Is it going to be 5 hours or 50??”) and he might just run screaming into the night. But say $1000 for a project you think will take 10 hours, and if that’s close to what he’s budgeted for the project in his mind, then you’re in business. An hourly rate, in my humble opinion, should be a number kept to yourself, and used only for internal calculations.
All that said, the debate still goes on. Last week, got the latest piece from wildly successful Atlanta commercial freelancer Ed Gandia. Ed’s the publisher of the great ezine, The Profitable Freelancer (visit and subscribe at no charge). Ed did a great two-part piece for my ezine in June and July of this year about how he made $163K in his first full year as a commercial freelancer.
Ed’s latest piece was entitled “What’s Best: Hourly or Flat Fee?” Check it out (it’s short) here before reading the rest of the piece. Here was my response to it:
Ed: I have found precious few commercial writing clients willing to even let you quote on an hourly basis if they don’t know you. That’s almost exclusively reserved for long-term clients who trust you implicitly, and/or for projects that have, by definition, an undefined scope and fluid parameters, that simply don’t lend themselves to being firmly nailed down. Not sure how one would even go about trying to force an hourly-rate approach on a client. For most commercial freelancers, in my experience, the more important issue is do you quote a straight flat rate or one that reveals your calculations (i.e., “$1500” vs. “$1500 based on 15 hours at $100 an hour”).
The former is the better approach, because as you point out, if you work fast, and finish the project in, say, 12 hours, you’ve just upped your hourly to $125. And as you also point out, the client only cares about the final result. As long as you get it done for the amount they agreed on, then, technically, they don’t care if it takes you 1 hour or 50. If you share your internal calculations, then if it takes you less time, technically, you should charge less. Going with a flat rate focuses the whole discussion to the end result, which is the only thing that really matters.
Just as importantly, the flat-rate approach has the subtle but powerful affect on you, the commercial copywriter, of further “professionalizing” what we do. We’re being paid to deliver a professional service for a fee. We’re not an hourly worker punching a proverbial clock. And I say that same distinction isn’t lost on the client either, who’s more likely to view you as that professional and worthy of your fees.
Also, just a note about flat fees. I’ve found over the years that a range in your quote that varies by 10-15% is acceptable to most clients. Haven’t had any pushback from a client ever. Generally speaking, by agreeing to a quote of, say, “$1500-1700″ or “$4500-$5000,” clients have reconciled themselves to the upper end of the range, and because the two figures are close, it’s not a problem. But it gives you a bit of extra wiggle room for unexpected surprises, which if you have a cushion, you may not have to even charge for. And that’s good for client PR (though if there IS extra time involved, and you don’t charge, you might let the client know that you usually would but won’t this time. That way, you don’t establish a dangerous precedent by having them think that such an M.O. is standard, which it definitely isn’t).
AND, if you end up below your upper end, which has often happened for me, and charge a bit less, it’s a nice surprise for clients, who can’t help but notice you were responsible and frugal with their money. If you suspect money isn’t the #1 issue for a client, I might even suggest one bump the top end of your fee range a bit beyond what you know it’ll take, so you can in fact, ultimately charge less than the upper range so as to make that good impression.
How do you price your work?
Have you had unpleasant experiences quoting hourly rates in a vacuum (i.e., minus the context of a particular project)?
Do you have clients you work with on an hourly basis, and if so, what’s the nature of the relationship and the work?
Any insights you’ve learned about pricing work you care to share?
Tanking economy. Up-and-down stock market. High and growing unemployment. The end of the world as we know it. Etc, etc, etc. How’s all this affecting your commercial writing business? Perhaps less than you might imagine…
Okay, rest assured, I’m not here to say that all the economic turmoil is just a mirage. It’s not. But I am here to say that you’re in control of how you view it, and in turn, the extent to which you allow it to affect you.
I thought about offering a collection of tips on dealing with your commercial freelancing clients in tough times, but others, like Mike Stelzner are doing a good job of that. Instead, let’s talk about our thinking….
When you watch the news (Mistake #1), do you go into a sort of trance-like state, mumbling to yourself along the lines of,
Okay, that’s called flabby thinking. Understandable, perhaps, but still flabby. Let’s toughen it up a bit. No mind-control hocus-pocus here. Just a few facts. During tough times, will businesses stop marketing, stop communicating with employees (internal communications), stop trying to reach new customers (ads, direct mail case studies), stop building web sites or updating existing ones, and all crawl into holes and wait and hope for things to get better? The very idea is ludicrous. And incidentally, I’m busier than I’ve been in a long time…
Will some businesses cut back on outside resources and perhaps bring projects in-house? Yes. But many can’t because they don’t have the in-house resources to do them.
And if there will be some cutting back, does that mean that bigger companies who’ve been using pricey ad agencies, design/PR firms and marketing companies might be cutting back on them? Yes. At which point, might the idea of hiring a far more economical, but-just-as-if-not-more effective freelance writer/designer team sound much more attractive? You bet it will.
And how much effect does the economy truly have on ONE person’s quest for financial self-sufficiency and freelance success? Given that that ONE person needs to garner only a tiny sliver of the entire universe of possible lucrative commercial writing work out there? Not much.
And don’t forget: there will be a certain chunk of your competition who will buy all the gloom and doom, will blink and run, opting for something they perceive will be more secure, and will leave you with less competition.
Feeling better yet?
If you’ve been around the block a few times, what are your thoughts?
What other tough-thinking strategies can you suggest?
What are you seeing from your clients?
What do you see as the keys to getting through tough times?
Shoot. Crap-ola. Aaargh. Happens to the best commercial freelancers several times in their careers, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. I finished up a marketing brochure for a commercial writing client a few months back. Everyone loved it. We all looked it over probably 10 times each. How we all missed it is beyond me. Went to print – 5,000 copies. Finally got a few samples in the mail a few weeks back. Turned out nice. Then, uh-oh. Oh, man. Don’t tell me. There it was. Not as glaring as a misspelled word, thank heavens, but rather, unnecessary punctuation. Very unnecessary. Not one of those, “it-can-go-either-way-depending-on-which style-guide-you’re-consulting” kind of punctuation mistake. No, this was pretty clear cut. Though, in truth (he said, rationalizing), it seemed more prominent since I knew what I was looking at. If someone wasn’t looking for it (by definition, the overwhelming percentage of readers), they might or might not notice it.
Of course, first stop was my last file sent to them to see if the error was in there or was added after my hands were washed of it. There it was, in all its cringe-inducing glory. Ouch.
And they printed a 5,000 of them, because they got a good price. I’d emailed the graphic designer before I know how many they’d printed, to say, “Hey, hate to tell you, but I found this error that was MY fault, so in case they’re going to back to print at some time soon, you can fix it.” Course, at the rate they’ll likely go through them, I’ll be collecting Social Security before they run out… Sheesh. I didn’t feel good about it, but he and I decided on a vow of silence. You know, let sleeping dogs lie. But, I’m sure I’ll still lose a few winks over it.
Did I do the right thing?
Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did it unfold and how was it resolved?
Are you satisfied with your handling of the situation?
If you’ve never been in such a situation (you will, eventually…), how would you handle it if you were?
The economy is teetering. Huge financial institutions are crashing and burning. The government, afraid of the ripple effects of their demise, is debating a huge bailout. Unemployment is at its highest level in years. A lot of people struggling out there. And, through all this, happily, I’m busier than ever and enormously grateful I’m a freelancer. My feeling of “job security” is mighty high right about now. Why? Because I have income coming from many, many directions.
Good financial planners live by the mantra of “diversification.” Spread out your money across a broad array of investment vehicles, and you spread out your risk. Same with your work life. Put all your eggs in one work basket (i.e., a full-time job), and if tough times hit, you could lose all the eggs. Hence, the innate logic of the freelance model with its “multiple-clients” feature (and, yes, I know, freelancing is neither feasible nor a psychological fit for everyone, but I’m just sayin’…)
Those with income from a variety of avenues will simply weather economic storms better than most. Right now, I’ve got about 10 commercial writing clients I’m working with. Some big. Some small. But between all of them, they’ve kept me hopping. Love the variety. And I love even more the fact that each client doesn’t have to provide me a bunch of work for me to eat well. Add to that income from my book-related ventures – much of it of the blessed passive variety – and offshoot businesses: coaching, speaking, seminars, articles, etc., and life is good.
Yes, this has been a 15-year process – though the book side of things only the last eight – but it all starts somewhere. And I’m here to tell you: Life can be pretty cool, varied, interesting and lucrative when you’ve got lots of pots boiling on your professional stove.
Not surprisingly, it usually starts with having some specialized expertise or knowledge that’s valuable enough to enough other people to make it worth “monetizing” into books, ebooks, coaching, speaking, seminars, etc. Or simply a skill/talent that can command a healthy price on the market.
If you have multiple stream of writing-related income, what are they and how did they come about?
And if so, any suggestions/cautions/gushing reports to those considering it?
If you aren’t diversified as yet, but are pondering it, what possibilities have you considered?
Okay, unless you’ve been in a cave or a coma for the past two weeks, you’ve heard plenty about the signature event for commercial copywriters: Copywriting Success Summit 2008, coming in October to a computer near you…
I know, we’re promoting the heck out of the thing, but hey, think about it:
1) It really IS the first event of its kind for our kind – those of us happily writing for businesses large and small (brochures, ads, newsletters, white papers, direct mail, web content, case studies, etc.) and for serious hourly rates reaching up to $125 and well beyond.
2) It features those people whose voices and advice you’ve been listening to, following and trusting for a long time: Bly, Slaunwhite, Stelzner, yours truly and others.
3) You’ll have the opportunity to connect with a whole community of other copywriters to share ideas and best practices, before, during and well after the Summit.
4) Every minute of all 12 sessions is accessible from your computer without ever leaving the house (and if you have to miss one, we’ve got you covered with recordings and transcripts).
Can you blame us for being pretty pumped?
But let me say this: I’ve seen and been an active part of the preparation for this event. I’ve been involved in the discussions about what subjects to cover to provide the most value to you, our colleagues in this business. I know the time and care I and the others have put into creating solid, valuable and relevant content designed with one overarching goal in mind: to help you make more money.
In addition, I was part of the crucial discussion about cost, and the importance of setting the price at a level where people felt they had some “skin in the game” but where it was still well within reach of most anyone. And yes, allowing us – the event’s producers – to profit as well. The definition of “win-win.”
Why would the Summit NOT be a fit for you? If you’re an experienced commercial copywriter, making a good writing income and been at it 5-10+ years, much of what we’ll discuss, frankly, may be familiar to you. Do I think you’d still benefit by attending? No question. Heck, given the cost of the thing, one new idea put to use would easily pay for the summit dozens of times over. But I know we all have priorities. Understood.
But, if you’re new to the business and trying to get established, OR been at it for a few years, making some progress, but definitely ready to ratchet things up to a new level of income and client caliber, well, you’re who we’re talking to here.
“Will it be worth it?”
Well, all we can do is provide the best and most topical training possible and the rest is up to you. Given the line-up of speakers and subjects and the sheer volume of training involved, I’m feeling pretty good about us holding up our end. So, the question simply becomes:
Are you ready to take action on some solid income-boosting marketing strategies?
If not, then the Summit could offer the greatest training known to man and it wouldn’t matter. If you are ready, then it would appear we’re both in the right place at the right time.
P.S. FYI, if you visit the link and our talking spokesperson starts getting a little irritating, just mouse over her and you’ll have options to shut her down/off/up.
Got any questions or concerns about the summit?
If you’ve signed up, want to share your circumstances and motivation for doing so? What do hope to get from it?
If it’s not for you, know anyone who should know about it? If so, can you forward on the information to them?