Adventures in Setting My Freelance Rates

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Rates are so, so tricky.

In fact, questions about rates are some of the most common that freelancers ask me on coaching calls. How do you decide what you’re worth? How do you structure your rates for clients? Is hourly better than project? Is a day rate better than an hourly rate?

Lots to think about.

I’ve been doing little tests with my rates since January 30th of 2014.

Not just raising them or lowering them, but changing how I displayed them (or if I displayed them at all).

These tests are not scientific, nor am I rigorously measuring the volume of inquiries I get – so what I’m about to share should be taken with a grain of salt. However, I do pay attention to the kinds of leads I’m getting, and here’s what I’ve learned:

Version 1: No rates page

This seems to be the M.O. for most freelancers I come across, and I honestly cannot understand why people stick with it, aside from perhaps fear that by posting rates they’ll lose a portion of their leads.

I have news for you: Losing a portion is good. Very good. As long as it’s the right portion.

Before I had any rates page up, I was inundated with quote requests and would often spend half a day just quoting people.

It was awful. There were tire-kickers, there were legit leads, there were people who thought I should write posts for $20 despite a carefully curated brand and image… I needed a change.

So I set up a rates page to help people self-select.

Version 2: An hourly rate

Terrible. Horrible. Awful way to list your prices.

As soon as you list an hourly rate, all people care about is how long something will take. Yes, I got rid of everyone who wasn’t willing to pay my hourly rate (at that time it was $75; it’s higher now), but in exchange I got people who were hellbent on tracking time instead of the value I could bring.

That’s a key lesson: You really don’t want your price to be the focus. You want it to be your value; the return you can bring your client.

A price point is only there to weed people out, in my opinion.

I decided to switch it up.

Version 3: Average project ranges

Boy, this was a complicated one. I listed out every single type of project I could handle, along with an average range of prices those projects usually cost. It was a HUGE page with a TON of rates, and while it was informative, it was overwhelming.

My lead quality did increase, and I stopped hearing from people hellbent on tracking time.

What happened instead was some serious anchoring. Almost any time I tried to quote above the average range, even if it was justified, I got push back. People seemed to expect their project would naturally fall to the lower end of the spectrum, and I heard a lot of “It’s just a _________”.

Pro tip: Any time a lead says that a project is “just” anything, they’re probably a bad lead because they don’t think their project should take long and thus, not be expensive.

I decided to try another angle…

Version 4: “Starting From”

To eliminate the friction of quoting above the range, I went “starting from”, with a base minimum price.

As you can imagine, anchoring only got worse, with people somehow believing that the starting price should be their price.

I wasn’t dealing with tire-kickers (YAY!) and on the whole lead quality had improved from the time of ranges (YAY!) but the starting point seemed to leave some people scratching their heads.

It was time for another approach, so…

Version 5: A day rate and project minimum (with some persuasive explanation stuff)

I decided, on the advice of some web developers, to try out a day rate. That way, I could just quote number of days for a project and people wouldn’t get their knickers in a bunch.

Except.. well, it didn’t work like that.

As it turns out, unlike web development, very few people see copywriting as a job that should be measured in days, even when they know it’s a process.

I also had an even day rate ($800 at the time), so people did the math and calculated my hourly to $100, and I had people haggling over time all over again.

On the plus side, the day rate was high enough that I wasn’t getting low quality leads anymore or having to explain why I wouldn’t write a website for $500 to an exasperated marketer.

The project minimum I set also seemed to help set expectations. People knew that at very least, they’d be paying $500 to work with me, and surprisingly, unlike the “Starting from” numbers, this didn’t seem to anchor people as much.

But, things still weren’t perfect (if that’s even possible), so I swapped it up to…

Version 6: An uneven day rate and project minimum (and some persuasive sales pitch stuff)

I swapped my day rate from $800 to $850. Wouldn’t you know it – people hate doing math! The moment I did this, I started getting more asks for long-term projects.

Turns out people can’t divide $850 by 8 (average workday), so they don’t even try. Nobody haggled over time anymore. They started understanding that I was quoting for value. This was a big win, and combined with the project minimum, I was getting some good, solid leads.

And then I saw this page: http://snapcopy.co/agency-home/

Now, no disrespect to Joanna of CopyHackers or anyone on the SnapCopy team, but HOKEY DINAH! Those are some seriously high rates.

And while I know I’m still learning and developing as a professional, I’m confident that the quality of my work could come close to something they’d put out.

My research process, from what I know, is similar – and there’s power in the process (which is why I posted mine in my main nav on my site).

Suddenly, a $500 project minimum didn’t seem like as much of an ask anymore. In fact, the only reason I’d kept it at that point is because a portion of my income comes from blog posts or landing page audits and I didn’t want to lose that business.

The average project was already over $2,000 anyways, especially since I’ve been working to get out of blogging and more into landing pages, content marketing strategy consulting and website copy.

So, I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and launched…

Version 7: A project minimum + a persuasive sales pitch

The newest version of my page states a few things plainly:

  1. I charge a project rate
  2. I will ask your budget upfront
  3. My project minimum is $2,000

Interspersed with all of that is links to some testimonials and some compelling arguments for working with me, including:

  • I work fast – you get your work on time.
  • I follow a process – you know exactly what to expect.
  • I get things done right the first time – you haggle less and go live faster.
  • I check in without being asked to – you always know where we’re at.
  • I know what it takes to sell – you get more customers (which is why you’re really hiring me – not for words on a page).

You should really just read the whole page, I think it spells things out nicely.

We’ll see how well this works and what kind of leads I bring on now!

Importantly, I want to mention that throughout all of these changes, the shift in leads was never SO outrageous that I had a noticeable lull or drop-off in business.

For that, I’m both lucky, and fortunate for the network I’ve cultivated that passes me referrals.

But it HAS been interesting to see who contacts you, what for, and how they see you/value what you do.

My plans for the future:

1. Productize landing page audits.

It’s been discouraging to watch as a few other people beat me to the punch here (like “The User is Drunk“), but I have long planned to sell website copy audits where I spend some time reviewing your landing pages or website copy (up to 3 pages in detail) and making specific, actionable recommendations for improvement for just $500.

The deliverables would be a recommendations doc, a video review where I share my findings and a 45min – 1 hour phone call to chat about everything I’ve recommended.

I’ve been honing my skills in The Pit and on all of my paid work, and I am 1000% confident there’s a ton of value I could bring on a paid audit.

And, with my new $2,000 project minimum, a $500 option should look like a steal for those who want tangible improvements on a smaller budget and have the ability to implement.

2. Change my website some more. 

Right now my website has a “Who I Help” section with sub-sections for the different clients I cater to. I’ll soon be testing “What I do”, eliminating a bunch of services I’m no longer in the business of and adding more of a focus on my CRO copywriting work.

3. More videos.

I have a goal to speak at more conferences, and to do that, I need some social proof. I’ll be recording some video audits and vlogs so people hear my voice and see my face – not just read my writing.

4. Targeted guest blogging.

I’m drastically reducing how much I blog for clients in order to spend more time targeting relevant blogs. I want to be published on Moz, ConversionXL, Unbounce, Copyblogger, LeadPages and Shopify before the end of the year. I know I can write something they’d all be excited about, it’s just a time thing.

5. Hiring an apprentice.

Yup. It’s time.

I am actively seeking a copywriter with a similar style and passion who I can mentor into taking over all of my blogging work. BCC may very well be a company of two by this time next year – but working with people is really hard, especially in a talent-based profession like this, so I’m being very careful.

6. Offering a discount for case-study clients.

I’m planning to offer a rare, limited-time discount for working with me if the client agrees to measure and report back on the impact my copy has had for their business.

I know i need more raw numbers to justify the work I do, even as my portfolio continues to grow stronger and word of mouth spreads.

Anyways, thanks for reading.

I hope something in here helped you out. When it comes to rates, always be testing – and never, ever be afraid to try something new.

Confidence is what makes rich freelancers rich, and keeps the poor ones poor. If you’ve got the talent to back it up, don’t ever be afraid to play with what you charge.

Klettke, out!

 

7 thoughts on “Adventures in Setting My Freelance Rates

  1. This is very helpful Joel, thanks very much. Very clear and awesome examples. I’m sure you got the idea for daily pricing from a variety of sources, but have you read Brennan Dunne’s stuff?

    • Joel

      I love his stuff, and am actually planning on reviewing his course in detail soon. Always learning, and always happy to admit when I’ve done something wrong :)

  2. Thanks so much for the minimum project fee idea. I’m a web developer, but focus on the un-sexy database, number-crunching and back-end logic part of that. Not the pretty face you see in the browser window. I think that the minimum fee idea will help redirect the folks who need a snappy WordPress/Joomla/Drupal website for their pizza joint, nail salon, tax preparation service, etc. to the folks who will do a much better job with that.

    Much obliged!

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