My Photo

October 2012

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      


  • Syndicate "On Copywriting" on your blog or web site.


« Tunnel Vision | Main | The Starbucks Factor »

September 25, 2006


Michel Fortin


And I would even go as far as to say that those clients who do want cheap copy have money issues or money problems.

Red flag right there.

They either have a product that's not selling (other than copy), or they have a poorly targeted market.

But more often, they have a scarcity mentality (and therefore they will be problem clients, demanding clients, and/or abusive clients). Their own scarcity mindset might even self-sabotage their attempts at making money, and cut their own selves at the knees -- such as, among many examples, changing the copy we write before even testing it.

The question is, do cheap copywriters attract cheap clients? Or do cheap clients attract cheap copywriters?

Either way, it doesn't matter. But what matters is that if a copywriter wants to be cheap (for fear of not getting any business), three problems occur:

1) THEY attract cheap clients. (Poor clients, and I mean that both literally and figuratively.)

2) THEY lessen the perceived value in their services -- even if the copy *is* of great value. That means, they will *lose* clients who don't want cheap copywriters. Because if they're "that" cheap, then their work must be just as cheap (e.g., shoddy, poor, etc). Fact is, if they're cheap, it means that the perceived value of their work is just as cheap. Also, if they're that cheap, that means they're NOT in demand and therefore have trouble getting work.

That's a red flag on the part of the client.

As a mentor once told me, "Perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself."

3) THEY are wasting time, energy and money working on (better said, wasting time on) these problem clients, when their time could have been better spent on other, better, more value-interested clients. So they lose more in the end by charging less.

Something to think about.

John A. Manley

I like Michel's point about the scarcity mindset. It's making more sense to me everyday.

On another note, I spotted this joke that sums everything up:

Two new barbar shops open side by on a busy downtown street. The shop on the right puts up a sign that says:

"$7 haircuts!!!"

The shop on the left puts up a sign that reads:

"We FIX $7 haricuts."


Andrew Cavanagh

I think it's also important to keep in mind that cash is not the only way to get paid.

You can make many times the income of an ordinary copywriter by...

1. Writing exceptional copy that sells (read that as sweating blood to make sure the copy you write makes profits for your client).

2. Establishing your fees higher than the average copywriter (double or triple)

3. Doing deals to reduce the cash component of the fee eg. emails to a client's list or products etc etc.

Keep in mind you don't need to personally use the non-cash goods and services you get.

You can triangulate a deal with other clients.

Finally you should consider focusing on working with a few really good clients who appreciate your work and will pay you accordingly.

Good clients will hire you over and over.

Kindest regards,
Andrew Cavanagh


Actually, I *do* want to hire cheap copywriters. And yes, I do have "money issues." A business that doesn't, has problems. When you're on the other side of dealing with freelancers, you've heard all the big talk and you get pretty jaded.

My advice to freelance copywiters would be to ask yourself if you are working at least 30 hours a week on paid copywriting (not promotion and sales), month in and month out? If not, you need to lower your rates. You're only worth what the market will actually pay you, day in and day out, continuously.

At the point when you hit 30 hours a week, figure out what your actual, average hourly rate has been for those 30 hours. Only then can raise your rates, modestly, for future work. When you hit 40 hours a week for work, you can raise your rate for current clients, and you may lose a couple at this point, but you shouldn't raise your rates enough to fall below the 30 hours of actual paid work.

And if a potential client asks for a lowball rate that you don't want to accept, don't take it personally and go into a huff. You're just not a match for that client. The client needs are for someone cheaper, and he can't tell if you're that person without making a concrete offer. Go on to the next client. But don't assume that the client doesn't know what he's doing and is making a huge mistake in not using you.

Michael's concern about the effect on your reputation for accepting a low rate is silly. How are your clients going to know what you are being paid and who your other clients are unless you tell them? I have been asked by others what I'm paying my contractors, and I never say -- espeically if I'm paying a low rate. What's in it for me to disclose that information?

Of course, I understand that posts and comments like these are probably more for psyching yourself up, gaining confidence, motivation, and so on, so perhaps I'm taking it too literally.

Mike Muller

Amen Ryan and Michel,

Lowering your fees does nothing but reduce your perceived value, your confidence and your ability to run a successful business. It's also harder to put maximum effort into a project when you know you're undercharging.

There is an abundance of work out there. No sense in wasting your time with people that don't appreciate your skills.



You make some great points. Thank you.

In reference to the point I made about reputation (more specifically, value), it's not silly at all.

If I told you I have a brand-new BMW for sale. And it's only $500. Would you think something's wrong with it? Or that it's stolen? Of course, you would.

Copywriters on freelance networks like eLance have its pros and cons. Some need work, try to get their name out, have no reputation from the get-go and want to establish themselves.

In these cases, fine. Be inexpensive. Otherwise, cheap copywriters are like that BMW for $500:

Either something's wrong with it (it's poor copy), or its stolen (you don't know how many freelance lowballing copywriters I have caught who have copied my salesletters verbatim).

Does that mean they are all thieves and shoddy? Not at all. Like the $500 BMW, you just might stumble onto a heck of a deal. But that, I'm afraid, is highly unlikely.

For beginning and aspiring copywriters, I do advise them to start low -- if they really have to. But, I always teach them to retain or heighten the perceived value in their services anyway by asking for something else in return, whether it's a referral, a testimonial letter, a bartering arrangement, a chance to gain feedback data from testing the copy (which they can tout in their promotional efforts), etc, in exchange for the low fee.

Doing so does three things:

1) It retains or heightens the perceived value in the copywriter.

2) It stops the grinding away process in asking for more (when people get work cheap or even free, they expect more of the same because of the very mindset that caused them to look for cheap copywriters in the first place).

3) It increases the perceived value in the service and the copy itself, NOT in the concession the copywriter is making (this works for many reasons, such as the value of a service rendered tends to decrease after a service has been rendered, which means that if the copywriters wants a testimonial or referral after delivering the copy, it's harder to get if it's not a part of the transaction in the first place).

Michel Fortin

Judy Kettenhofen

As a hypnotist and "nelper" its amazing what confidence can do.

I will take a different perspective -- the same copywriter will produce better copy if paid better. Same person.

This may seem paradoxical. It's not just that the copywriter (may or may not) work harder for the pay -- it's that there's something transforming about being paid "what you are worth".

It's well-known that children, at least, live up to teachers' expectations of them. Is it too large a jump to assume that this also might apply to copywriters and their clients?

At the conclusion of a successful negotiation, I notice that I stand a little taller, breath a little deeper and am genuinely happier.

As an NLP Master Practitioner, I believe that there is strong mind-body connectionl some have called it "bodymind", in fact.

Heck, I don't have to be a nelper to believe that -- there is scientific studies which have shown it (especially wrt to immune system function and stress.

I can remember following an exercise course with a friend. We came to one of those boards you have to vault over. I tried, and tried, and tried. Finally, reaching way down into my bag of tricks, I did a "Tony Robbins"-type move -- an anchor for congruence -- (we were both grads of his training) and smoothly performed the vault.

Days like that, and experiences like that, seem to magically transform you into a Midas.

So, there is more than one way to "get what you pay for..."

Live JoyFully!


PS -- Ryan! Awesome! I followed a link from Michel's forum to your blog! Well done, my friend!

Siriol Jameson

I agree with Stephen. I try to keep an open mind when taking on new clients. Some have a wonderful product but are truthfully strapped for cash. I made friends and money and have never been burnt by a client. A high price only means high *perceived* value. I stand taller after every assignment - not just those that pay a lot.
I deal with "dreamers" who are "doers."
All my best, Siriol

Nadin Rath

Michel - you are my biggest yardstick of success out there and I read everything you write. However, with all due respect, I have a different opinion on this :

"If I told you I have a brand-new BMW for sale. And it's only $500. Would you think something's wrong with it? Or that it's stolen? Of course, you would...."

A BMW has a percieved market value. The company and its history (which includes years of brand building ads) has created that perception.

Can a new brand come into the market and match it?

Absolutely - but it has to create that perception of value - and that takes work and time.

I think it's not the best advise to tell brand new copywriters to "don't charge low". A lot of copywriters won't get a single assignment (actually not get their most important assignment - the first one) working that way. What they need is a complete business plan - not non-contextual pointers.

There is a lot to building up a business. If someone has the resources to attend all possible conferences and all the big training seminars, has the confidence to stand in front of marketing managers and quote 10K without a portfolio - he might get away with it. But that's not the only way to build a biz and I've a feeling not too many copywriters can not really do it.

I know there are a lot of posts by certain name brand people on the internet on this very topic - but no one is going to tell us the "real story."

"I made 40K on my first month as full-time copywriter by asking 20K a sales letter..." doesn't mean anything because we don't know the context. Most of the time there's a background that's hidden from us.

I know what you are saying Michel - but I think it all depends on the context and situation.



Absolutely true, Nadin.

Which is why I proposed that some of these tactics are acceptable, depending on the case. But this can be avoided with proper marketing, particularly niche marketing. (I'll come back to this.)

Also, keep in mind that a BMW has a certain market value. But that is reflective of all BMW's, or luxury cars in its class. Not that specific BMW.

It's the same for copywriting, regardless of context.

People expect copywriting to be of a certain value. Take for instance the computer programming field. Salaries, especially during the dotcom bubble 5 years ago, were astronomical. Regardless of the reputation of the individual programmer. If you were skilled in, say, Cobol or C++, you could instantly demand higher fees -- and get it.

So as for copywriting, the industry itself has a certain "brand," if you will. A certain market value already attributed to it in the mind of the marketplace.

So when you say "can someone come into the marketplace and match it," and you said "yes, but it takes hard work and time," I would agree but also say "not in all cases."

This is true when you compare it to the brand of a top copywriter with an established brand. But if someone enters the field, there is a certain brand ALREADY given to the field, then offering a low fee can cut yourself at the knees.

But again, here's where you're totally right: CONTEXT.

I should have been more specific by stating a clearer context, be it in this case "direct response and/or sales copywriter" as opposed to a writer or more menial content developer.

Because a copywriter of copy for, say, commercials, newspaper ads or agencies is a different class than the sales copywriter who writes direct marketing materials and salesletters.

There's also a difference between a $10,000 copywriter and a $2,000 one, versus a $2,000 copywriter and a $300 one.

And there's also a difference between a copywriter writing to sell a $19 ebook versus a $2,000 information product, too.

But they are still both copywriters. Just like there's a difference between a BMW and a Chevy. So I presume the need for context, in this case, is valid.

That said, even with this context is in place, there's a preconceived perceived value on that category of copywriter -- and not just on the writer herself.

Taking what you just said, I can agree and say that there is a difference between an outrageously expensive copywriter who has a brand, goes to all the seminars and has a track record, to back them up -- versus an average or beginning copywriter.

But there is still a difference between an average or beginning direct response copywriter with little to no brand, versus a "cheap" copywriter.

Or more specifically, there is a difference between "cheap" and "inexpensive." You can be inexpensive, but you can't be cheap.

That's why I also added that, when that happens (offering lower fees because of a lack of reputation), one should always ask for something in return in order to maintain or increase perceived value in ways other than money. And that's perceived value on the service in general, not only the writer herself.

And finally, one must not forget that niche marketing, or more specifically, specialization, creates instant brand equity and perceived value.

Niche marketing creates instant credibility by virtue of the fact that you cater to a specialized field or industry or client type. Regardless of your experience, brand or reputation.

You're a specialist, and therefore you're perceived instantly as an "expert" -- not by experience or education, but by expertise and specialization.

Take a mechanic: Rarely would you call a general mechanic an "expert mechanic," unless she has invested a considerable amount of resources in branding herself that way, or in educating herself deeply in the world of mechanics, backed by many years of experience.

On the other hand, it would be easy to dub a mechanic -- even a new one just starting out -- that specializes in imported car brakes (such as a BMW mechanic) as an "expert mechanic."

Bottom line, however, I absolutely agree with you. It truly depends on the context. But again, I also believe that nobody wants "cheap," like Ryan stated in his original post.

And no one wants a cheap direct response or salesletter copywriter, either. Ultimately, my point is this: if you're totally new, there are other ways to get business other than cheapening your service by lowering your fees.

Ken Calhoun

Great points, and from Michel as well. Positioning as someone who commands a premium price because of earned, high value services, the "tiffany/cartier", is a much stronger position to be in competitively than being the 'walmart/kmart' copywriter. I've always priced whatever I do at the top 10% or industry-highest in my niches and have done well with it.

Great points..

(and hey let's do lunch again sometime)


Mike Beeson @ 'Buzzwords'

The web has expanded the need for copywriting services at all levels - from 'content' to websites to sales letters. I've no way of knowing, but it's probably also increased the number of people out there who call themselves 'copywriters'.

From what I've seen, they're a pretty disparate lot. In many cases, there are ex-journalists, ad agency copywriters and hacks of every persuasion competing for the same clients' attention.

This will surely cause confusion. In the UK (where I work), rates start at a ridiculously low £15 per hour ($27 US). That's not 'inexpensive'. It's obscene. It's CHEAP with a capital 'F'.

Looking at it from the client's side - if you're a Marketing Manager in a large company who's familiar with the freelance copywriting marketplace, the likelihood of a copywriter 'pulling a fast one' is less likely. On the other hand, for the owner of a small or medium-size company who maybe only uses copywriters on an occasional basis, the scope for being swindled is massive.

The problem here is not being 'cheap'. That's a copywriter's perspective anyway. Most clients don't know what or who is cheap. Perception - right or wrong - may exist in the marketplace as to the relative worth of copywriting. (And I have noticed an increased tendency to look upon copywriting as an auctionable 'commodity'). Quantifying pre-conceptions is another matter, however.

In many cases, what a copywriter can charge may have less to do with reputation or ability than it does to having the 'choutzpah' that will reassure the client they are dealing with an expert. This is true the world over of course. In copywriting and most other walks of life. But, in the copywriting field, perception is all. Well, almost...

In the case of direct response, results will out. The $10,000 sales letter is self-selecting. Anyone prepared to pay that kind of money must surely know a little about the direct response business. Unless, of course, they're prepared to let a copywriter's reputation or 'brand' hold sway.

'Context' is indeed everything. And a half-way decent copywriter will know this instinctively. What he or she charges will be part of their subconscious 'audit' of the business opportunity. Unfortunately, the scope for inferior or unscrupulous copywriters to rip-off clients is enormous. And just as the Internet has increased the size of the copywriting market, so it has also increased the scope for confusion about what clients can expect for their money.

The comments to this entry are closed.

5 FREE Copywriting Gifts

Copywriting Resources

  • Scientific Advertising MP3
    Scientific Advertising MP3 audio book recorded in 21 separate chapters. Click to learn more.
  • Get Copy from Ryan Healy
    Direct response sales letters, ads, opt-in pages, and autoresponder emails. Click to learn more.
  • How to Get Clients Fast
    Struggling to start your freelance career? Discover how to get your first copywriting client in 14 days or less. Click to learn more.
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 05/2004