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How to Get Higher Pay as a Copywriter

Prachi is a freelance marketer and copywriter. She is actively involved in market research to help entrepreneurs with brand-building.

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As you progress in your copywriting business, you will want to increase your earnings.

Here are a few tips for achieving this.

  • Aim high. Beginning copywriters often think that they can only get the tedious, low-paying jobs. And it's true that these may be more accessible when you're first setting out in this field. But if you see a high-paying job advertised, or a job that's slightly out of your comfort zone, go for it. Send in your application and samples of your work. What have you got to lose?
  • If you've been working for a client for a while and he's pleased with your work, don't be afraid to mention that you need to raise your fees. Most businesses are well used to giving their employees annual pay rises, and it can hardly come as a big surprise if you ask for one as well. You will have to ask, though. Don't expect any client to offer you a pay rise unbidden!
  • Every year (or more often) review your target annual income. If you decide to increase this - and you should do so annually, at least - work out how much you will need to charge per hour to achieve your new target, and adjust the rates you quote to clients accordingly. It's a good idea to write down your current target rate and keep it somewhere handy. If a new client phones and asks you to quote a price, you will then be able to refer to this, and not end up mistakenly quoting a price you were charging a year or two ago.
  • If a client tells you that your price for a job is too high, a possible alternative is to ask for a profit-share. In other words, rather than charging a fixed price, you agree to take a percentage of the profits generated by your advertisement (a royalty, as it would be called in book publishing). With a successful campaign, this can generate a lot of money for you, especially if the advertisement is run over a lengthy period. It is obviously something of a gamble, though. If you decide to try this, be sure to get all the details confirmed in writing by your client. We also recommend negotiating an up-front payment from the client as a non-repayable advance on royalties. At least then if the campaign is a failure (perhaps by no fault of your own) you will still get some return from your labors.
  • Try to audit your work. In other words, record accurately how long every job takes you - not only the writing, but also the background research, customer liaison, administration, and so on. You may well find that some jobs and/or clients are more profitable than others. Armed with this information, you may then decide to raise your rates on these jobs, or perhaps even decline them in preference for other, better-paid work.
  • Announce your successes to the world. Put the names of your clients - especially prestigious ones - on your website, along with any testimonials. Send out press releases to local newspapers if you get a big contract or a particularly interesting/unusual one. You might even want to consider getting a promotional brochure printed with quotes from your happy clients. This will all help promote your copywriting service, and - very importantly - help you justify charging higher fees.
  • And finally, you may be able to charge more if you can demonstrate specialist expertise. This is such an important topic we have devoted the following section to it.

Why It Pays to Specialise

When first starting out as a copywriter, you will naturally want to take on any job that comes your way. Once you have your first few clients, however, you should give serious consideration to specializing.

New copywriters are often worried that, by narrowing their focus, they are reducing their chances of getting work. While this is an understandable concern, in practice the opposite is much more likely to be the case.

Specialising bestows prestige in almost any occupation. Medicine is one obvious example. The highest-paid and most respected doctors are not the family GPs, who have to deal with anything that comes their way, but the consultants, who have just one particular specialism e.g. cardiac medicine.

Or, if you want a less rarefied example, take car mechanics. Rarely would you call a general mechanic an 'expert', unless perhaps he has many, many years of experience? On the other hand, it would be easy to dub a mechanic - even a new one just starting out - who specializes in Japanese clutches as an 'expert mechanic'. Specialising automatically confers authority and prestige - even more so, in many cases, than experience or education.

As a specialist and presumed expert in your field, you will be able to ask for higher fees. A further benefit is that businesses often prefer to go to a copywriter who specializes in their industry or in the advertising medium (e.g. radio) they want to use, rather than to a generalist.

In addition, your own marketing copy won't have to be painted with broad brushstrokes in order to appeal to everyone - so you can concentrate on demonstrating to clients in your target market that you have a clear and specific understanding of their needs. This should improve your success rate in getting work, and reduce the amount of time and effort you have to devote to marketing yourself.

There are many possibilities for specialization. For example, you could choose to focus on radio/TV advertising or copywriting for the Internet. Or you could pick a particular product (or service) niche: health products, food and drink, medicines, technology, sport and leisure, insurance, and so on. Obviously, within your local area, the pool of potential clients for your chosen specialism may be quite small, but this means you will be able to target them more effectively. In addition, modern electronic communications mean that it is quite possible to work for clients anywhere in the country, or indeed the world.

As a result of the factors set out above, many copywriters today have quite narrow specialisms. One American copywriter we know specializes in martial arts schools (he calls himself 'The Black Belt Copywriter'). Another specializes in writing about cosmetic dentistry. Both have as much work as they can handle, and it's well paid too.

How do you choose what to specialize in?

Obviously, if you have relevant specialist knowledge or expertise, perhaps deriving from a previous job, it would make sense to use this as your starting point. Alternatively, you could take a lead from your first few clients. Let's say, for example, your first job involves copywriting for a hairdressing chain. You could use this to brand yourself as a copywriter specializing in hair and beauty - with the big advantage that you can already demonstrate relevant experience to other potential clients in this field.

You may be able to advertise more than one specialism. There are some dangers to this, as clients might look a bit suspiciously at a copywriter who claimed to specialize in, says, hair and beauty and the motor industry! But there is no reason why you couldn't, if you wish, offer specialisms in other, related fields e.g. hair and beauty and fashion. Once you have made a name for yourself in a particular niche, however, it is quite likely you will soon have all the work you can cope with.

Of course, there is no rule that you must specialize. If you enjoy being a generalist and having a wide variety of work with local businesses, that's fine. If you want to maximize your earning potential as a copywriter, however, specializing is one of the most effective ways of doing this. In any event, once your business is up and running successfully, in our view specializing - maybe in a low-key way at first - is a strategy well worth considering.

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