Freelance Copywriters: 4 Simple Ways to Make Sure You Get Paid

Image courtesy of Anankkml/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Anankkml/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being a freelance copywriter is a great way to make a decent income.  A lot of people choose this line of work because it allows them to make their own hours and they get to determine how much money they make each week or even each day. However, and this is a big “however,” in the world of freelancing, particularly online, you’ll need to know how to protect yourself from being taken advantage of.  This is because there are any number of scams out there, not to mention, dishonest people who may try to get you to work on projects, meanwhile they have no intention of paying you.

Newbie or not, I’m quite sure you’ve read other freelancers’ rants about difficulties in getting paid from problem clients.  You may have even had one or two of these challenging situations yourself.

You’ll need to make sure that you always protect yourself so that you have a nice, steady income and a great experience as a freelance copywriter.

Fortunately, there are measures you can take to keep folks from cheating you. If you apply the following tips you’ll have a much greater chance of assuring that your fees are protected and that you are not scammed out of your money.

 

1. Find Out About Your Client Before You Meet

 

Look the prospect up before you agree to work with them and before you discuss the assignment with them.  Your findings may help you develop more pointed questions that will serve to safeguard you and your fees in the end.

There are countless, simple ways to research a client, but be creative in your search for information on them. A few quick ways to do a makeshift, but effective “background” check are as follows:

  1. If  this client finds you in an online forum, make sure that you check their feedback score (if any).
  2. If this client finds you on an online staffing platform (e.g., Elance.com), check out the comments made by previous contractors. Make sure there are no  listed problems with that client. Also make sure that you check into the feedback that your potential client has left.  If they show a history of leaving a bunch of negative comments, be wary of that client. It may signify that he or she is impossible to please.
  3. Enter the client’s email address in a popular search engine and scan the results. If that email has ever been associated with a scam, it may be listed in your search results.
  4. Take twenty or thirty minutes to plug their name or their website URL in The Better Business Bureau’s website, and look them up on Yelp, Angie’s List, SiteJabber, TripAdvisor and the like.

 

2. Protect Yourself By Using Written Contracts

 

Another great tip to staying safe and making sure you get the money you earned is to always use a contract. Using a contract/written agreement/quotation agreement can help assure you are paid upon completion of your work. If you do not have a contract, you will not be well-protected and you’ll undermine any leverage you otherwise would have had.

If the client gives you a hard time about signing the contract or starts “nickling and diming” you on more than one provision in the agreement, this may be a sign that there will be more issues and stress ahead. It’s probably best to not work with that person.

 

3. Get a Down-Payment Before You Start the Job

 

Making sure that you are getting paid is key when doing freelance copywriting work or any type of freelance work. Many writers require that clients leave an initial deposit, and you should too. This deposit assures the client that you will provide the copywriting work, and it helps to assure you that the client will pay for the work. The deposit you require should reflect the amount of work you will be doing. For larger jobs you will need to require a larger deposit and for smaller jobs you can require less.  Having the deposit will help to ease your fears about not being paid and will help to develop a trusting relationship between you and the client.

 

4. Make It Simple for Clients to Pay for Your Services

 

When Mr. Pain-in-the-A says, “I only have a debit card,” you want to be able to say, “That’s fine. I take wire transfers, and there will be a fee of $___ dollars for that transaction.”

If Ms. Bothersome says, “I can only pay by credit card,” you want to be able to say, “That’s fine. I have Intuit or Paypal, so you are more than welcome to pay by credit card.”

Of course, in order to do this, you’ll have to set these program up.  Luckily, these payment services are user-friendly, and there’s always customer service (with real live agents) available to help you if you have a problem. Today, many, if not most, banks offer merchant services for small business owners (including freelancers). These services allow us to accept a whole host of credit, debit, wire and mobile payment methods the same way the larger establishments do.

 

Conclusion

 

Set and hold to milestones when you are working on someone’s project, especially if it’s a multi-tiered one. Always send a sample to the client before you begin so that you can make sure he or she is satisfied with your work.  Stay in constant contact with the client and confirm that you understand his or her wants by repeating it back to them and getting that nod, preferably the electronic nod – via EMAIL.   The more you and the client are in synch, the more promising your experience is likely to be.

If you do end up with a problem client you will at first need to be patient. In the beginning, if you cannot work things out, it is advised that you cancel the job with the client before things get too complicated. If you have already turned in work, try your best to work with the client and see what you can do to improve the work or meet his or her needs by some other mutually satisfactory means.

Your business as a freelance copywriter can be greatly protected by these simple steps. Remember to follow your instincts, and if a job or a client does not feel right, move on to another job.  Require a contract and make sure that you get a deposit before beginning the job. Lastly, create that “paper” trail. If you’re a straight shooter, it’s always to your personal and legal advantage to have a paper trail, even if it’s email only.  Sometimes a financial dispute can very easily be resolved by reminding and showing your client that on X date, you did Y, just as she requested in her email.

 

 

About the Author:Stacey Mathis is founder and president of Stacey Mathis Copywriting.  Get more from Stacey on Twitter and Linkedin.com.

Instantly Make a Custom Contract for Your Freelance Business – At No Cost To You

freelance contract
Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Back in October, I wrote an extensive post about starting a freelance business out on the right foot and, among other helpful nuggets, I included the following tip:

Contracts

Unless you are crafting a flyer for your grandmother’s church picnic, use a contract. An elaborate contract is the safest bet, but a simple contract can work also, provided all of your bases are covered. Heck, if her church has a board of directors, you may want to use a contract for that church picnic flyer too. Nothing personal grandma! At the very least, your contract or agreement should contain:

♦the date of the agreement;

♦your name and address, the name and address of the business hiring you and the signer’s name;

♦a detailed description of the project, including the medium and format of the work;

♦the number of pages, if it’s a print document;

♦the various parts and stages of the project;

♦the number of edits and revisions you will allow;

♦the dates of delivery for each stage of the project, if more than one stage;

your fee and its due date(s);

♦a list of terms and conditions; and

♦both parties’ signatures.

In that vein, recently, I discovered that our friends over at freelancersunion.org have a complimentary tool for freelancers to easily and quickly create contracts for their businesses. I’d advise you guys to check it out. I used it myself last night just to test it before letting my newsletter subscribers in on the tool. I wanted to make sure it worked smoothly. Lo and behold, it worked perfectly! Check it out here.

“A lean agreement is better than a fat judgment” – Proverb Quotes

Okay, I Just Saw the Coolest FREE App for Newbie Freelancers EVER!

It’s called MyPrice, the app every freelancer needs.

If you are a copywriter or graphic designer, etc., you can calculate how much you can charge for your creative services. It takes all functions into account, like location, your education, experience, expenses, you name it. I’m so excited to tell you about it that I don’t have time to do a formal review. But, I don’t really need to because the video will tell you so much, you won’t need to read what I’d have to say anyway. So, here it is.

Oh, one thing: The reason I say it’s for newbies is because it seems to have a quirky issue holding in its memory years of experience beyond six years. In other words, if you have over six years’ experience, it’s probably not the tool for you.

 

 

Write and Grow Rich . . . Really

My colleague, Bob Bly, author of 70+ books and the man McGraw-Hill calls “America’s top copywriter,” shows you how quickly and easily you can . . .

“Write and Grow Rich!”

Write and Grow Rich (Pens with Golden Dollar Sign)If you’re thinking about starting a freelance copywriting business now or have started one already, you’re in luck. Bob Bly, in his infinite marketing wisdom, has developed a proven and systematic way for writers to build a successful freelance business . . . just as he and many of our colleagues have done.

You’ll see in a moment Bob Bly’s best-selling writer’s manual Write and Grow Rich is much more than just your run-of-the-mill writer’s guide. It’s brimming with practical methods you can use to quickly and easily start and run your own well-paying freelance writing business.

Bob walks you through establishing your own manageable, lucrative writing practice . . .

Read More

Money-Making Tasks To Perform Separately When Clients Can’t Afford Your Freelance Copywriting Services

Cutting Costs of Freelance Copywriting ServicesFreelance copywriting services often come with a hefty price.  And, unfortunately, not all clients can afford the full monty.  When you have a client or prospect who cannot afford your copywriting services, there are alternatives that can fit within this potential referral source’s budget and that meet your financial needs as well.

For example, I once had a small business client who wanted her website revamped, but could not meet all the costs of a copywriter.   My range of tasks when rewriting a website for clients includes preparing a full analysis of their current website before starting the work.   To arrive at a price that was reasonable for me and doable for her, I charged her for the time it took to perform the website analysis.  I also factored in the time I spent writing it and making it presentable and easy to follow.

What she got was a valuable copywriting services tool – a detailed report in pdf format, including, among other things, advice on how to improve many aspects of her website, social media recommendations, SEO keyword suggestions and some “how to’s.”   This way, if the client wants to overhaul her website on her own, she can.  Often, in their attempts to apply my suggestions, clients realize all the work, time and energy the project entails and end up turning the project over to me to handle. They simply find the money in their budgets.

Having said that, below is a list of supplementary copywriting services that you may already provide, but which can be segregated and charged for separately.  These copywriting services include:

Web Site or Landing Page Analysis and Feedback Report

A web analysis or landing page analysis can be done in a variety of ways, using a number of analytics tools, including:  Google Analytics, JAWStats, Clicky, Hubspot Marketing Grader, GoingUp!,  W3 Counter, Piwik, TraceWatchWoopra, Snoop or W3Perl.   You can then synthesize and translate this information into a more laymen-friendly pdf presentation. To make things easier, you can orally record your take on this site, then type it up and organize your notes into a nice neat report.

Sales Copy Critique and Redraft

Clients are too close to their products to see how their self-crafted copy is negatively impacting their business.  There is a need for sales copy critique to rescue them from themselves.  As an isolated copywriting service, you can review an e-mail marketing campaign, ads, sales letters, landing pages, or direct mail packages. You select and enhance the right elements to boost sales and prevent them from unselling their products.

To simplify things for yourself, you can create a two column chart with several rows.  The rows in the left column could list copy items including things like:  compelling headline; sell the solution, not the product; use sub-headlines; build desire; talk about benefits often; give reader multiple chances to take action; offer a guarantee; show, don’t tell; address potential objectives; create a buyer’s environment; reader should be nodding “yes” as they read your copy; use emotional words; use short, easy-to-read paragraphs; use a powerful P.S., etc.  The rows in the right column could contain a one to sentence critique and suggestion for each copy item.

These results, of course, get packaged into a handsome report which you can create using the design features and templates in MS Office or any other program you have.

Blogging Tips and Strategy Consultation

The blogosphere sees millions of blogs published daily.  Many of these bloggers are business owners and mid to large companies that are blogging because the gurus and thought leaders said they should.  But, most of them have no clue how to leverage this tool. Here’s where your copywriting services come in. You can run an SEO analysis using one of the above-mentioned analytics programs, then review the SEO results of their blog posts vis-a-vis their ultimate blogging goals.  You could then come up with a campaign strategy for achieving that goal, suggesting things like where they can find readers, etc.   You can also compare their blog and blog results to their competitors’ via an abbreviated audit report.   Your report can identify key performance analytics based on your client’s goals, or it can cover: blog strategy, relevant content for the blog, integration of the blog with their website or other social media platforms, research, target marketing tips, appropriate design (from a copywriter’s efficacy perspective) or traffic generation ideas.

Bonus: Get Leads from a Copywriting Services Training Session

You may not be a 5-year veteran, but as a copywriter with some projects under your belt, you are aware of basic copywriting practices that many businesses are not aware of and you could offer to teach a class to small business owners (e.g., hosted by your local chamber of commerce).  You can give your course a compelling headline and sign small business owners up to hear you speak.  To fancy things up, you can create and run off copies of the training program highlights in a handout with your logo and contact information at the bottom. From such a training sessions any of the above-mentioned prospects could result.  It’s also a great referral source; audience members will spread the word about your copywritng services.

 

In this economy businesses are always looking for ways to cut costs.  Offering creative solutions via your freelance copywriting services is certainly one valid way to please prospects and clients while not losing their business altogether.

 

Good luck,

Stacey

P.S.  You can get very creative in what you choose to provide to your client in the report. As with any of these ideas, you can provide copywriting services reports in the form of a CD or MP3’s as well.

 

7 Common Mistakes New Freelance Copywriters Make that Could Cost Them Business

One of the luxuries of being a nube copywriter in the day of the Internet is that you get to learn from the mistakes of others.   There’s always a slew of experienced folks who are willing to share the mistakes they’ve made so that you don’t make them.  That’s what this post is all about.  Listed below are the top seven mistakes new freelance copywriters make:

1.  Being lax with your own marketing because business is good

It’s lovely when your freelance business is bombarded with so many clients that you need to create a wait list of some sort. But, as veterans know, business ebbs and flows. Because it does, you have to prepare for times when clients aren’t ringing your phone off the hook. When you are new to freelancing, it’s easy to go into panic mode, especially if it’s your only source of income.  It’s hard to stay focused and be productive when you are in that mind frame.  This is, however, a crisis that can be averted.  Market your freelance business, including networking, with the same seriousness you do when business is good.  For a whole host of reasons a current client can become a former client. Even worse, an anchor client may need to make copywriting and marketing less of priority and put your contract on hold. Don’t wait for this type of thing to happen.  Keep marketing.  Keep networking.

2.  Not keeping up with the trends in your field

Technology, social media and the reality of consumer control are forcing businesses to stay in a constant state of alert because they change every day.  As a copywriter, you need to make time in your schedule, even if it’s just an hour, reading up on the latest “best practices” and the latest technology that is relevant to marketing and to your particular niche. Clients are becoming more sophisticated in their knowledge of, well, everything.   As a professional  your clients look to you for guidance, so you need to keep up. You want to be able to intelligently discuss a client’s needs and answer his or her questions.  You want to be able to offer the most ideal and relevant solutions to their problems.  If you feel you are too busy, add an hour in your weekly schedule and read during down time, like when you are waiting to be called in the doctor’s office.  Successful freelancers make time for relevance.

3.  Forgetting to follow up

When a potential client or a referral source gives you a call . . . follow up.  When a former client or an old friend you know calls your business line . . . follow up.  When you meet someone at a networking function off or online, especially if they express interest in copywriting . . . follow up.   This is your bread and butter.  These are potential ambassadors, evangelists.  You want the word on the street to be, “Oh, yeah John the copywriter is very responsible.   Building strong business relationships is important to growth or staying afloat for that matter.

4.  Not keeping track of your receipts, invoices and client payments

Staying organized is one of those aspects of business that people take least seriously.  Why?  Because they can always do it later.  Besides, they only need to have it all together by April 15th or some quarterly tax deadline.  If anything can zap the energy you’ll need for completing copywriting assignments and drumming up business it’s record keeping.  Make it easier on yourself by starting out in an orderly way, and it will save you so much ajada.   You don’t have to be insanely meticulous, but a few basic housekeeping tricks will go a long way.  Keep a folder entitled “2013” or whatever the current year is and when you get a Staples receipt or something from Amazon, print it out and dump it in there or save it to an Expense folder on your computer, but keep everything in the same place so you are not looking in 10 different locations when the time comes. Do the same thing for your client’s payments. You can organize them later, but it really helps when everything is one place.  Open an invoice directory and set up one sub-directory per client and keep their invoices in there or do it off line. You don’t need state-of-the-art software or apps. They help, but don’t let not having them stop you from keeping your records in basic order.

5.  Being lazy

Let’s keep it real. We all want to relax and should relax.  But, not when you have deadlines to meet.  Not when you are supposed to be churning out your best work – which is always.  When you freelance, particularly when you first start, it’s easy to forget that the money you saved up to start this venture may not always be there.  You have to hustle.  But, if this is your passion, and I believe it should be, then the grind should  not be as bad as it would be for someone who is not really interested in copywriting and is doing it for all the wrong reasons.  Having said that, you can lay down and watch a Law & Order marathon when you have work on your desk.  Your effort or lack of effort will show in your work product and this will come back to haunt you.  People don’t refer business to someone whose work or obvious work ethic they don’t admire.  If you have to take a break and re-energize to get motivated again, then do so, but don’t allow laziness or even complacency to become your rule; those habits are too hard to reverse.

6.  Not using a contract of some sort

Even if you trust the person who is about to become your client, use a contract or at least a clear, detailed quotation agreement.  This helps when there is some disagreement later on down the road about expectations.  You always want to have something in writing to refer to prevent any misunderstandings.  Try not to promise anything that is not spelled out in your contract, no matter how tempting it is to be Mr. Nice Guy or Gal.

7.  Charging too little

Check or ask on the copywriting forums and places like the copywriting groups on linkedin.com what you should be charging for the type of copywriting work you do or want to do.   You don’t want to low-ball yourself.  When you do, it typifies the quality of client you’re going to get – cheap, hagglers, etc.

Once you get  your freelance copywriting business off the ground, sidestepping the mistakes will get easier.  All freelancers make mistakes – newbies and veterans.  I’d love to hear some of the mistakes you’ve made and what you learned from them.

Freelance Copywriting Rates: Getting Paid What You Deserve

Freelance copywriting jobs can mean fast business and a nice chunk of change, even for the beginner freelance copywriters. Of course, this is if the newbie understands ways to strategically charge for their freelance copywriting services.  Setting a rate is often sticky and tricky, especially for beginners, because you don’t want to be forced to turn folks away and certainly want to get what you’re worth.

Why You Must Charge at Least $50 an Hour
Before we even begin, this is 2011.  Do not work for less than $50 an hour. If you plan to, keep your day job and stop freelancing, because it’s pointless, unless you are doing this just because you like the challenge and you don’t need the money.

Seriously, if you don’t think your copywriting talent is worth $50 an hour, wait until it is, then start your business. More than likely, if some little bird told you that copywriting is what you should be doing, then you are already worth $50. What “little bird” do I mean: You have proof that you get this copywriting thing and have proof on some level that you’ve got what it takes because a client told you, or you have repeat business from a client, or because you asked and were told your work product brought in business. The bottom line is, anything less than $50.00 is insulting.

You also have to consider that there will be factors relating to running your business and getting your projects completed that will take time and incur expenses, like marketing your business, administrative work and minor outlays that will eat into your $50 an hour.  That $50 when it’s all said and done, may end up really amounting to $25 to $35 an hour.

DON’T start out by undercutting yourself.  Word gets around, and it will be harder for you to raise your fees later. Equally important: It’s not about your price; it’s about your value!

Please note:  This is not the same as working pro bono to get experience when you have absolutely nothing to use to demonstrate your copywriting skills.

Flat Fees

For straightforward, run-of-mill projects, you can set a flat fee. A flat fee does not change. Charge a flat fee for example, when a client asks you to revise a flyer or create a sales letter and provides you with pretty much everything you will need to complete the job; or when you are asked to critique a web page or write a blog post, etc., for which you don’t have to do much research, and they are clear as to exactly what they want.

However, when you are uncertain as to the time it will take you to finish your client’s project due to uncertainty about the client’s objectives or you expect a series of delays and rewrites on their part, charge an hourly rate.  Also, tell your client there is a minimum for which they will have to pay. In other words, you tell them, for instance, the minimum is four hours even if it only takes you an hour. This is not uncommon in business.  Just make sure you are clear, up front and honest. And put it in writing!

When you set your copywriting rates, consider and apply the following important steps:

1. Justifying Your Copywriting Rates
People see the end result in their mind and don’t take into account all of the labor that goes into reaching that powerful result. Show your client the value they are getting for the money they are spending by detailing the individual tasks you have to perform in order to complete the assignment from the beginning of the project to the very end. Note the interviews, file organization, telephone calls, creating rough drafts, conferences, researching their competitors, reviewing background data and other material, editing, proofreading, redrafting, travel time, etc.  Incidentally, this specific information should appear on their invoice, as well.

2. The Type of Copywriting Services or Type of Project Can Influence Price
The type of copywriting project you work on can shape your copywriting rates.  A blog post, white papers, Facebook wall entries, brochures, newsletter articles, press releases, Youtube and PowerPoint scripts, radio ads, case studies, print advertising copywriting will require different types of preparation, the research methods and writing styles. Other necessary components that add value to your copywriting services, e.g., using HTML or designing a piece for search engine optimization mean you can charge more.

3. Subject Matter Can Affect Copywriting Rates
The topic will also shape your copywriting rates.  A blog post written on a general topic, for example, may be charged at a lower rate than a blog post focused on a specialized idea. If your background is in a specialized field such as law, medicine, fitness, non-profit, bio tech, finance, botany and you have esoteric knowledge that a general copywriters don’t have, that adds value to your service and thus your price should be higher.  Additionally, the more technical, involved and complex the writing is, the higher your rate can and should be.

Use the Following Price Ranges as a Gauge for Flat Fee Billing

Articles used as web content: $50 to $500 for a 500-word article
Press releases $100 to $600
Sales letters $200 to $2,000 per letter
Flyers $50 to 300
Case Studies $500 to $1,000
Print Advertisement $500 to $2000
Web pages $100 to $500 per page
Brochures $50 to $300 per panel

Use the Following as a Gauge for Billing Hourly

Beginner $50 – $75.00/hour ($100 for specialized background)
Mid-level $100-$200/hour ($250 for specialized background)
Veteran Freelance Copywriters $250-$450/hour (unlimited for specialized background)

If projects are ongoing, you can charge a lower copywriting rate than you would for an assignment where you are hired on one-time basis.

As you can see, there are many factors that account for the rate charged by freelance copywriters, so think hard and take everything into consideration before blurting out a price that committing to a contract you’ll be stuck and unhappy with.