When you're a beginner, or when times are slow and you need the work, the temptation to quote a low price to get writing assignments is overwhelming.
After all, your cost to produce that writing is minimal. There are no laborers to hire, no raw materials to buy. With a computer, you don't even need ink and paper like you did with a typewriter; you can transmit your product to the client over the Internet at virtually no cost.
But of course, it's a huge mistake to underprice your writing services, for several reasons. When you cut price, you reduce or eliminate profits, undermine future income and lock yourself into a vicious cycle of more low prices—working twice as hard as you have to for half the money.
There are probably very few people reading this column who wouldn't benefit by doubling their fees almost immediately. Let me outline three ways in which you can do just that.
1. As Nike says: Just do it! Double your fees—starting tomorrow. You'll be shocked to find that the majority of prospects will pay your new rates without blinking. Reason: 90 percent of writers charge too little—and you may be one of them.
To be safe, don't double your fees with existing clients. Just quote double your current fees to all new prospects. Again, you'll be amazed at how many clients say yes.
Sure, some will say no. But so what? Remember, if you've doubled your fees, you need to take on only half the assignments you handle now to make the same amount of money you're earning today.
Therefore, let those who won't pay walk away. Work only with those clients who'll pay your new, higher rates. Worst-case scenario: You'll make the same amount of money you do now and work half as hard.
As for existing clients, let them know your fees have gone up dramatically. But because they're a valued client, you'll give them only a modest fee increase now. Then, gradually, within a year or two, raise them to your new rates.
2. Focus on major, important projects that clients care about a great deal—an annual report, for instance—and not on tiny, incidental tasks that aren't very important to them (such as a press release for a local podiatrist announcing to the town paper that he attended a seminar on ingrown toenails).
The more money clients spend to produce what you've written, the more money they're willing to pay for the writing. That's why you can command higher fees writing annual reports, four-color sales brochures, national TV commercials and a full-page ad for Forbes. You'll receive less money writing an article for your client's company newsletter, where the production costs are relatively modest, especially if the newsletter is distributed via e-mail.
3. Work for clients in industries that have money to spend. Such industries include banking, insurance, financial services, pharmaceuticals, health care, manufacturing, software and electronics. When clients have deep pockets, they're more willing to pay the fees top commercial writers charge.
Avoid working for small, cash-strapped clients who can't afford to pay a decent wage. These include doctors, lawyers, dentists, chiropractors, retailers, restaurants, small businesses and start-up entrepreneurs. Whenever a potential client begins the conversation with "We don't have a lot of money to spend" or mentions the words "venture capital," run as fast as you can.
A large manufacturing company with $5 billion in sales can afford marketing expenditures that a fledgling consultant who has yet to earn his first dime can't.
When demand for your writing services outweighs supply, you can raise fees with confidence and get what you ask. On the other hand, when you don't have enough work coming in to keep you busy and pay the bills, the client who wants to negotiate you to a lower fee has most of the leverage.
Given that you're one person, and there are only 40 to 50 hours in the work week (unless you're a workaholic), the supply of your writing service is relatively small. Therefore, when you generate a healthy demand for your writing through marketing and self-promotion, you can easily tip the supply-and-demand ratio in your favor.
Is more money possible in the writing world? Absolutely. Now it's up to you to play to your strengths and get the payday you deserve.