Archive for December, 2009

How to Negotiate Better Copywriting Fees

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Tallent Agency VA Services
I am a long time fan of Michel Fortin, so when I saw this great article I asked for and received his permission to share it here on my blog site.

Having been asked to do numerous Proofreading and Editing assignments for free or at greatly reduced rates , this will give me and my fellow Virtual Assistants some much needed help with the question, ‘How do we handle this?” The guidelines and ideas in this article really cover any form of services we offer. Thanks, Michel!

How to Negotiate Better Copywriting Fees
Written by Michel Fortin

After read­ing some of my arti­cles on how to find copy­writ­ing clients, one of my stu­dents, Jeff, asked me an inter­est­ing question.

He’s an aspir­ing copy­writer and wants to build his own free­lance copy­writ­ing busi­ness. When he read that I wrote copy for free when I started my career as a copy­writer, he told me he was think­ing about doing the same.

How­ever, he won­dered if he should ask for some­thing, any­thing, in return. In fact, here was his question…

“Mike, my friends have a very small busi­ness, and they have asked me to do copy for them. They say they can’t really pay me that much. I have told them I will do it for free as long as I get rights to the copy and can use it for a ref­er­ence and in my port­fo­lio. I think this is a won­der­ful oppor­tu­nity to get more expe­ri­ence, but my wife wants to see some money on the table.

“I value your opin­ion. Can you help?”

Here was my answer.

Ask­ing for a con­ces­sion in exchange for offer­ing one is always the way to do it. While I believe your trade-​​off is good in prin­ci­ple, it’s still mea­ger. I would con­sider some money — or some larger con­ces­sion on the part of the client. Here’s why…

Writ­ing sale­s­copy com­pletely for free is never good. I know from per­sonal expe­ri­ence. What you should be look­ing for is a return on your “invest­ment” (because writ­ing copy for free is indeed an invest­ment on your part), for two reasons:

* To stop poten­tial nib­bling, grind­ing away your time and resources. If get­ting such a valu­able ser­vice for free was that easy, they are left won­der­ing, “What else can get for free?” It’s illog­i­cal, but they feel cheated if they don’t get more.
* And to add value to your ser­vices (because doing some­thing sup­pos­edly of high value for free paints a low per­ceived value and makes you, or the ser­vices you pro­vide and espe­cially the final prod­uct you cre­ate, look cheap).

In essence, there’s a dis­pro­por­tion­ate bal­ance between the value of your ser­vice and the value of the con­ces­sion you’re mak­ing, which will inevitably harm you.

So the goal is, you want to take the focus away from a trade-​​off based on free copy to one based on a con­ces­sion: apples to apples, or value for value, in other words.

Oth­er­wise, it can lead to a few prob­lems once the ser­vice is ren­dered — prob­lems that will be more dif­fi­cult to resolve if not impos­si­ble than they are to prevent.

For one, the per­son could ask you for more, and more, and then more, slowly nib­bling away at your time, your money, and your resources. They feel they can get more since it was so easy. Again, it seems para­dox­i­cal. But that’s how your clients will react.

(It’s manip­u­la­tion. While some will do this con­spic­u­ously, oth­ers will do this indi­rectly, nudg­ingly, and sub­tly, often even with­out your knowl­edge — espe­cially if they’re friends of yours, since your will­ing­ness to help will also make it eas­ier for them to do so.)

I know this from per­sonal experience.

Early in my career, I’ve writ­ten copy for free for clients who, after deliv­er­ing it, kept ask­ing for small tweaks, here and there, all the time. I never got paid for the extra work.

The worst part was, this hap­pened more often with clients whose copy I wrote for free, or copy offered at a sub­stan­tial dis­count after they hag­gled with me on price.

Even in those cases, when there was a signed con­tract, they still found ways around it, and con­tin­ued to ask me for more con­ces­sions after the copy was delivered.

Trust me. I’ve been in these sit­u­a­tions too many times.

One of my favorite speak­ers is Larry Winget, author of “Shut Up, Stop Whin­ing, and Get a Life!” and “You’re Broke Because You Want to Be.” On his pro­gram, “Suc­cess is Your Own Fault,” Larry quotes the San­born Maxim, which goes:

“The cus­tomers who are will­ing to pay you the least will always demand the most.”

(Re-​​read it. That state­ment is pro­found. It cer­tainly was for me.)

Nev­er­the­less, the prob­lem is that there is a “con­ces­sion mis­match.” Stated dif­fer­ently, the per­ceived value of each con­ces­sion is not equal to each other.

It’s not because the copy is free but because it is free and what you’re ask­ing for in return is mea­ger when com­pared to the larger con­ces­sion you’re mak­ing — the con­ces­sion being a fin­ished, com­pletely writ­ten piece of sales copy.

Look at it this way: offer­ing copy for free is like a mar­ket­ing invest­ment. (That’s how I looked at it.) But if you offer copy for, say, $2,000, would you there­fore spend $2,000 on a sin­gle ad to mar­ket your ser­vices just to get that one client? Of course not.

Psy­cho­log­i­cally, by writ­ing copy for free you are not adding enough value to your con­ces­sion. More impor­tantly, you are lit­er­ally tak­ing value away from your product.

Think about it. By mak­ing your end-​​product the con­ces­sion itself, then the per­cep­tion will be that the end-​​product will be of low value, too. Why? Because the con­ces­sion they are mak­ing, in exchange, is mean­ing­less in com­par­i­son. You get what you pay for, right?

Sure, build­ing your port­fo­lio is impor­tant to you. But giv­ing you the abil­ity to add their copy to your port­fo­lio is worth how much to your client? How big of a con­ces­sion is that to them? What are they really giv­ing up in return? In many cases, not much.

Since you are not ask­ing the client to make a sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sion in exchange for your con­ces­sion, then you’re not only devalu­ing what you offer but also your­self.

To be clear, ask­ing for trade­offs is good and you’re doing well in ask­ing for one. It adds value to any con­ces­sion you’re mak­ing by always ask­ing for some­thing in return.

Never make a con­ces­sion, even if it’s as sim­ple as a dis­count, with­out ask­ing for one in exchange. Call it a “counter-​​concession.” This is noth­ing new. Most of the top nego­ti­at­ing experts out there, like Roger Daw­son and Herb Cohen for instance, teach this.

This is an impor­tant con­cept to grasp, even if they’re friends of yours: the per­ceived value of the ser­vice depre­ci­ates imme­di­ately after the ser­vice is rendered.

Why is this impor­tant? For one, if the copy doesn’t do as well as expected, who cares if you did it for free? (Your client cer­tainly won’t.) But it goes fur­ther than that.

If all you had were rights to the copy and it did per­form well, and if any­thing should hap­pen between you two, would you ever con­sider stop­ping your friend from using your copy? Even to the point of send­ing them a cease and desist, or tak­ing legal action?

Friend­ships notwith­stand­ing, would you be will­ing to work twice as hard try­ing to sat­isfy an insa­tiable client when you could be work­ing on other, bet­ter, pay­ing clients?

It’s some­thing to think about.

Ask­ing for a larger con­ces­sion before work starts helps to stop the poten­tial grinding-​​away process after the copy is deliv­ered. If they try, then each time they ask for a con­ces­sion you in turn ask for one. Always ask for a counter-​​concession. Always.

Plus, by ask­ing for a sub­stan­tial con­ces­sion in the begin­ning, you also increase the per­cep­tion that each counter-​​concession you will ask with each one they request from you will be just as large, which will force them to think twice before nib­bling for more.

If they are demand­ing (and cheap clients usu­ally are), ask yourself:

“Am I pre­pared to do two to three times the work, deal with a high-​​maintenance client, and divert my atten­tion away from other, pay­ing clients (let alone away from mar­ket­ing my ser­vices in order to find bet­ter clients), for a mere addi­tion to my résumé?”

On the other hand, mak­ing a bal­anced con­ces­sion — giv­ing a dis­count instead of doing it for free, for exam­ple — will increase your per­ceived worth. And a good way to do this is to raise your fees. Rais­ing your prices is not just about increas­ing per­ceived value.

By rais­ing your fees and giv­ing a more sub­stan­tial con­ces­sion will allow you to ask for a larger con­ces­sion from them in return. So ask for some­thing upfront, even if it’s little.

Say: “I under­stand this may be out of your bud­get range. In exchange for a spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion (a dis­count), may I sug­gest (what­ever con­ces­sion you want them to make).”

Even bet­ter, let them make their counter-​​concession for you. They might sur­prise you, as it might be a lot more than you antic­i­pated. Say some­thing like: “In exchange, what can you do for me?” Then let them tell you what they’re pre­pared to offer you in return.

(Inci­den­tally, doing it this way also gives you a pretty good idea of what they think of you, and how much value they place in your ser­vices and your copy.)

Ulti­mately, your copy no longer becomes the object of the trade­off. Your con­sid­er­a­tion — e.g., a dis­count or what­ever con­ces­sion you’re mak­ing — is. Apples to apples.

Also, don’t limit your­self to a dis­count. You can offer a bonus (such as an extra revi­sion, free of charge), an extra con­sul­ta­tion, an extended guar­an­tee, an add-​​on ser­vice (such as writ­ing the opt-​​in page copy, for­mat­ting, or even test­ing the copy), and so on.

That’s why the key is to break­down and denom­i­nate each com­po­nent of your ser­vice — from research to revi­sions. In other words, give each com­po­nent a price tag. Sure, give a flat rate. But break the project down into indi­vid­ual parts, with indi­vid­ual values.

Not only will each ele­ment have a price tag, which can be used in the nego­ti­a­tion, but also it will help to jus­tify your higher fees. It will seem less “pulled out of thin air.”

When a prospect sees the value behind every indi­vid­ual com­po­nent, they also get a bet­ter appre­ci­a­tion of what you do, how you price your work, and how much they are truly get­ting if you were to con­cede on any one of those elements.

For exam­ple, if a client asks for a dis­count, you can say: “As you can see Mrs. Prospect, your project includes one post-​​delivery revi­sion, which is worth $1,000, absolutely free of charge. Here’s what I can do. I can throw in an extra one. Fair enough?”

In the end, you add weight to your trade­off, and your copy thus retains its value.

On the flip side, your client’s con­ces­sion doesn’t have to be just a mere addi­tion to your port­fo­lio, which is min­i­mal at best. (In fact, adding your copy to your port­fo­lio should be auto­mat­i­cally included in your agree­ment with any copy you write, anyway.)

Remem­ber, you want to match their con­ces­sion with yours. Bet­ter said, you want to match the per­ceived value of both your con­ces­sions. Per­ceived value is key.

So here’s another option. Ask for roy­al­ties or com­mis­sions. You can offer your friends a sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sion in exchange for a per­cent­age of gross sales your copy pro­duces, for as long as they use your copy if not for a pre­de­ter­mined period of time.

If roy­al­ties are not an option (par­tic­u­larly if you’re new, or if you don’t know the client or their busi­ness well enough), you can ask for other things. For exam­ple, you can barter — in fact, bar­ter­ing is often the most over­looked nego­ti­a­tion strategy.

Or have them write a tes­ti­mo­nial about you, get them to give you qual­ity refer­rals, or ask them to send a broad­cast to their lists pro­mot­ing you. The trick is to get this in writ­ing, and to ensure they deliver their end of the deal within a spe­cific period of time.

Remem­ber, the per­ceived value of your ser­vice — includ­ing the per­ceived value of the con­ces­sion you’re mak­ing — depre­ci­ates imme­di­ately after the ser­vice has been ren­dered. The longer they wait to com­ply, the less mean­ing­ful your con­ces­sion becomes.

That’s why this is prefer­ably spec­i­fied in a writ­ten agree­ment before work begins.

If they they fail com­ply within a spec­i­fied period of time, then you can charge them your full fee — or for the amount of the con­ces­sion, if they already paid you (have an agree­ment in place before work starts, so you will have legal recourse to do so).

In fact, hav­ing a writ­ten agree­ment prior to com­menc­ing any work is essen­tial. Get it in writ­ing, even if it’s a sim­ple let­ter of under­stand­ing or intent. When it’s writ­ten down, it’s more than just for legal rea­sons. It’s also a psy­cho­log­i­cal commitment.

Finally, remem­ber that it’s bet­ter to nego­ti­ate on a con­ces­sion (whether it’s a dis­count or not) than it is on the entire copy itself — such as by offer­ing it for free.

If they want apples, stick with apples. Not oranges. And cer­tainly not the orchard.

About the Author

Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, author, speaker, and consultant. Visit his blog and signup free to get blog updates by email, along with response-boosting tips, tested conversion strategies, the latest news, free advice, additional resources, and a lot more! Go now to . While you’re at it, follow him on Twitter .

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Over the past 17+ years, Jan Tallent has spent countless hours providing writers and webmasters with free friendly tips on how to correct spelling and grammar errors in their written material.

From the feedback received she decided that since proofreading and editing help was so desperately needed, she should build a business around something she enjoys doing, while at the same time providing a valuable service to business owners and writers.

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