“What is your rate?”
When the question popped up in my DMs, my heart sank. I’m not at all offended by people asking what I charge - I expect prospective clients to want to know my rates, and I’m happy to share them. The reason my heart sank this time was because this was the very first communication I’d ever had with this person, and they were asking the wrong question.
Why is this the wrong first question to ask a copywriter? Because when it comes to copywriting, price is a horrible measure of its value. It’s bad not only for the copywriter, but for the client too. In this article, I’m going to tell you why that is, what to do if you’re faced with this situation, and what questions to look for instead.
Equating Price With Value Is Bad For The Copywriter
When “What is your rate?” is the very first question a prospect asks, RUN.
Does that sound dramatic? Of course I don’t mean you should strap on the Nikes and literally peel out. What I do mean is it’s okay - no, it’s GOOD - to have specific criteria for your ideal client type, and some of that criteria should revolve around how a client approaches your rates.
Your criteria on how clients approach you about your rates may not be the same as mine. I’m a people-pleaser, and I love serving my clients. This makes me a great service provider, but not so great at protecting my time.
Early on in my career as a writer, I would let myself be talked down in price and end up getting burned out because I was taking too many projects for the time available. It was a no-win situation. I wanted to keep growing my business, but something had to give.
Today, I feel comfortable stating my rates with confidence because I have the results and testimonials to back it up. I’m proud and grateful for what I do because I know how it helps my clients and the people they serve.
If someone only wants to hire based on price, they’re likely to be more focused on how much they can GET for their money rather than on how much they can GIVE to the people they serve.
Say that again for the people in the back, right?
I’m not saying price isn’t a factor in who you hire for a job. It absolutely is, and I NEVER hard sell or encourage people to invest more than they can in my services. Ever. But price shouldn’t be the only factor.
Price tells the prospect nothing about what you can actually do for them or how you can help them serve their target audiences. If all you and your services are to them is a number, then they will probably not value your work no matter how good it is.
I also want to address this from the other side of the coin. If you’re reading this and you’re a copywriter, let results dictate your rates. Start out charging a reasonable fee, then adjust your rates when you have the results and testimonials to back it up.
I know service providers who have charged premium rates just because they want to earn premium rates. I’m not okay with that. If a service provider can’t back up what they’re claiming to deliver (and a higher price-tag does automatically bring with it an expectation of high-level, results-based service) it will reflect badly on their business.
Their own business isn’t all that will be negatively affected. When promised results aren’t delivered, it can reflect back negatively on an industry as a whole. I can’t tell you how many client’s I’ve had who paid thousands of dollars for a copywriter who didn’t deliver. They have to turn around and pay me or another copywriter to come in and fix it, and that’s frustrating and expensive.
Equating Price With Value Is Bad For The Client
I'm not a proponent of price-gouging or pulling a Naomi Campbell by refusing to get out of bed for less than $1,000 a day. I’m also not a proponent of undercharging just to land clients. Both situations are lose-lose because price does NOT equal value.
Just because a copywriter charges high-ticket rates doesn’t necessarily mean they deliver great results. And just because a copywriter is cheap doesn’t mean they’re not talented. The truth is, when you make a decision on a copywriter with price as your only consideration, you don’t know what you’re getting. Assigning value according to how much they charge does not take their skill level or results into consideration, and that’s a big mistake.
Let’s say you’re hungry. Someone hands you a menu and tells you to choose what you’d like to eat. You take the menu and say “thanks”. You could really go for a cheeseburger with fries, or maybe a nice caesar salad with dressing on the side.
But when you open it, you blink in surprise. Instead of the tantalizing descriptions and delicious-looking images you expected to see, all you see is a list of numbers. The menu is nothing but a price list.
“Hey,” you say, tapping the person who handed you the menu on the shoulder, “I think I got the wrong menu. There’s nothing on here. How do I pick what I want?”
“No, that’s right,” they say. “The prices are there. Just pick what you can afford.”
“But what if I don’t get what I wanted? What if I get something that tastes HORRIBLE!?”
They shrug. “So? At least you know what it costs.”
See what I mean? Making a decision on a copywriter based only on their prices is no guarantee you’ll get the right copywriter for the job.
Questions to Ask Instead
If price shouldn’t be the first question on either party’s mind, what should? What kinds of questions should you listen for when you’re looking for the right copywriter or service provider to hire?
Here are my favorite questions to get asked on a discovery call. When a prospect asks me questions like this, I know they understand the power of copy to move traffic, appreciate service providers’ skills, and are looking for the best person for the project.
What kinds of clients have you written for?
It’s a rare copywriter who writes for any and every industry. Most copywriters have a niche, an area they spend more time writing for. If a prospect asks you what industry or niche you write for, this is a good sign. It means they recognize the importance of experience and expertise.
What kind of results have you gotten for clients?
This is the bottom line right here. A prospect who asks about your results or wants to see examples of your work understands that anyone can put words on a page. They’re looking for someone who really gets it and can perform.
What is it like to work with you?
This is a GREAT question to ask. This indicates that they’re not just thinking about your as a means to an end. You’re forming a relationship with them and their business, and this question shows they care about a good working relationship.
What would you suggest for ________________?
Anytime they ask you what you’d do in XYZ situation is great. If they’re asking this question, that means you’ve already built some trust with them. They will likely be good at listening to what you say and trust your process.
How much do you charge?
Aha, finally. The million-dollar question should only come in after they’ve determined whether you’d be a good fit or not. They might still turn you down if it just plain doesn’t fit their budget, and that’s okay. You’ll both walk still away feeling valued and heard.
I don’t blame or feel angry with prospects whose sole focus is price. Sometimes, especially with start-ups, that just is the top consideration at the moment. I’ve learned it’s more of a reflection on where they’re at than anything else. And whether I join them there or not … that’s my decision, and one I can now make with confidence.
More from Christa Nichols
Hey copywriters, want to turn the tables and grab some awesome questions to ask your clients’ target markets? Click here to download my free guide on the 8 Must-Ask Questions For Copy That Connects And Converts.
Hi, I'm Christa, an Iowa-based messaging expert specializing in targeted messaging, copywriting, and ghostwriting services. I have one handsome hubby who's my partner in crime (not literally) and two great kids who keep us busy (Track and field! Volleyball! Basketball! All the sports!) Using words to help people promote what they love is my favorite!