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How I Went from $15 to $450 per Article in Under 90 Days

By Dan Stelter

So let me start out this story to make it clear the point is not to brag.  Instead, I’m sharing it because I know what it’s like to work for ridiculously low article rates and wondering how in the heck to get out of it!

It’s not a pleasant place to be – the constant complaining, haggling, and the low self-esteem that comes from paying yourself less than you feel you deserve.

Let this story inspire you do take a risk to get to a better place in your freelance writing career.

How I Got Into the $15 Stuff

Ironically, no it wasn’t with a content mill.  I never worked with one of those, although it was a consideration at one point.

I was contacting SEO companies for work, and basically didn’t know what I was doing at the time.  A guy offered me $15 per article off my “high” $25 rate, and I took it, thinking that was the market rate, and that if I accommodated him, he would do so for me in return.

My experience with this type of client was the same as that of others who have worked with this type of client:

  • Lots of complaining/need for rewrites
  • No accommodation in any respect – everything had to be the client’s way
  • A situation that never improved and took a high mental toll on me, although it took a while to figure that out

Market Research Eventually Taught me a Couple Big Lessons…

SEO companies/internet marketing agencies, or whatever you want to call them, are focused on one thing:  price.  A rare few understand how much work it takes to create quality copy, but they’re one in a million.

$50 for a 500-word blog article is excruciatingly high for that market.  I knew my writing was worth more than that, and it was driving me nuts to stay where I was, so instinctively I kept looking around for better-paying markets and options.

Also, I learned never to deal with hagglers for any reason, ever.  Never give price breaks because once hagglers see they can get something, they want more.  Also, it may mean they simply do not have the money available for quality copywriting.

I tricked myself into being “accommodating,” but accommodating on price is never, ever something you want to do.  Many companies are very happy to pay your prices just as they stand if you’re willing to look harder and market more.

Ironically, a Couple SEOs Were Willing to Go Higher

I’m still working on breaking into blog/website copywriting for bigger businesses and more traditional ad agencies.

But at this point, I decided this was enough and was willing to try some new approaches out.

One good, regular client approached me asking for a new type of article – a 1000-word authority article for readers and Google to consume.  At first, I figured $250 for something like this sounded good.

But then I got to thinking:

  • This client understands the value of quality copy
  • These articles will help his clients make many more dollars in sales
  • If they pay me just once for many sales down the line, that’s a good deal for them

So I figured, “What the heck?” and told the client $450.

He didn’t blink an eye at the price and passed it right on to the customer.

I wrote 3 articles on foundation repair, and they were the most enjoyable articles I’ve ever written, even though the topic wasn’t something I’d jump to write on in the first place!

But it wasn’t the money that made it fun – it was the freedom to research, think through, proof, and learn more about a new topic and present it in an interesting way that made the project fun.  The money was nice too, though.

That was a refreshing mental break from the pound-your-fingers-hard-and-fast stuff I was doing before!

That $15-per-article client came back about this time, and I told him I now charged $100 for the same work.  He hit the roof!

But you know what?  The stress, frustration, and anger saved by not working with this client more than made up for any amount he could have paid.  I’m not sure I’d have worked for $450 per article for this client either!

And it felt great to draw a boundary and tell this person “no.”

Also, around this time, another client asked if I would do some writing for her clients because she liked me the best of all her copywriting vendors.  I had told her before that web pages were $30 each.

I told her now that I would love to do this for her, but that the new charge was $100 per page to account for research, talking with the client, proofing, and strategizing the copy.

She said she “totally understood,” and had no qualms with the new pricing.

As an aside, I probably should have charged more, but it was a huge step up from where before.

In both cases, just like that, I skyrocketed my writing rates.

Lessons Learned

This story in a nutshell describes my first two years as a freelance SEO copywriter, and  here’s what I learned:

  1. Charge what equates to $50-$60 per hour (if you have no experience writing at all) to start and $100 per hour once you have some experience and don’t feel bad about it.
  2. Some will complain about your pricing.  Don’t give them any breaks.  It only gets worse from there.
  3. Don’t waste your time educating clients.  It’s not worth your effort, and they won’t buy in anyway.
  4. Focus on discussing the value you bring to the table.  Forget about price.  The right clients will happily pay for your services.
  5. Rates are all about what you feel comfortable charging, as long as you’re within reason.  Set your rates and stick to them.
  6. Negotiating price increases like this is hard and rare – try to set your prices to what feels high instead of justifying higher rates.
  7. Take risks and tell the next new client your prices are 10-20% higher.  I had some scenarios like this not work out, but a couple did and the feeling was great.
  8. Remember your work sells for the client over and over again.  They only pay once – high prices are rarely actually “high.”
  9. Many clients have much more money available to pay for your services than they say and are really just looking to save on price.  State your prices as is, and if the initial discussion doesn’t work out, let it go.

Hope this helps you as you take the next steps in your freelance writing career!

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Dan Stelter is a freelance copywriter in Chicago and currently maintains the Smarter Copywriting and SEO Blog.  If you need clear, compelling website copy and SEO recommendations for internet marketing success, learn more about his services at http://www.freelancewriterinchicago.com

Category: freelance writing

24 Comments on "How I Went from $15 to $450 per Article in Under 90 Days"

  1. Ben Troy says:

    Awesome, i am so amazed that writing is such a profitable business and high demand.

  2. Enstine Muki says:

    That’s smart and impressive Dan. Quite inspiring and I’d like to clone the steps. I’m improving my writing skills and hope to get that kind of deal in the near future

  3. Arun Mahara says:

    Thank you very much Dan, for this article! It’s really really informative… taught me a lot about how should I treat with the hagglers out there! I agreed that high prices are rarely actually ‘high’.

  4. Dan Stelter says:

    Yes – all it was really was a matter of raising rates. Just hope to encourage you guys that you can do it too – don’t fall into working for low-paying clients any more than you have to!

    • Jawad Khan says:

      Great post Dan!

      I can absolutely relate with your story because I’ve gone through a very similar transition in my rates.

      Compromising on your rates in like being stuck in quicksand. You just keep going further down.

      • Dan says:

        Yeah, its funny because mentally I thought I was being accommodating and helpful to people. But they just want more and could care less about being fair.

  5. One thing is to have fun doing a gig, another thing is to be confident and smart enough to charge the rate you are worth. It is that smartness that’d command the respect and fee that is equivalent to the work done.

    Your journey was swift and educating, Dan.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Helene Poulakou says:

    Hello Dan,

    I know, taking the leap and asking for more can be scary, but, oh, how good it feels when it works, right?

    Anyways, as to your point #3 (educating customers):
    Doing it on an individual basis is definitely not worth the time. One thing to do is to create a series of posts, or a Q&A page, or a short (free) report, and direct them there. You create it once, you use it multiple times.

    Most won’t buy anyway, as you said — and, most probably, you don’t want them, ’cause they are the miser kind. On the other hand, some may be on the fence; ain’t it worthwhile helping them decide to hire you in the end?

    • Dan says:

      This is a good point. I do educate some customers, but not the really low-paying ones because as you say, it is a lost cause. Yes, I agree with the approach of creating a short report/white paper of some kind that helps customers understand why they need good writing and what goes into it because as you say, some are on the fence on whether or not to work with you.

      Just didn’t have too much time to elaborate on it in this post 🙁

  7. Chinedu says:

    Nice post Dan. Know your worth and stick to it. Don’t let time wasters and low paying clients make you loose your focus and worth. Nice post and I enjoyed your pattern of writing.

  8. Arbaz Khan says:

    That are some really cool steps Dan.
    I would love to follow all the steps you used to get more money for my work. Of course it will work in other fields as well.
    Thanks for sharing the post with us, mate 🙂

    • Dan says:

      Yeah, that is true. It works in any field where you are a knowledge worker and a contractor. It seems to work this way because it’s simply not clear how much skill and time it takes to product quality writing or a nice website design.

      Pricing seems to be more about confidence than anything.

  9. Really interesting insight Dan!

    Also crazy to see the jump from $15 to 450 haha, not a bad % growth there!

    I definitely understand your thought pattern behind first pitching $450 rather than $250, to me it seems $250 is a price you saw as “fairish” and obviously being a massive jump from your current position was still great but as in all sales, always highball and work backwards because like in your scenario the highball may just actually come through and you’ve increased your hourly rate and not your workload!

    All the best in the future, definitely hope to replicate the same success!

    Cheers

  10. Dan says:

    This brings up another point: Don’t let them talk you down. If you open up haggling/negotiation, they try this with everything and it starts to put the focus on the price.

    Instead, you want to put the focus on the value your writing delivers. It helps convert visitors into paying customers, and really, that’s what all writing is about.

    Glad it helps and wish you luck in your own writing endeavors!

  11. omoola sot says:

    Am always inspired by people’s success stories. Vry good one here.

  12. Dare says:

    Hi,

    Very inspiring story. I got to know about the possibility of being a six figure online writer through yeremi akpan.

    I’m still looking forward to getting to this level through my new blog.

    • Dan Stelter says:

      Good luck in your endeavors! I always believe if you set an end goal in your mind, then you’ll find a way to get there. Don’t forget to ignore the naysayers along the way.

  13. Mahesh Mohan says:

    Wow! $15 to $450 in 90 days is awesome man… but not surprised though.. Content is King. 😉

  14. Amit Bhagat says:

    You are right Dan, it is just the matter of understanding own worth. Quality deserves best price and except those hagglers who never understand much about quality, most clients are often ready to offer best price for quality content. Even I have also wrote about this topic – “Negotiation Tips for Freelance Writers: Earn More Without Losing Clients” on my blog few months back.

    Your story is really inspiring for those who are still scared of asking for what they deserve thinking that clients will walk away.

    Thanks for sharing.

  15. This article is surely an eye-opener for me. I’m not used to charging high prices for articles I write but I believe I should take a cue from you. Thanks a great deal.

    Regards.

  16. Harry Rizzi says:

    Excellent article, Dan.

    I think this applies to any type of consulting.

    I can’t begin to imagine how liberating it must have been to up your rate to $450.

  17. marilyn cada says:

    thanks for the inspiration Dan. i am a freelance writer but focuses on academic writing so the pay was not really high since my clients are students. i am trying to determine the skills that i have aside from blogging and academic writing so that i can earn the same income as yours

    good luck to your search for more high paying clients

  18. Your content must have been amazing Dan. To do what you did in 90 days is nothing short of a miracle. Inspiring to say the least.

  19. Elvis says:

    What an amazingly inspiring story, Dan. You remind us all that our writing/services are worth much more than we may realize. Keep up the great work.

    Elvis

Onibalusi

Welcome! I'm Bamidele Onibalusi, a young writer and blogger. I believe writers are unique and highly talented individuals that should be given the respect they deserve. This blog offers practical advice to help you become truly in charge of your writing career.

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