How I Landed a $200/hr Writing Contract
First Contact and Follow-Up
A few months ago, I ran across a prospective client that was looking for someone to write their website content. I reached out to the founder on LinkedIN, and to my surprise, I heard back right away — in under 15 minutes, in fact.
The initial message was simple: “Hey, I saw you’re looking for help with your brand messaging. My business partner and I would love to speak with you and share some ideas. We’re also curious to learn more about your company! Would you be up for a 30 minute phone call?”
She said yes, and we scheduled a call for the following morning.
In my follow up message, I shared some observations about the company, industry, and mentioned that we had some things in common. Relatively new companies, women-owned businesses, and I also shared a link to a previous client’s website because it was a company in their industry that they might be interested to collaborate with in the future.
Initial Call: Relationship Building
On our first call, we had an opportunity to get to know the client — the backstory behind forming their business, what kind of companies they serve, what they were looking for in their website, current state of the business, etc.
I shared some backstory about our business and why we started it, and highlighted some things that our two companies had in common. (This is important, because I think one of the big reasons we got hired was because the client liked our founding story, and saw us like a younger version of themselves.)
We asked a few questions, then shared our process and what steps we’d take to approach the project.
The call was short, approximately 30 minutes, and we ended with a promise to follow up with a proposal early the following week.
One other thing we always do during discovery calls with prospective clients is share ideas and insights related to their industry. It’s partly because my brain can’t help connecting dots and generating ideas, and I need to share them in order to make space for new stuff.
We also make a point to provide value on the very first phone call, so that the person on the other end feels inspired and has gotten something in exchange for taking the time to speak with us. (We’re always excited to be helpful, even if we don’t end up signing a contract.)
Second Call: Crucial Insights Discovered
While thinking through the proposal, I realized we’d made a key oversight in the first conversation. I had no idea what their budget looked like for the project. So I reached out to the owner who I’d initially contacted, and we hopped on a quick phone call.
This second conversation revealed some key factors that hadn’t been discussed in the initial call. For one thing, I learned that they’d actually hired a writer previously, who strung them along for a few months before abruptly bailing on the project.
That experience was upsetting for the client, and also put them way behind their original website launch schedule. So there was a sense of urgency to get it done sooner than later, and I also understood that there might be some sensitivity after being burned by a previous contractor.
Proposal Process: Second Thing First
Our usual process for working with a new client is to develop and negotiate a clear scope of work, get a contract signed, and agree on deliverables/timeline. This time, instead of working on the scope and contract, I decided to actually just start doing some of the work.
This has been an effective strategy in the past when I was trying to land Upwork clients. It has a few different benefits. One, the client sees that you’re proactive, and they’re able to get a sense of whether or not they like your work before making a commitment to hiring you.
It also happened to be a lot easier and more fun to do some of the copywriting for their website than it was to develop the scope of work and proposal. I know from past experience that developing a proposal takes quite a bit of time and effort on my end. Given the tight deadline for the project, and the fact that I knew they’d be more comfortable seeing actual progress instead of hiring someone new with no real guarantees, I felt the better investment of my time and energy at this stage would be to just dive in to the work. So I did.
I took the draft copy from their development site homepage, and revised it into something that I felt was more in line with their mission, vision and goals. If they didn’t like it, then I could skip spending time on the proposal. If they did like it, but hired someone else, they’d have a head start. Maybe they’d hire us for something else in the future.
It was a risk, maybe, but a calculated one.
And it worked exactly the way that I hoped it would. They loved the work and the direction, asked again for the proposal, and then I got to agonize over that for the next few days.
Resistance and Asking for Money
Every single time I get to the point of a prospect negotiation where it’s time to talk about money, I freeze. It’s something I don’t fully understand and am constantly working on, and it helps to know that resistance often comes up when you’re heading in the right direction. In other words, resistance is the first sign of your evolution.
It was terrifying to send a proposal with a $200/hr price quote, especially when I knew that the client was talking to other writers. They’d posted the job on Upwork, so I assumed that the other candidates were likely charging far less than I planned to propose.
Given the turnaround time, number of hours I assumed it would take me to complete the work, and information I’d gathered about their budget constraints, the number made sense. So I went for it.
Lo and behold: they said yes!
Even though the total project rate was under $1000, charging $200 per hour for writing, of all things, was a huge milestone for me. As a friend pointed out, that’s lawyer-level billing!
Lesson: It’s Totally Possible to Make $200/hr Writing
Not only was I able to bill this rate, the client knew this his how much they were paying per hour.
Some writers are able to make a higher hourly rate by charging a flat fee for projects, which is awesome if you’re efficient at cranking out work. But in this case, they agreed to pay $200/hr to get their website copy written by a professional. Even better, they were extremely pleased with the work.
These clients do exist! And I think this experience, for me, is absolutely proof that the more you charge, the better your clients are. This project was easy, fun, and everyone felt good about the outcome.
One of the founders of the company has become a friend, and we’ve had several phone calls since their website launched. She’s sort of adopted me, so not only did I land a great client, but it led to finding a new mentor.
All good things. If I could figure out how to clone this client, I would.
So where can you find clients and projects like this one? Oh, how I wish I knew. Sadly, in that regard I have no advice. Thus far I’ve been relying largely on serendipity and some light internet stalking.
Questions? Comments? Observations?