So, you wanna make more money?
In the world of work, there tends to be a division into two economies (with a hat tip to Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach for this distinction).
First, there’s the time and effort economy. This is where most employees and even many freelancers and consultants fall. It’s where you get paid a set amount of money for a set amount of work. Often, this is in the form of hourly income. But it doesn’t have to be. It could be a project fee, a retainer, or some other pay structure. The major distinction is that you get a certain amount of money for a certain unit of work completed.
And then there’s the results economy. Most people who make a great income do so because they move from time and effort into results. In this case, the amount of work you do (in time or quantity of output) doesn’t matter nearly as much as the results you generate. You get paid a portion of sales, or profits, or savings, or based on some other results metric. Again, there’s a thousand different ways you can structure a results deal, but the unifying thread is that they all include some form of payment based on results independent of quantity of work.
If you feel tapped out but want to increase your income, the solution is probably to move more and more of what you do from the time and effort economy into the results economy.
That’s the topic of today’s essay.
It’s Monday, which means today’s essay is inspired by YOUR QUESTIONS. About marketing, selling, copywriting, career- and business-building, and more.
And in fact, I’ll be continuing these Mailbox Monday issues all week, as I’m still clearing out a pretty substantial queue.
(Not complaining — in fact, your questions actually help me ensure I’m giving you exactly what you want!)
Here’s today’s Mailbox Monday question…
I’m a young copywriter helping clients with their sales pages, emails, and ads in the fitness niche — but with one monthly retainer client and another client paying me per job (who each have a LOT of copywriting needs) I’ve reached full capacity barely 3 months into the start of my copywriting journey.
As a result, my income is capped.
So my question is this:
How can I leverage my time to increase my income?
I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a course, or perhaps hiring someone to share the workload. What do you think?
Thanks in advance,
My first suggestion is to raise your fees…
Let’s just dive in here.
If your schedule is full and you’re doing all the work you can handle and you’re in-demand, you have all the grounds you need to raise your fees. In my first couple years as a copywriter, I raised my fees really quickly. From $2k to $4k to $5k per project in the first few months. And then to $10k probably within three years. It took me a while after that to go to $20k per project after that, but the early raises happened very quickly.
This is definitely the first and easiest way to make more money.
Tell your clients you’re in-demand. Tell them their continued business is a clear sign that you’re serving them at a high level. Then, tell them your fee is going up.
Give them some warning. For the retainer, you could use the New Year as the date, but since that’s so close I might give them 90 days. For the project client, either raise your fees on the next project, or give them a one-project warning.
For the most part, when you do this, they won’t like it. But then, they’ll pay your higher fee. Because what you’re worth to them is many multiples of what you charge.
Clients have never liked when I’ve raised my fees. But I can always justify it. And part of my justification is that others are willing to pay it.
I’ve lost a couple clients in the jumps. But it has been pretty easy to get another client to fill their spot. So it’s worked out in the end. I accept that no client will be a perfect fit forever.
NOTE: This, along with so much other negotiation advice, only works if you’re willing to walk away if you don’t get the higher fee. Make it a condition of working with you going forward. That old fee was your old truth, the new fee is your new truth. If you don’t lay it out like this, you’re going to get run over in your negotiations, and you’ll get stuck at your old fee with that client forever. Or if it’s simply your new fee (just like any retail store would put a new price on a product), they can choose to pay it or not get what you offer.
This is my first recommendation, and yet it is limited because it does keep you in the time and effort economy, and so is inherently limited. When you start being really good at copywriting, even the best clients won’t pay you what you’re worth as a project fee. So you have to look at other compensation structures.
My second suggestion is to start getting paid based on performance…
There’s no way I can encompass all that content here, but I will recommend you consider it.
Getting paid based on performance — just like a salesperson gets paid a commission for generating sales results — is the best way a direct response copywriter can earn more (assuming they’re worth more than they’re already getting paid).
There are pitfalls to it, especially if the clients don’t already do it with others. However, if you can make it work, it can be the most lucrative approach to being a copywriter.
There are a handful of ways you can get paid based on performance.
Traditionally in direct mail, copywriters got paid based on pieces mailed. The assumption was that the mailer would try to maximize volume for successful promotions, and so getting a few pennies for every piece mailed was a great way to structure those deals.
Online, a percentage of net revenue is the most common approach. This is sales minus refunds. So if you make $100,000 in sales and $5,000 comes back as refunds, and your royalty is 5% of net, you’ll get a check for $4,750.
You can also get paid on other performance metrics. If you’re involved with paid advertising, you could get a percentage of paid ad spend. If you’re just doing lead generation, their could be a per-lead bounty. You just have to find what works.
I do have one big suggestion here though. Gary Halbert once gave a famous speech along the lines of “The Top 10 Reasons Copywriters Don’t Get Paid.” All 10 were “Client screws it up.” Your performance payments should always be a bonus on top of your project fee. The fee should pay your bills. The performance payments or royalties should be your get rich money. As a general rule, don’t make your ability to pay your bills dependent on someone else doing what they’re supposed to do.
My third suggestion is to keep improving…
According to the question, you’re three months into copywriting. You’re at the beginning of a long journey.
If you readily raise your fees when you’re worth it to clients, and find a way to also make your income at least partially leveraged based on results generated, you have a ton of upside.
This is the basic business model of many successful copywriters.
Doing this, your best way to continue to increase your income is to keep improving. Keep finding ways to make yourself and your services more valuable to clients.
I know this isn’t nearly as sexy as so much other advice I could give you.
But at three months, it’s worth remembering that life is long and your opportunity to grow richer is very big.
It is all contingent on you being able to get bigger winners for your clients, more often. And have less campaigns be losers.
It’s easy to get swept up in the get-rich-quick promises in our industry, but “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” is a decent mantra worth paying attention to, and I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t emphasize this more rational path, instead of what tickles your greed glands.
Should you create a course?
Maybe. Probably not — at least not a course on copywriting.
However, with your level of experience, you’d only accelerate your progress to have some kind of project where you are in charge of EVERYTHING. From copywriting to buying media, to getting your site online, and so on.
The reason I say not on copywriting is that at your level of experience, you’re just not there yet. Maybe you could help people with zero experience, and that wouldn’t be all bad. But until you’ve got a few more hours under your belt, quite a bit of your advice will likely be shortsighted and unintentionally misleading. Because I believe in ethics first, I can’t tell you to teach copywriting.
Fitness? Is that something you have some background in? Do you have tested advice with proof and credibility in the space? Or are you able to partner with someone who does?
That might be a great way to create some leveraged income while also building your chops.
Should you hire junior writers?
Maybe, but probably not. Again, three months in and you have so little experience that I think you’re getting ahead of yourself to do this.
I tend to be a bit curmudgeonly in all this. I sound like an old fart. But if you don’t have, let’s say, your 10,000-hours experience, you have the potential to just do a lot of misguided work for clients and do them a big disservice.
Maybe you could pull it off. But for the vast majority of copywriters, I’d say “not yet.” And because I have no better assumptions to go off of, I have to loop you in with all of them.
My big caveat is that you could prove me wrong…
Some people have that special something.
They launch a course and kill it, and provide really good content — even if they’re really early in their career.
They build an agency of people who are under-qualified, but based on guts and gumption they pull it off.
For all my best advice, there are countless counterexamples. People who’d tell me to stick that advice where the sun doesn’t shine, because they pulled it off.
Good for them — and good for you if you prove me wrong.
But if you’re playing the long game here and trying to really provide a ton of value to clients, I’d do it in the order laid out above…
- Raise your fee if you’re booked wall to wall and still want to or need to make more money. If you’re legitimately providing that value, clients will pay it. Maybe not your current clients, but someone.
- Figure out a way to get paid on performance. Royalties or commissions on sales generated is good. Other performance bonuses can work. Or perhaps based on another metric of campaign success, such as media spend. My Copywriting Royalties and Pay For Performance training is a great starting point for how to structure those deals.
- Keep getting better. This will increase your income from steps one and two above. Put in your 10,000 hours and get really solid, rounded experience.
- Consider launching a course ONLY IF it’s not just for the value it gives you in terms of the revenue generated, but also because it legitimately will provide superior value to the people who buy it. If you’re doing this, consider a topic where you have a ton of experience, or can partner with an expert.
- Consider junior writers only when you know you can be a solid senior writer, again probably after you have something like 10,000 hours of experience.
And finally, if you can’t stand me holding you back, prove me wrong. But make sure you’re doing it in a way that is creating massive value in the markets you’re serving.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,