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Which skill to learn for freelancing in 2021?

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Ywan

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I want to start freelancing. The question is, what is the best skill to learn that one can learn reasonably fast? Or doesn't it really matter? Is it more like picking on skill and running with it?

I mean, I probably could start with copywriting or web design, as I am already writing for a living in my 9-5 job. Most of it is not copywriting, but the foundation is there and I could learn the skill quite fast. I also know a little bit about web design and designed a couple of websites for businesses I know (for free) and they all were very satisfied.

If you would start again, which skill would you choose?
What are the pros and cons of different skills like copywriting, web design ...?

Thank you.
 

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salva101

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I want to start freelancing. The question is, what is the best skill to learn that one can learn reasonably fast? Or doesn't it really matter? Is it more like picking on skill and running with it?

I mean, I probably could start with copywriting or web design, as I am already writing for a living in my 9-5 job. Most of it is not copywriting, but the foundation is there and I could learn the skill quite fast. I also know a little bit about web design and designed a couple of websites for businesses I know (for free) and they all were very satisfied.

If you would start again, which skill would you choose?
What are the pros and cons of different skills like copywriting, web design ...?

Thank you.
For me it will be definitely Sales, Marketing and Copywriting. I’m an excellent developer but I feel like I can’t progress in my wantrepreneur life because of it.
 

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If I was to start again I’d do exactly what I’m doing: Google Ads (specifically ads on the Google Search Engine).
 

Speed112

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If you would start again, which skill would you choose?

I chose Copywriting because it was the most valuable skill at the time. Demand for great marketing skills is and will always be high, and you naturally develop a lot of marketing skills while working on copy. You also get to build a network of top-tier marketers as well if you do things right.

Conditions are more or less the same today, if not even better.

It's higher entry and not for everyone, but you have absolute flexibility and the potential for incredible value-add. (Elite copywriters charge even $50k for a single sales page... + commissions | a control ad can generate hundreds of thousands a year) and it doesn't take much to get started and be above-average enough to make a living and sustain your investment.

Bonus, you'll get to learn psychology and how people think and a plethora of other important skills you'll need when you expand to more general entrepreneurship, and you won't get swindled by shit but expensive wannabes.

Web design is also solid but the market is very saturated. And if you want to actually do it properly, you still need to learn sales and marketing (and copywriting) or they won't perform and you'll just be selling low-value pretty business cards instead of the results your clients want.

Off-sourcing web-design is much cheaper/easier than off-sourcing high-performance copy, so with the long-term in mind I'd 100% start with copy and master that, while dabbling in other things and hiring people to do it.

Specialized marketing services, like the aforementioned google ads or other PPC, direct sales or other forms of lead generation can be good starters too.

It depends if you're more technical-minded, people-minded, or creative-minded...

If you're already writing professionally, though, increasing the value of your words by learning sales copy is a no-brainer.

Good luck.
 

monfii

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I chose Copywriting because it was the most valuable skill at the time. Demand for great marketing skills is and will always be high, and you naturally develop a lot of marketing skills while working on copy. You also get to build a network of top-tier marketers as well if you do things right.

Conditions are more or less the same today, if not even better.

It's higher entry and not for everyone, but you have absolute flexibility and the potential for incredible value-add. (Elite copywriters charge even $50k for a single sales page... + commissions | a control ad can generate hundreds of thousands a year) and it doesn't take much to get started and be above-average enough to make a living and sustain your investment.

Bonus, you'll get to learn psychology and how people think and a plethora of other important skills you'll need when you expand to more general entrepreneurship, and you won't get swindled by shit but expensive wannabes.

Web design is also solid but the market is very saturated. And if you want to actually do it properly, you still need to learn sales and marketing (and copywriting) or they won't perform and you'll just be selling low-value pretty business cards instead of the results your clients want.

Off-sourcing web-design is much cheaper/easier than off-sourcing high-performance copy, so with the long-term in mind I'd 100% start with copy and master that, while dabbling in other things and hiring people to do it.

Specialized marketing services, like the aforementioned google ads or other PPC, direct sales or other forms of lead generation can be good starters too.

It depends if you're more technical-minded, people-minded, or creative-minded...

If you're already writing professionally, though, increasing the value of your words by learning sales copy is a no-brainer.

Good luck.

Are you Romanian? What language do you do copy in? I am a native French speaker and have never seen anyone anywhere asking for copywriting services in the French-speaking market. It's like it doesn't exist and is just part of a broad marketing skillset.

It's actually the same thing with writing in general. There are so many writing courses in English and writing blogs. Writing is an important skill people work on.

But it doesn't exist in French. It's like everyone was born able to write. I studied copywriting really hard and once I got into the market, managed to sell copywriting services to....no one.
 

Speed112

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Are you Romanian? What language do you do copy in? I am a native French speaker and have never seen anyone anywhere asking for copywriting services in the French-speaking market. It's like it doesn't exist and is just part of a broad marketing skillset.

It's actually the same thing with writing in general. There are so many writing courses in English and writing blogs. Writing is an important skill people work on.

But it doesn't exist in French. It's like everyone was born able to write. I studied copywriting really hard and once I got into the market, managed to sell copywriting services to....no one.

I write in English...

I've never worked for Romanian clients in Romanian. Although I have done some PR and copywriting for a foreign-owned business in Romanian.

The ad culture in Europe is pretty bare-bones outside the UK, although I have seen multinationals want local-language ads. The issue is they only work with big agencies and not individuals.

If you want french-speaking clients you've got to do the selling directly. Use your copywriting skills to write copy for yourself, put it in their mailbox, get them leads and sales and then you'll work together. The understanding of "copywriting means getting more clients" doesn't exist here yet, so you've got to prove that first.

The upside to all this is that there is VERY low competition, but the perceived value is also relatively low. Pair that with purchasing power differentials and for me it's infinitely easier and more profitable to just work with Americans, Brits, and Australians.

I do feel that the tides are turning and people are waking up around here as well, though. Did, in fact, work with a German company (also in English) and I'm sure Covid and people working from home has lead to a better acceptance of digital advertising.

But yes, your observation that "it's like it's just part of a broad marketing skillset" is apt. If you can't offer a more general marketing service they won't take you seriously. But what you can do is offer the general marketing, you focus on the copy as the in-house expert, and delegate the other aspects to other people who specialize in that.

There aren't that many agencies that do this kind of thing, so there's definitely a big hole in the market compared to the US.

Also PPC is super cheap because it's low competition.

I think one reason for it is that we have very strong academia for language. Both French and Romanian (which was formalized by following the French model) are super strict and it's imperative that everyone knows literature and how to write and if you can't pass an arbitrary writing exam you're a dreg of society. This probably leads people to think "why do I need to hire someone to write for me when I put a decade of my life into learning how to write already?"

Who knows?

Do it for your own local business and blow your competition out of the water, then use that as a case study to service people in different niches that don't compete with you. Ez.

Also direct mail is super promising because barely anyone does it and people only ever get bills in their mail, if even that nowadays.
 

monfii

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I write in English...

I've never worked for Romanian clients in Romanian. Although I have done some PR and copywriting for a foreign-owned business in Romanian.

The ad culture in Europe is pretty bare-bones outside the UK, although I have seen multinationals want local-language ads. The issue is they only work with big agencies and not individuals.

If you want french-speaking clients you've got to do the selling directly. Use your copywriting skills to write copy for yourself, put it in their mailbox, get them leads and sales and then you'll work together. The understanding of "copywriting means getting more clients" doesn't exist here yet, so you've got to prove that first.

The upside to all this is that there is VERY low competition, but the perceived value is also relatively low. Pair that with purchasing power differentials and for me it's infinitely easier and more profitable to just work with Americans, Brits, and Australians.

I do feel that the tides are turning and people are waking up around here as well, though. Did, in fact, work with a German company (also in English) and I'm sure Covid and people working from home has lead to a better acceptance of digital advertising.

But yes, your observation that "it's like it's just part of a broad marketing skillset" is apt. If you can't offer a more general marketing service they won't take you seriously. But what you can do is offer the general marketing, you focus on the copy as the in-house expert, and delegate the other aspects to other people who specialize in that.

There aren't that many agencies that do this kind of thing, so there's definitely a big hole in the market compared to the US.

Also PPC is super cheap because it's low competition.

I think one reason for it is that we have very strong academia for language. Both French and Romanian (which was formalized by following the French model) are super strict and it's imperative that everyone knows literature and how to write and if you can't pass an arbitrary writing exam you're a dreg of society. This probably leads people to think "why do I need to hire someone to write for me when I put a decade of my life into learning how to write already?"

Who knows?

Do it for your own local business and blow your competition out of the water, then use that as a case study to service people in different niches that don't compete with you. Ez.

Also direct mail is super promising because barely anyone does it and people only ever get bills in their mail, if even that nowadays.
Omg dude thank you!!!!!

I thought I was crazy for thinking Europe was much different from the rest of the English-speaking world, but I am not.

Cheers!
 

monfii

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"why do I need to hire someone to write for me when I put a decade of my life into learning how to write already?"

On point!! And the thing is that it is the same for pretty much everything else. Ventures like window cleaning, law care, putting Christmas lights etc don't work in Europe cuz people don't want to pay for these services as they can do it themselves. It's the same for copywriting.

Furthermore, freelancing and one-person businesses are much less common in Europe than in English-speaking countries.

Do it for your own local business and blow your competition out of the water, then use that as a case study to service people in different niches that don't compete with you. Ez.

Yeah. I think the idea to be a freelancer is Europe is a waste of time. Might as well go to build a proper business right away and kill competition by applying US-invented marketing strategies.
 

Speed112

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Yeah. I think the idea to be a freelancer is Europe is a waste of time. Might as well go to build a proper business right away and kill competition by applying US-invented marketing strategies.

You can have a mini-business with only yourself as an employee and pose as a business while practically being a freelancer. It's a matter of optics more than anything.

But there's another phenomenon that impedes that... The NEED for micromanagement. Corporate culture for some reason is super strong here and everyone wants to do everything in-house.

Instead of paying a freelancer $100 for a small gig they'd rather hire someone for $2000/mo to do the same thing and then jerk off for 8h a day for the rest of the month while being passed useless tasks that are outside of their skillset. Hence the "general marketing skills"

I'm a generalist so I don't mind that, but there's a very weird attitude towards specialization and it's very bad for business. It's not uncommon for one person to have the responsibility of what should be a team of half a dozen people or more.
 

monfii

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You can have a mini-business with only yourself as an employee and pose as a business while practically being a freelancer. It's a matter of optics more than anything.

But there's another phenomenon that impedes that... The NEED for micromanagement. Corporate culture for some reason is super strong here and everyone wants to do everything in-house.

Instead of paying a freelancer $100 for a small gig they'd rather hire someone for $2000/mo to do the same thing and then jerk off for 8h a day for the rest of the month while being passed useless tasks that are outside of their skillset. Hence the "general marketing skills"

I'm a generalist so I don't mind that, but there's a very weird attitude towards specialization and it's very bad for business. It's not uncommon for one person to have the responsibility of what should be a team of half a dozen people or more.

So what is your outlook on being a freelancer in Europe? Do you think it's possible? Don't you think it's just better to straight go set up a proper business?
 

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But there's another phenomenon that impedes that... The NEED for micromanagement. Corporate culture for some reason is super strong here and everyone wants to do everything in-house.
Don't forget that the real reason for this is how legislation is set up in Europe... where it's much easier and kosher to employ someone in-house than work with a freelancer. In many European countries, you're not even allowed to work with a freelancer unless they have an established business entity or you're hiring them through a third party like Upwork/Fiverr.
 

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Speed112

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So what is your outlook on being a freelancer in Europe? Do you think it's possible? Don't you think it's just better to straight go set up a proper business?

I'm a freelancer in Europe. I work with non-EU clients exclusively. It's definitely possible and superior to being local, I'd say because I get paid in USD and consume in RON at a 4:1 exchange rate.

Setting up a small business costs $100 it's not a big deal and you can totally service EU clients if you find them and break through all of these cultural barriers, but why bother? Just work with English-speakers, charge more, work less, have extra free time.

The only ones who lose are those who are behind the times and stick to their ineffective ways.

If you're a patriot and want to help your local businesses, go to them directly, be like "Yo I've been doing these things working with these companies from these places and they got these results. Let me bring these results for you too."

Then they'll say "Oh that stuff only works there because they're stupid. It'll never work here" so then you can put your money where your mouth is and ask for a $0, percentage-based contract where you invest in the copy and the ad placements and you bring the leads and they get the results with no risk while you help them out and make a sizeable profit due to the awful competition.

Then for the 2nd contract to scale up your agreement you ask for money up-front and keep the percentage because why not? Then they'll refer you to their friends and you've got a pipeline of work to deal with super favorable terms and very easy selling (due to the referral trust element) so you can start scaling or investing or whatever else.

This is how I got started 9 years ago or whatever in the fitness niche, although it wasn't with Romanian clients. Some of them were in fact European, but they were personal trainers or gym-owners so they were themselves being hired independently or hiring others like that already. Culture is different in this niche, even in Europe.

So yes. It's possible. It's better than being a wage slave. And it's a great trampoline to use to elevate yourself into actual business and the Fastlane.

Help people. Create value. Everything else is minutiae.
 

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Don't forget that the real reason for this is how legislation is set up in Europe... where it's much easier and kosher to employ someone in-house than work with a freelancer. In many European countries, you're not even allowed to work with a freelancer unless they have an established business entity or you're hiring them through a third party like Upwork/Fiverr.
The advice given on this forum are awesome, but a huge chunk of it only applies to US or English-speaking countries due to cultural and legal differences.

I have been around offering copywriting services and people were looking at me like I was an alien, asking "what is copywriting?". Freelancing does not exist here. In fact freelance status doesn't even exist in Belgium. It's called being an "independent" and there is no differences between that and being a business owner. It's the same, and taxed the same way.

Edit: maybe it'd be worth to create a thread only for people based in Europe and struggling with EU culture and laws.

Second edit: I know for sure you can go to school to become a janitor in Belgium. They have a "cleaning" bachelor and I am pretty sure you cant start a cleaning company if you dont have the diploma.
 
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The advice given on this forum are awesome, but a huge chunk of it only applies to US or English-speaking countries due to cultural and legal differences.

I have been around offering copywriting services and people were looking at me like I was an alien, asking "what is copywriting?". Freelancing does not exist here. In fact freelance status doesn't even exist in Belgium. It's called being an "independent" and there is no differences between that and being a business owner. It's the same, and taxed the same way.
Yes, exactly. If Europe cut down on the red tape, we would easily dominate the planet economically. Europe has everything needed to succeed and to overtake both US and Russia and China, but we lack the mindset. We have the collectivist mindset instead, which is exactly why Europe is for the most part dominated by giant, whale companies.
 

monfii

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Yes, exactly. If Europe cut down on the red tape, we would easily dominate the planet economically. Europe has everything needed to succeed and to overtake both US and Russia and China, but we lack the mindset. We have the collectivist mindset instead, which is exactly why Europe is for the most part dominated by giant, whale companies.
We used to dominate the world economically and philosophically.

Capitalism? Invented in Europe.
Democracy? Invented in Europe.
Shareholders? Invented in Europe.
Stock exchange? Invented in Europe.
Steam machine? Invented in Europe.
"The Earth goes around the sun"? Found in Europe.
The nation-state? Invented in Europe.
Art and literature? Is there anything worthy of attention that is NOT European?
Nobel Prices? Invented in Europe.
The most important philosophical and scientific discoveries of humankind? Made in Europe.
Best gastronomy? Invented in Europe.
Most widely languages spoken in the world? European languages.
Fashion? Made in Europe.

F*ck me we have become so pathetic.
 

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Hey @Speed112,

What does your average workday look like and how much are you charging your clients?

More importantly, are you charging your clients based on a percentage of the ROI/ROAS or hourly?

I've been in the copywriting game for the past 6 months, building up my portfolio with case studies, and have a "comfy" client on retainer with a few hours of work daily at a pretty decent hourly rate. I live in Bulgaria and earn 10x more than my social circle, and a lot of that is due to the currency conversion as well, though it's certainly not 4:1.

However, a commission-based approach is something I'd very much like to do in the future. I was wondering if you have experience with that?

Oh, and if you have any examples of a copywriter charging $50K for a sales page, I'd love to see that as well! Obviously, this would be achieved in some part by leveraging a stellar result from a past client. I imagine a very successful 7-8 figure marketing campaign where the copy played a crucial role.
 

Simon Angel

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I want to start freelancing. The question is, what is the best skill to learn that one can learn reasonably fast? Or doesn't it really matter? Is it more like picking on skill and running with it?

Do you know how to sell? Copywriting, web design, and etc all serve as a vector for sales. Without the sales knowledge I acquired over the past 5 or so years, I would've never made it with copywriting.

If I were your client and I was selling nootropic fruit juice, how would you take part in this venture if you only had a week to impress and bring value to the brand?

Would you:
  • Write the product and ad copy
  • Create the ad media (edit raw video footage in a compelling way that sells)
  • Run the PPC ads
  • Design the website and landing pages
  • Improve the formula for the juice
  • Be the brand's go-to photographer
  • Build and automate e-mail campaigns
  • Pitch the product to investors
 

Speed112

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Hey @Speed112,

What does your average workday look like and how much are you charging your clients?

More importantly, are you charging your clients based on a percentage of the ROI/ROAS or hourly?

I've been in the copywriting game for the past 6 months, building up my portfolio with case studies, and have a "comfy" client on retainer with a few hours of work daily at a pretty decent hourly rate. I live in Bulgaria and earn 10x more than my social circle, and a lot of that is due to the currency conversion as well, though it's certainly not 4:1.

However, a commission-based approach is something I'd very much like to do in the future. I was wondering if you have experience with that?

Oh, and if you have any examples of a copywriter charging $50K for a sales page, I'd love to see that as well! Obviously, this would be achieved in some part by leveraging a stellar result from a past client. I imagine a very successful 7-8 figure marketing campaign where the copy played a crucial role.

Heh. I like to take it easy, so if you're making 10x more than your social circle you're probably making more than me! Great job!

If you want "average" then I have to go back a bit, since I've been going really hard since Covid hit. But in the years pre-covid I was working about... 3-5 hours a week? Sometimes 3-5 hours a month. Mostly small projects and stuff I could churn out with minimal research, while the rest of my time I spent studying and living life.

Sometimes I'd have a reason to tryhard and do something extra. Say I wanted to go on a trip abroad to meet with someone or go to a tournament or something. Then I'd find a client for a bigger/chunkier project like a sales letter, work on that 4h a day for a week, get paid a few k and coast for a while off the royalties. Mostly financial/crypto stuff worked well here, but is also doable for product-based niches like health/wellness, albeit for a smaller $ amount.

I almost never charge by the hour. Only when there's some rote work that is more of a number's game than expertise-based. Writing 100 headlines for a Google adset. Low research, very hit/miss, just churn those badboys out and get an x% of unicorns out of them. This is good when starting out and building a portfolio.

On the topic of portfolios... I hate portfolios. Don't bother with them. They're never representative and people who look at them to judge a person's ability don't know what they're doing (so they're bad clients). For the clients I care about I do my due diligence and prove my skills by directly servicing their needs. 1 tailored piece of content >>>>> a pack of generic portfolio items.

90% of the time I charge by project. I estimate how much the work is worth, I make an offer, we might adjust things a bit (but negotiating is really rare actually), they know what they're paying. I know what I'm being paid. I guarantee results and I trust my skills, so everyone ends up happy in the end. On average it comes down to about $150/hr gross when looking at it in hindsight.

If I charged that much by the hour, the sell would be a lot harder in the first place, expectations would be higher, the scope of the service would have to be increased with auxiliaries (like research reports, data, variations, technical work, etc.) which is lower value than the actual copy work, the cost and scope themselves would end up being variable so a lot of discussions and dead time occur, revisions, etc.

But most importantly... Charging by the hour introduces perverse incentives into the mix. Cutting corners and cheating the process in order to maximize your revenue while minimizing your work. It puts you in opposition to your client who you should be 100% focused on helping.

A flat fee avoids all this and gives you the room and space to focus on your job, go above and beyond, and exceed expectations without unnecessary concerns, discussions, guilt, or random emotional crap. At least from my experience.

Commissions or royalties or other forms of revenue-sharing go on top of the flat fee and make things even better. On the one hand they share the risk of the project, so if you frame things right, it's even easier of a sell than a straight-up flat high-ticket offer. And on the other hand, it removes the ceiling to your potential earnings. Plus, it creates a relationship of mutual investment like "we're in this together" and creates virtuous incentives that push both you and your partner (not client) to be better with one another.

I always aim for this, although it only ever works with people who are in the know and have a good grip on their business already... aka the people I want to work with anyway.

I have an ongoing project where I handle all the marketing (including ad-spend) but get 50% of all profit generated directly from my efforts. Kinda like an affiliate deal, but I have 100% exclusive control over all marketing and PR, so I'm not competing with other affiliates and the producer themselves.

For leadgen gigs I've had revenue-sharing from the leads generated. I'd write the ads or design the qualification funnel which generated the leads, my partner's clients would pay $50 per lead, I'd get $20 of that, but they invested the ad-spend, controlled the infrastructure and managed the clients. This was on top of being paid for the work itself before it started running.

For financial sales letters the royalties are based on gross sales, since they're usually subscriptions or info-products. Can be 3%, 5%, even 10%, depending on what the up-front fee is and how good you are at negotiating. $5k+5% is pretty standard.

Really... if you're coming from a position of creating value, anything is possible. Your goal should be to generate profit for the people you're working with. If you charge them $100k but generate them $500k they would be insane to not accept. The trick is proving that value proposition is true.

An increase of conversions from 0.8% to 1% is 20% extra revenue. For a business that has a small list and makes $30k/year, that's $6k gross in a whole year. For a campaign that is not even guaranteed to get those results (and often won't) and will probably only run for a few months tops before its effectiveness drops and it's replaced with another, taking in account ad spend and other overhead, the profit brought to the company is probably like... $500? If you're lucky. So asking for $5k + royalties for a sales letter to them is absurd. They will never pay that and it would be silly if they did.

But now let's look at a big financial advisory... They shove millions each month into ad spend. Their margins are, well, marginal, but in absolute terms pretty significant. If you bring them a marginal improvement on top of that, they'd potentially make hundreds of thousands from one slightly better-than-norm campaign. Paying you $5k to shoot your shot, then $10-20k in royalties when they make $250k in profit is nothing.

Who you're working with is very important.

And that's where the $50k sales letter comes in. You can easily charge these numbers if you're holding an active control and have proved that you can bring time-tested results.

A control doesn't run for 3 months and then fizzles out. It runs for 1, 2, 5, even 50 years. Look at the WSJ's 2 dudes letter. It generated billions. If you're holding such proof of performance, you've got way more leverage than your average Joe Schmoe.

These people have spent hundreds of thousands on dozens of copywriters incrementally improving their offers and squeezing as much as they can from their campaigns. These improvements come with diminishing returns.

As a result, the costs of marginal improvements from the peak go up exponentially... as do the prices you can charge.

I know for a fact that people have been paid $1mil+ for a single letter and I'm sure plenty of those ended up being duds. They likely still broke even, but they didn't outperform the control. $50k is a drop in the bucket at those levels.

I can't go into specifics, but I've worked with a guy who has one of the highest-grossing offers on Clickbank (the control in his niche) and while we were working together he took on an assignment to write the promo for a bigshot's marketing book. The bigshot is a bigshot he could've done the promo himself, but he didn't want to this time for whatever reason, so he preferred to pay a premium to get this guy to do it for him.

The up-front retainer was larger than $50k.

If you look at the sales pages of most big shots, I'm certain for most of them which are not done in-house, multiple hundreds of thousands were exchanged in the process. Over the span of a few weeks usually.

I'm not at the point where I can charge that much... and I don't really want to be, since it requires way too much clout and activity in the industry for my tastes. But I've charged $10k for a letter before with 0 clout, no portfolio, online presence, references, or anything.

Regardless, the sky is the limit with copywriting, as long as you're getting results and creating value.
 

Simon Angel

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Heh. I like to take it easy, so if you're making 10x more than your social circle you're probably making more than me! Great job!

If you want "average" then I have to go back a bit, since I've been going really hard since Covid hit. But in the years pre-covid I was working about... 3-5 hours a week? Sometimes 3-5 hours a month. Mostly small projects and stuff I could churn out with minimal research, while the rest of my time I spent studying and living life.

Sometimes I'd have a reason to tryhard and do something extra. Say I wanted to go on a trip abroad to meet with someone or go to a tournament or something. Then I'd find a client for a bigger/chunkier project like a sales letter, work on that 4h a day for a week, get paid a few k and coast for a while off the royalties. Mostly financial/crypto stuff worked well here, but is also doable for product-based niches like health/wellness, albeit for a smaller $ amount.

I almost never charge by the hour. Only when there's some rote work that is more of a number's game than expertise-based. Writing 100 headlines for a Google adset. Low research, very hit/miss, just churn those badboys out and get an x% of unicorns out of them. This is good when starting out and building a portfolio.

On the topic of portfolios... I hate portfolios. Don't bother with them. They're never representative and people who look at them to judge a person's ability don't know what they're doing (so they're bad clients). For the clients I care about I do my due diligence and prove my skills by directly servicing their needs. 1 tailored piece of content >>>>> a pack of generic portfolio items.

90% of the time I charge by project. I estimate how much the work is worth, I make an offer, we might adjust things a bit (but negotiating is really rare actually), they know what they're paying. I know what I'm being paid. I guarantee results and I trust my skills, so everyone ends up happy in the end. On average it comes down to about $150/hr gross when looking at it in hindsight.

If I charged that much by the hour, the sell would be a lot harder in the first place, expectations would be higher, the scope of the service would have to be increased with auxiliaries (like research reports, data, variations, technical work, etc.) which is lower value than the actual copy work, the cost and scope themselves would end up being variable so a lot of discussions and dead time occur, revisions, etc.

But most importantly... Charging by the hour introduces perverse incentives into the mix. Cutting corners and cheating the process in order to maximize your revenue while minimizing your work. It puts you in opposition to your client who you should be 100% focused on helping.

A flat fee avoids all this and gives you the room and space to focus on your job, go above and beyond, and exceed expectations without unnecessary concerns, discussions, guilt, or random emotional crap. At least from my experience.

Commissions or royalties or other forms of revenue-sharing go on top of the flat fee and make things even better. On the one hand they share the risk of the project, so if you frame things right, it's even easier of a sell than a straight-up flat high-ticket offer. And on the other hand, it removes the ceiling to your potential earnings. Plus, it creates a relationship of mutual investment like "we're in this together" and creates virtuous incentives that push both you and your partner (not client) to be better with one another.

I always aim for this, although it only ever works with people who are in the know and have a good grip on their business already... aka the people I want to work with anyway.

I have an ongoing project where I handle all the marketing (including ad-spend) but get 50% of all profit generated directly from my efforts. Kinda like an affiliate deal, but I have 100% exclusive control over all marketing and PR, so I'm not competing with other affiliates and the producer themselves.

For leadgen gigs I've had revenue-sharing from the leads generated. I'd write the ads or design the qualification funnel which generated the leads, my partner's clients would pay $50 per lead, I'd get $20 of that, but they invested the ad-spend, controlled the infrastructure and managed the clients. This was on top of being paid for the work itself before it started running.

For financial sales letters the royalties are based on gross sales, since they're usually subscriptions or info-products. Can be 3%, 5%, even 10%, depending on what the up-front fee is and how good you are at negotiating. $5k+5% is pretty standard.

Really... if you're coming from a position of creating value, anything is possible. Your goal should be to generate profit for the people you're working with. If you charge them $100k but generate them $500k they would be insane to not accept. The trick is proving that value proposition is true.

An increase of conversions from 0.8% to 1% is 20% extra revenue. For a business that has a small list and makes $30k/year, that's $6k gross in a whole year. For a campaign that is not even guaranteed to get those results (and often won't) and will probably only run for a few months tops before its effectiveness drops and it's replaced with another, taking in account ad spend and other overhead, the profit brought to the company is probably like... $500? If you're lucky. So asking for $5k + royalties for a sales letter to them is absurd. They will never pay that and it would be silly if they did.

But now let's look at a big financial advisory... They shove millions each month into ad spend. Their margins are, well, marginal, but in absolute terms pretty significant. If you bring them a marginal improvement on top of that, they'd potentially make hundreds of thousands from one slightly better-than-norm campaign. Paying you $5k to shoot your shot, then $10-20k in royalties when they make $250k in profit is nothing.

Who you're working with is very important.

And that's where the $50k sales letter comes in. You can easily charge these numbers if you're holding an active control and have proved that you can bring time-tested results.

A control doesn't run for 3 months and then fizzles out. It runs for 1, 2, 5, even 50 years. Look at the WSJ's 2 dudes letter. It generated billions. If you're holding such proof of performance, you've got way more leverage than your average Joe Schmoe.

These people have spent hundreds of thousands on dozens of copywriters incrementally improving their offers and squeezing as much as they can from their campaigns. These improvements come with diminishing returns.

As a result, the costs of marginal improvements from the peak go up exponentially... as do the prices you can charge.

I know for a fact that people have been paid $1mil+ for a single letter and I'm sure plenty of those ended up being duds. They likely still broke even, but they didn't outperform the control. $50k is a drop in the bucket at those levels.

I can't go into specifics, but I've worked with a guy who has one of the highest-grossing offers on Clickbank (the control in his niche) and while we were working together he took on an assignment to write the promo for a bigshot's marketing book. The bigshot is a bigshot he could've done the promo himself, but he didn't want to this time for whatever reason, so he preferred to pay a premium to get this guy to do it for him.

The up-front retainer was larger than $50k.

If you look at the sales pages of most big shots, I'm certain for most of them which are not done in-house, multiple hundreds of thousands were exchanged in the process. Over the span of a few weeks usually.

I'm not at the point where I can charge that much... and I don't really want to be, since it requires way too much clout and activity in the industry for my tastes. But I've charged $10k for a letter before with 0 clout, no portfolio, online presence, references, or anything.

Regardless, the sky is the limit with copywriting, as long as you're getting results and creating value.

Very insightful, thank you very much! I'd never heard of that WSJ sales letter, just took a quick look at it.

This has opened my eyes and inspired me to keep moving forward with honing my skill as a copywriter rather than outsourcing my work.

I've been earning exponentially more month after month, constantly trying to increase my "ceiling". I've also worked with about a dozen clients so far and I've somehow managed to make a fantastic impression on them all.

And yet, I know I can earn way more by doing much less. So in this regard, your post has served as a bigger catalyst for change to me than you could probably imagine.

I am currently in a position where I'm doing some important ad copy work for 7 figure brands with enormous budgets. I'll try to get my hands on the data of the PPC campaigns and take it from there!
 

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