My latest project—the complete site rewrite—is an interesting case study in how to set a price based on the estimated value of the work, rather than a flat fee or an hourly rate.
This project was a contract gig that I randomly stumbled upon on LinkedIn, and it caught my attention right away. A web dev agency needed an experienced copywriter and content editor to review their website and rewrite two dozen pages to align with their company’s complete rebranding.
I recognized that this was a large project that would require someone with consultant-level editing skills as well as knowledge of web development and software engineering. And I knew that my expertise as a writer (albeit mostly outside the tech industry) would give me enough leverage to set a value-based fee.
That means I set my price based on how much additional revenue I estimated that my service would bring in for the company.
A friend of mine with more experience than me advised that a common rule of thumb for copywriters is to charge 10% of the estimated value their work would provide.
I spotted key copywriting mistakes on this company’s homepage, pointed them out during our initial interview, and explained how my approach would fix those mistakes and increase their overall conversion rate (that is, converting site visitors into prospective clients, in this case by filling out a contact form).
I know that typical landing page conversion rates are often less than 2%, whereas a very high conversion rate is closer to 10%. This company didn’t have information on their current conversion rate, so I figured that if it’s currently at 2-3%, I could easily double it to 4-6% with better copy.
I asked them how much a new client is worth to them (“at least $100,000, ideally more”), how many clients they’ve taken on this year (“5 or 6”) and how many additional clients their team could reasonably work with over the next few months (“2 or 3 at most”).
Can you see what I’m building up to here?
I projected that with no changes, the company would likely land 1 new client over the next 3 months, given how many they’ve worked with so far this year.
Assuming their conversion rate was on the low end, and that I could reasonably double it with better copy, I concluded that my work could potentially lead to the company taking on 1 or 2 additional clients beyond their current rate in the quarter after my work would be published.
Since 1 new client would be worth at least $100,000 to them, I decided that my price should be at least $10,000.
Then I figured, hell, why not go big or go home? Let’s assume they’ll land 2 new clients at $100,000 each, and in turn, I’ll set my price closer to $20,000.
Now for the fun part: how do I arrive at the number I’m aiming for?
In this case, I broke down the project based on the scope outlined by the client, and priced each item relative to one another in such a way that they added up to my goal.
Here’s what that looked like in the initial proposal:
- Site-wide content audit — $3,000
- Keyword research — $1,000
- Landing page copy with wireframe — $5,000
- Interior page content revisions with SEO — $500 each * 24 = $12,000
…For a grand total of $21,000.
I estimated that the entire project would take roughly 75-100 hours to complete, which would put me in the range of $200-300 per hour.
That price tag was a big mental hurdle for me to get over.
Even after all the mathematical gymnastics to arrive at it, I still had to overcome just the idea of asking for that much money for a single project.
How could I go from $300 per project to $300 per hour just like that?
In a word: confidence.
I wanted to begin the negotiations with the highest possible price that I could reasonably justify.
This accomplishes a few important things:
- The high price tag alone positions my services as premium; this is a price point that communicates “I am an expert at what I do.” What if I had asked for $500 total? The client would assume that my work must be no good if I’m charging so little—after all, “you get what you pay for.”
- The scope establishes what the best possible version of the project would look like; it’s the shiny red sports car parked in front of the used car lot to get you excited, even if you ultimately purchase something more economical.
In the end, this proposal was rejected—which I was expecting.
Not because of price, but because of scope.
Which leads me to a major lesson here that I want to drive home:
Do not negotiate over the price of a project.
Negotiate over the scope.
In other words, the price doesn’t change. There are no discounts here.
The price of the project only goes down if the scope is reduced.
In this case, the company was concerned that what I was proposing in terms of wireframing, SEO, and keyword research was more than what they needed, and could lead to the project taking longer than they’d prefer.
They asked me to revise the proposal to reduce the scope accordingly.
If that first proposal was the convertible Corvette, then round two was more like a Volkswagen or a Honda.
Here’s what that looked like:
- Landing page copy — $2,000
- Site-wide content audit — $3,000
- Interior page content revisions — $350 each * 24 = $8,400
For a grand total of $13,400.
Still a lot of money, but when you’re primed with $21k as the initial offering, $13k sounds like a pretty good deal by comparison.
And the client accepted it.
I start next week!