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📈 how I scaled up from $300 —> $13,000 in 6 months

Sam Sycamore
Sam Sycamore
The only way to significantly increase your price is to decide what you’re worth and then work up the confidence to just, fucking, ask for it.

When I started writing in the tech industry earlier this year, my first paid gig was 300 USD for a 1000-word article.
My next writing job a couple months later was a three-part tutorial series for a total of $2,400.
This week I landed my biggest writing gig yet: a full content audit and rewrite of a web dev agency’s website, weighing in at $13,400.
How did I manage to scale up my income so quickly?
Did my writing skills improve by 45x over the last 6 months?
I mean, I think I’m a pretty solid writer, but that’s definitely not what’s happening here.
What changed was the kinds of projects I took on, and how I approached setting my price.
My experiences here are as a writer, but what I have to share is equally applicable to developers, designers, and other freelancers.
Hopefully by comparing and contrasting these three projects, I’ll be able to convince you that you absolutely can and should take on bigger gigs, and ask for more money by positioning your services as premium.
$300
When I sold that first article, I was responding to a call for freelance writers, and the price was set by the publisher—in this case, a SaaS startup I found on WhoPaysTechnicalWriters.com.
I’ve worked as a freelance writer for many years, but I was brand new to the tech industry and so I had no relevant experience to show off.
I had no leverage for negotiating the price.
I took what was offered, because I knew it would be a worthwhile stepping stone.
The piece took me 10 hours to complete, which means I earned about $20/hr after accounting for taxes.
For the vast majority of people who dabble in freelancing, the projects never evolve beyond this level: you take what you can get, and there’s no room to negotiate.
If this is the only kind of client you ever land, it’s easy to get burned out by the grind and the constant project churn just to make ends meet.
Thankfully, there are better ways to approach new clients if you have the confidence to propose a premium service.
Because here’s the big secret about becoming a highly paid freelancer: you have to find the confidence to just, fucking, ask for it.
$2,400
The three-part tutorial series I did was the result of an unsolicited DM, from another SaaS startup whose founders knew me from Twitter as a writer with a style they liked.
This client had no set price in mind, nor a complete idea of what they were looking for. They just knew they needed more educational resources for new users of their product.
It was up to me to propose a project and name my price.
This gave me a fair bit of leverage, in that I got to define the scope of the project. I could make it as small or as big as I wanted to. And I could charge whatever I thought was fair.
I pitched the idea of a three-part series aimed at complete beginners; determined that it would take me about 30 hours to complete (10 hours per piece); and decided that I’d like to pay myself $50/hr after taxes, which means I’d need to charge closer to $80/hr. 30 hrs * $80/hr = $2,400.
They said yes to my proposal without hesitation.
This worked out well for me, but it doesn’t scale beyond a certain point because there are only so many hours in a day. And I don’t want my fee to be a measure of how much time I put into the project.
Ultimately, I want to get paid not for my time but for my expertise. Again, this is more about your mindset than anything else.
$13,400
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!
Your work is worth as much as you decide it is
So to answer my original question of how I scaled up from $300 to $13,000 in 6 months:
  • I decided that I wanted to offer a premium service, and chose a price point that would convey my expertise
  • I started taking on projects where I had the freedom to define the scope, which means I could upsell my services and propose the highest possible price that I could justify
  • I stopped valuing my work based on my time commitment, and instead began pricing based on the value I estimated my work would bring to my client
Of course, all of the above is easier said than done. But what is actually difficult here?
Mustering up the courage to ask for what you’re really worth.
Decide right now that your time is your single most valuable resource, and nobody can afford to pay you for an hour of your time. It’s priceless.
Your expertise, on the other hand—that has a price, and you get to name it.
It’s terrifying at first to ask for an expert’s rate. Impostor syndrome will get the best of you if you let it.
But what you’ll find is that the higher your price is, the higher the perceived value of your work will be.
It also has the effect of weeding out those clients who would try to lowball you or make unreasonable demands.
When a client is paying a premium price for an expert’s services, they are much more likely to leave that expert alone to do what they do best, because they trust that your high rate is indicative of high-quality work.
This is what I want for you.
And: you’re closer than you think.
I wish you the best!
-Sam Sycamore
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Sam Sycamore
Sam Sycamore @tanoaksam

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