I was never a good writer, and I never really thought of myself as one. I also definitely never thought I would make money being a writer. It wasn’t until I quit my job that I started exploring writing as an option to make income. It turned from side income to now generating all of my income, as a business.
But I wasn’t always doing well. It took a lot of trial and error, a lot of happy clients, and honestly, a lot of unhappy clients.
I started off doing it as a freelancer, and now I run it as a business with full-time employees. What’s interesting is that as soon as I stopped freelancing, and turned it into a real business, my income rose.
I learned how to get clients and how to add more value to them, and in turn, raise our rates. Here’s my advice to you.
Focus on value, and not hourly rates.
This might seem counterintuitive. If you can’t charge by the word, hour, or article, well, how exactly should you charge? The answer is a monthly retainer. All of our clients are on monthly retainers. In fact, we don’t even have an hourly rate. I wouldn’t even know how to calculate it.
This is the core difference between freelancing and running a real growing business. Freelancers are hired to fill in known gaps in their client’s business. Agencies are hired to do more than just fill in a gap but to consistently add value to the business.
They pay the same amount every month, no matter how many pieces of content my company writes for them. By engaging our clients on a monthly retainer, it focuses the engagement on value instead of how much time it took you to write something or how long something is.
The problem with charging by the hour, word, or article is that it doesn’t always represent value. A 100-word article that generated 10 times more traffic than a 2,000-word article shouldn’t cost 1/20th less. In fact, it should be worth more.
I’ve also noticed that clients enjoy paying the same amount every month. They don’t want any shocks at the end of the month. I’ve seen way too many times where a client and a writer get into an argument about how much time the writer spent writing a blog post. This happened because the writer charged per hour. By charging the same amount every month, you’ll never have to defend yourself on trivial things.
Stick to a single industry.
This is where I’ve seen most writing businesses fail. They market their company as a “storytelling” business and that they’re amazing at telling stories. Well, I have a newsflash, anyone writing an email is telling a story. In a sense, anyone who can type or talk is a storyteller, so that argument falls flat.
The reality is that the more you know about what you’re writing about, the more you care about it, the better your words will be, and the more impact you’ll create for your clients. And that’s when clients will pay you more money and retain you for longer.
I started my career in IT consulting, and then, through a series of risks, I ended up doing marketing for another digital consulting company. And now we write for digital consulting companies, only. All of my employees are also ex-consultants of large consultancies.
So, we’re not just writers, we’re writers and advisors. See the difference? I tell my clients what they should be writing about. I challenge them on topics. To move up your retainer amounts, you must be able to do the same.
The more you simply write what they want you to write, the more you’re going to stick to your commoditized rate.
Add marketing or another complementary skill to your business skillset.
What is the purpose of words? The purpose of words is to communicate with others clearly. Now, if no one reads your words or your client’s words, then do your words matter? That answer is a hard no.
I actually learned how to utilize marketing because after I published my first book I wanted people to read it. So, I picked up marketing and learned as much as I could about it and trained my staff on the basics of marketing content. The goal is to write good content and get people to read it. That’s where the value of the business comes from.
In the end, if you want to grow your writing or ghostwriting business, your team has to own a niche, learn how to get more people to read your words, and most importantly, start charging by monthly retainers.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.