How Much Should I Ask For? (Copywriting Jobs)

27 replies
I'm feeling inspired by Angie, who has a copywriting job and also does freelance copywriting...

And so I'm applying for a few jobs...

But what should I say if they want to know my "salary requirements" for either hourly rates or FT annual salary? Or monthly, for that matter.

I've looked at places like Salary.com, and the average tends to be just under $60k/year (which comes to about $30/hour).

And if it's contract work without benefits and where I have to pay self-employment tax, then it might be higher. Someone told me I should ask for way higher rates for that...

Does anyone have an idea what would be appropriate - i.e., not underpricing myself and not pricing myself right out of the running (I seem to be good at that).

Thanks so much.

Elisabeth

P.S.: Then again, maybe I get so many new gigs that I may postpone the job hunt...
#copywriting #copywriting jobs #copywriting salary #hourly pay #jobs #salary requirements
  • Profile picture of the author MaxTurner
    Hello Liz,
    Personally I think I would need more information based on what you are specifically doing and have done in the past.

    It would make more sense for someone who has had a lot of success like tripling sales, etc, etc. to charge more.

    It also depends on the complexity of the project. If you don't know anything about the brand, audience it is serving it will take you longer. But if it's with something you are familiar with it might have less work and therefore charge differently.

    Personally I would have my own terms in how I get paid, project by project basis. This would help both the client and me since I would not be overcharging them if it was an easier project or undercharging if it is a more difficult one.

    Max
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  • Profile picture of the author shawnlebrun
    Elisabeth,

    If you're a copywriter... than use those darn copy skills to get yourself a salary that's high enough to make it all worthwhile for yourself and your family.

    Don't sell yourself short... because remember, YOU can return a lot of money for any company if you're good.

    So, never just put out "I want X amount of money"

    Instead... SELL them on why your salary is an investment and NOT a cost to them.

    When you write a sales letter, you'll usually have a section in the letter that justifies that price.

    Well, anytime you do salary requirements... sell them on why that's an investment and not a cost.

    Show them how paying you $100,000 a year can make them 1 million a year... and back it up with numbers if you have them.

    I remember a few years ago... landing a $10,000 client when all other bids he got from copywriters were $1,000 to $2,000.

    And the only reason is... I was able to SHOW him how my fee was an investment and not a cost.

    Back it up with numbers, proof, etc...

    So, for your specific situation... take the John Carlton school of pricing... in that "things are worth what they're worth"

    There's no right or wrong answer.

    Why does one car cost $12,000 and another $100,000.

    It's the perceived value.

    So, when doing your salary requirements... SELL them on a high enough number that could make them shudder a bit... but yet back it up with plenty of reasons why.

    PROVE to them that this outrageously high salary is well worth it, because you'll return 100 times that over the course of the year.

    Once you sell them on the fact your super high salary is an investment that can return MUCH more... and you back it up with your past success/proof... you will stand out.

    I've hired a lot of copywriters... and most just say "I want this" for salary.

    Those that give me a number and then back it up with reasons why they are worth that... they tend to get the job.

    Oh, and by the way... if you happen to stay in freelance... you may want to look at Harlan's Value Based Copy program. Not sure if he still has it or not.

    For me, going through Harlan's VBC program when I first started doing freelance made a HUGE difference in what I sent out for fee requirements... simply because I framed everything I said as being an investment that added value... not a cost.
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    • Profile picture of the author wordwizard
      Max: Thanks for your suggestions. You're right. I haven't provided much info. I am actually familiar with the brand etc.

      Promo Guy: Thanks for your feedback. The position is a highly qualified and demanding one, so entry level pay would not work at all... or be appropriate - or expected. Giving me some food for thought though. And I WILL definitely learn a ton from working with those guys, but I also need to make sure I get paid enough so I won't be distracted by money concerns (and there won't be much time/energy for outside clients if I get this).

      Shawn: Great advice! I'm trying to do that (sell myself using copywriting), but have barely started.

      They are making me fill in one of those survey monkey fill in the blank forms, but I suppose that will allow me to show off what I can do with limited space! And I'm good at that, so I'll need to focus!!!

      I actually OWN Harlan's VBC. Bought it years ago for $500. I think it's time I made my investment back! At the time, I was not confident enough to make much use of it, plus I was frustratred that he didn't explain how to actually go about selling that VBC (he mentions that he'll talk about it with the people in the live workshop he's recorded, but that he'll do so in a separate meeting, and that is not included

      But I've learned a lot in the meantime, so I'll definitely need to watch it again! I think I'll be in much better shape when it comes to applying his tips.

      Thanks again!

      Elisabeth
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  • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
    Hi Elisabeth,

    I'm happy to have inspired you in some way! We definitely need more ladies on this board and in this field.

    If you want to cut your teeth in a salaried position, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider, and only you'll know what's right for you.

    Advantages:
    -you'll be paid to learn instead of paying to learn
    -depending on your location, companies really fight for copywriting talent (which means higher salaries). My coworker was poached from a global retailer and relocated out to the Bay Area to join our team.
    -You may get to work with a copy manager/copy chief/creative director with amazing experience that can help shape your work and relearn your thinking process
    -depending on where you work, you may get to be super creative with pitches for campaigns, PR stunts, etc.
    -Health insurance!
    -If you know where to look, you can add some pretty impressive stats to your portfolio

    Disadvantages:
    -it's a desk job, definitely
    -some jobs don't have performance bonuses attached to the base salary
    -you may not like the team, the creative director, or other partners within the company but you'll still have to work with them
    -less freedom to choose the types of projects you want to work on. I'm a pretty vocal broad, so I fight for projects that intrigue me, and pretty much anything I can use to demonstrate my numbers
    -deadlines are deadlines are deadlines. Stopping the presses for work that needs to be printed and distributed just doesn't happen unless there's some major reason. Reversing course that late costs a shit load of money
    -like client work, the deadlines can be super tight, forcing you to produce whether you're inspired or not

    That said, everything Shawn said. All of it.

    My company had a salary figure in mind that was on par with the average here. I asked for more. I got more. I knew what I needed to make it worth my while, and while I really wanted the job, I wasn't about to be low-balled. My perks are pretty nice, and the whole department has laptops. Sometimes I take one of the other copywriters somewhere out of office and we write in the sunshine just for a change of pace.

    And I have VERY little time for freelance work. The projects I select/go after are things I'm super interested in, which is nice.

    I spend time outside the office recharging. I sing in a rock band, play dodgeball, and recently decided to try my hand at being a derby girl.

    Whatever you decide, make sure you're building in time to recharge that creative well. Don't let anyone try to overdraw you. That well is the source of your creative power, so guard it with your life. Plus, you never know what random thing will spark THE big idea. So if you do go for the desk job, make sure you don't chain yourself to it, ya know?
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  • I've looked at places like Salary.com, and the average tends to be just under $60k/year (which comes to about $30/hour).
    That's for a full time job.

    When you're working freelance the hourly rate is higher than what you'd be making in a full time job for two reasons:

    1. When someone hires you full time it's like they're buying your labor "in bulk." So the overall rate is lower, same way you pay less when you buy a physical product in bulk.

    2. In-house staff don't get paid by *billable hour*, they get paid by number of hours in the office. The total rate is diluted because it's assumed that they won't be "on task" every minute of the day.

    As a freelancer, if you're working with *legitimate* clients (i.e. established entrepreneurs, major agencies, big IM companies like agora) you would typically charge $50-$75 an hour.

    That said, it really depends on where you're looking for work.

    If you're talking about places like freelance sites or Warrior Forum, the overall rate will be a lot less than what I described above, because many of your clients will be "newbies" who don't have any budget to speak of.

    In the long run, if you want to make "professional" rates as a copywriter, you need to use one of the following strategies:

    1. Position yourself as a marketing consultant and go direct to the clients that agencies work with. There's no reason you need to work under another copywriter and make half the rate they're billing you out at. If your skills are good you can go direct to the clients who need marketing services.

    2. Work with bigger agencies in big cities. This somewhat goes against point one but I still stand by it because rates tend to be a bit higher in bigger markets.

    3. Promote your own offers. Become an affiliate and literally work for yourself, no clients at all.
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    • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
      Originally Posted by Andy The Copywriter View Post

      That's for a full time job.

      When you're working freelance the hourly rate is higher than what you'd be making in a full time job for two reasons:

      1. When someone hires you full time it's like they're buying your labor "in bulk." So the overall rate is lower, same way you pay less when you buy a physical product in bulk.

      2. In-house staff don't get paid by *billable hour*, they get paid by number of hours in the office. The total rate is diluted because it's assumed that they won't be "on task" every minute of the day.

      As a freelancer, if you're working with *legitimate* clients (i.e. established entrepreneurs, major agencies, big IM companies like agora) you would typically charge $50-$75 an hour.

      That said, it really depends on where you're looking for work.

      If you're talking about places like freelance sites or Warrior Forum, the overall rate will be a lot less than what I described above, because many of your clients will be "newbies" who don't have any budget to speak of.

      In the long run, if you want to make "professional" rates as a copywriter, you need to use one of the following strategies:

      1. Position yourself as a marketing consultant and go direct to the clients that agencies work with. There's no reason you need to work under another copywriter and make half the rate they're billing you out at. If your skills are good you can go direct to the clients who need marketing services.

      2. Work with bigger agencies in big cities. This somewhat goes against point one but I still stand by it because rates tend to be a bit higher in bigger markets.

      3. Promote your own offers. Become an affiliate and literally work for yourself, no clients at all.
      It's not lower just because of bulk hours. The company's paying a shit ton of money on the back end in benefits that about equals out to what you'd probably charge hourly. That's stuff you'd have to take out of your own fee as a freelancer, so I'd say it's about even unless you have a shitty lowballer job.
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      • Originally Posted by angiecolee View Post

        It's not lower just because of bulk hours. The company's paying a shit ton of money on the back end in benefits that about equals out to what you'd probably charge hourly. That's stuff you'd have to take out of your own fee as a freelancer, so I'd say it's about even unless you have a shitty lowballer job.
        The hourly rate at a typical FULL TIME Madison Avenue job is definitely lower than what a freelancer would charge.

        Average copywriter salary at O&M New York = $65k

        Average rate I charge at agencies nowhere near that size = $50 an hour, which at 40 hours a week would work out to 100k annually.

        It's the same in pretty much any field. Full time makes less per hour than a one-off contractor, and it's compensated for in security/stability.
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        • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
          Originally Posted by Andy The Copywriter View Post

          The hourly rate at a typical FULL TIME Madison Avenue job is definitely lower than what a freelancer would charge.

          Average copywriter salary at O&M New York = $65k

          Average rate I charge at agencies nowhere near that size = $50 an hour, which at 40 hours a week would work out to 100k annually.

          It's the same in pretty much any field. Full time makes less per hour than a one-off contractor, and it's compensated for in security/stability.
          AGAIN...that's because on the back end, they're paying an ass load in taxes and benefits. Depending on the benefits, that could work out to more than $100K annually. Factor in vacation time, sick pay, performance bonuses, health insurance, commuter benefits...that's a LOT of cash, man.

          So do you pay $100K to a freelancer full time? Or do you pay $100K in total salary, taxes, and benefits to a full-time employee, who nets maybe $65-70K of that? That's a biz call, pure and simple.

          So, makes sense that they'd offer a lower salary than a freelancer. Freelancers have to cover all of that out of pocket AND have a decent living wage.
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          • Originally Posted by angiecolee View Post

            AGAIN...that's because on the back end, they're paying an ass load in taxes and benefits. Depending on the benefits, that could work out to more than $100K annually. Factor in vacation time, sick pay, performance bonuses, health insurance, commuter benefits...that's a LOT of cash, man.

            So do you pay $100K to a freelancer full time? Or do you pay $100K in total salary, taxes, and benefits to a full-time employee, who nets maybe $65-70K of that? That's a biz call, pure and simple.

            So, makes sense that they'd offer a lower salary than a freelancer. Freelancers have to cover all of that out of pocket AND have a decent living wage.
            Sure, I'm not saying benefits costs aren't a part of why freelancers make more per hour than full timers.

            That's absolutely part of it, but it's not the only part.

            But anyway, the main point is...

            ... OP figured asked what she should be charging for hourly jobs as well as full time jobs.

            She mentioned that the full time jobs she was looking at work out to something like $30 an hour.

            I said if she's looking at freelance jobs she should charge more than that per hour... which anyone (I hope) would agree with. I don't really care too much about the whys are wherefores, I'm just trying to give decent advice.
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            • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
              Originally Posted by Andy The Copywriter View Post

              Sure, I'm not saying benefits costs aren't a part of why freelancers make more per hour than full timers.

              That's absolutely part of it, but it's not the only part.

              But anyway, the main point is...

              ... OP figured asked what she should be charging for hourly jobs as well as full time jobs.

              She mentioned that the full time jobs she was looking at work out to something like $30 an hour.

              I said if she's looking at freelance jobs she should charge more than that per hour... which anyone (I hope) would agree with. I don't really care too much about the whys are wherefores, I'm just trying to give decent advice.
              This is damn great advice

              Desired salary range is one figure - that's just how business goes. As you've seen, the company has a lot of back end stuff to consider, plus the cost of attracting, training, and retaining top talent.

              Desired freelancer fee range is another figure. You've got to make a comfortable living, give the mafia (*cough* IRS *cough*) their cut, pay for your home, your car, your food, your bills, and your health insurance.

              You'll need to have two fees in mind, basically. One that you'll accept with a salary (with considerable benefits, I'd like to emphasize - remember the salary figure they offer is a starting point in most instances. If you're the right fit, they'll meet you at an acceptable figure), and one that you'll accept if you're a contractor on the hook for all kinds of your own expenses.

              What you charge is what it's worth to you to do the deal and not hate your life every day.
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              • Profile picture of the author JohnRussell
                Originally Posted by angiecolee View Post

                This is damn great advice

                Desired salary range is one figure - that's just how business goes. As you've seen, the company has a lot of back end stuff to consider, plus the cost of attracting, training, and retaining top talent.
                You forgot to add in the cost of paying for the stiffs above who - in bureaucratic fashion - murder your copy even though they've never written a piece of copy that's sold anything.

                Those people are expenses. For the most part. You're in a select group - you're an investment, not an expense.

                As a copywriter, you bring the rain.

                Keeping that attitude will help in salary negotiations. You don't have to be a dick about it but don't forget it either.
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                • Profile picture of the author splitTest
                  Originally Posted by JohnRussell View Post

                  You forgot to add in the cost of paying for the stiffs above who - in bureaucratic fashion - murder your copy even though they've never written a piece of copy that's sold anything.
                  Wise words from mr. russell.

                  Make sure you're building a good portfolio, honing you're copywriting skills and clocking numbers to cite.

                  In the aforementioned publishing company they didn't even test. And none of my bosses knew a damn thing about copywriting. I learned little (partly my fault -- I could do the job in my sleep and got comfy). I'm paying for that now.

                  Be sure that any job you take is going to be good for your copywriting career in all kinds of ways.
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                  • Profile picture of the author wordwizard
                    Wow! Thanks so much for all that great advice.

                    I'm grappling with a deadline right now, so I'm going to come back later to respond in more detail. In the meantime, I want you to know that I appreciate your help very much!
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        • Profile picture of the author splitTest
          Originally Posted by Andy The Copywriter View Post

          Average copywriter salary at O&M New York = $65k
          damn. I would think it would be more than that. I worked for a damn publishing house in NY and made more than that. Not by much, but I'd figure an agency copywriter on Madison avenue would pull more than 65k.

          I also had healthcare and 4 weeks vacation.
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        • Profile picture of the author JohnnyPlan
          Originally Posted by Andy The Copywriter View Post

          The hourly rate at a typical FULL TIME Madison Avenue job is definitely lower than what a freelancer would charge.

          Average copywriter salary at O&M New York = $65k

          Average rate I charge at agencies nowhere near that size = $50 an hour, which at 40 hours a week would work out to 100k annually.

          It's the same in pretty much any field. Full time makes less per hour than a one-off contractor, and it's compensated for in security/stability.

          You might be charging that sum per hour. But, are you filling an entire 40 hours a week in jobs? The advantage of a 'regular job' is how there are a guaranteed number of work hours weekly. That's not true with a freelance writer. Very little stability and no unemployment benefits when you don't get freelance clients.
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  • Profile picture of the author RickDuris
    Elisabeth, how much money is going to make you feel inspired to do your best work?

    Be honest with yourself. (And it doesn't have to be a lot. It may just need to be steady income.)

    Personally, I find if I'm making a Client a lot of money and I'm not getting a piece of the action, I get resentful. That negativity unconsciously bleeds over into my writing.

    Not good.

    In a previous life, early on in my career, I was a software consultant. Corporate Fortune 500 software consulting is interesting when it comes to compensation.

    Generally speaking, the consultant gets a third, the sales guy gets a third and the company gets a third.

    When I found out how I was carrying others, and how they got the lion's share of the revenues, I quickly got resentful. Ultimately, I quit, started my own firm, keeping 100%.

    Even more so today, I am aware of my feelings when it comes to compensation. To keep my energy and emotions clean and focused, I use compensation as a tool to inspire me to do my best work.

    It sounds rather crass when I say it so bluntly, but it's not in reality. I coach Clients right up front if they want to get the best out of me, please don't be stingy. I'll move mountains on their behalf if I'm being treated right.

    I know they get the message when they come back with "So is this enough money?" When I hear them say that, it's music to my ears. It means they're looking at the situation from my perspective.

    That's when I know it'll be a win/win relationship.

    I realize my experience may not be particularly helpful here, Elisabeth. Because my situation is not the norm. But my question to you I think is valid:

    How much money would inspire you to do great work for your employer?

    You don't have to answer us. You have to answer to yourself.

    - Rick Duris

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    • Profile picture of the author sethczerepak
      Originally Posted by RickDuris View Post

      Elisabeth, how much money is going to make you feel inspired to do your best work?

      [/URL]
      And there it is.

      The question of questions.

      I don't know you Elisabeth, but the moment I see the word "average," in front of the word "income..." I immediately wonder whether the person considering that income really sees themselves as average.

      If so....why?

      Better yet, as Rick asked in another way:

      What's it going to take to give YOU the fuel you need to BECOME above average...or even great?

      Sure, you've got to prove yourself. I get that.

      Entitlement minded people don't get far in this game.

      But if ya' wanna train a horse to win the Kentucky Derby, sometimes ya' gotta demand the best oats.
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  • Profile picture of the author Mark Pescetti
    I have a sick little obsession with applying for copy jobs. I LOVE going through the application/interview process.

    While I was looking for a web designer, I hit up an outfit on Madison Ave. They were WAY too much for a website, but I ended up talking with some key people and inquired about doing freelance work for them. They weren't interested. But they got to see my work in Basecamp. And asked if I'd be interested in a "possible" position.

    I said no. But curiosity got the best of me. I asked what they pay. I was actually shocked. It was good money. The problem was, no backend.

    I was honestly tempted. Just for the experience alone, it would be a blast. And to spend time in New York? Forget about it.

    I couldn't though. Backend is where it's at. All it takes is a couple really hot projects that convert and receive tons of traffic to completely change your life. PASSIVE INCOME.

    You've gotta be bringing in passive income... or you'll always be working to pay next months bills.

    I also feel resentful if I don't have a taste of the profits. It makes the hard work... harder work.

    I find that when I thinking like an owner, rather than a paid hand, the way I go about the whole project shifts. The process is different.

    It would be difficult to feel that way... if I'm just getting a set salary. Even with health insurance, paid vacation, sick days... yadda yadda yadda.

    I will say...

    As a freelancer, the taxes are hell. I used to put aside 20%. Now, I put away 35%. it's a big chunk. And while I don't want to get into the politics of it, you've gotta integrate being sodomized by the IRS into the equation.

    Mark

    P.S. What Angie said also needs to be integrated into the equation. You can't be someone's workhorse. You've gotta make as many deposits... as withdraws... creatively speaking. I took my sig off because I don't want any more business. And I have a hard time turning away good money. So I'd rather just not have the opportunity. Or I will push too hard. It's just something I know about myself.

    Know thyself.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jason Kanigan
    This question comes up all the time.

    I made this video a year ago for my 3000th post, and it explains how to price projects so you and the client are both happy:

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  • Profile picture of the author iScribe
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  • Profile picture of the author JonMills
    If you leave that decision to others. There's a whole whack of idiots out there who will tell you what they will pay you for creating them sales copy. Everyone wants that long sales letter, direct mail piece, email for pennies, few are willing to pay good money.

    Rates can change according the amount of work involved ( research, going through a product, type of project etc )

    Also you can tell them that you made XYB for client A but that means little to them. As XYB client may have had a lot more going for them ( social proof, credibility, decent product ) than the guy who thinks his product is the next best thing since sliced bread.

    That's why spitting out conversion rates and how much you made for a previous client means very little in this world.

    Like Carlton said. You got to go out there, hone your craft, take on some crappy projects and in time you will be able to command the high pay day. You might not get it, but you are at least in a better position to get it.
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  • Profile picture of the author RobLowe
    I think Shawn hit it on the head --- don't sell yourself short. You're the copywriter, let them know the value of working with you to surpass their revenue goals and work only with clients who are convinced YOU are the one they need to work with.

    Good luck!
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    • Profile picture of the author Will Compton
      How much do you feel like you're worth? If you know you can make the company an extra million dollars a year, you can probably get more than $30,000.

      Another question... would you feel confident working on the come line... meaning, would you be willing to work for 5% of gross of the profit made directly from your ads?

      You might wanna check out John Carlton's Freelance Course.. the third section Get Paid is about all the different payment structures you can negotiate. (The other sections Get Good and Get Connected are also worth reading... a couple times. You can get the Freelance Course and Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel together for $200... it's a solid investment if you wanna continue down this path.)
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  • Profile picture of the author JamesDLayton
    People in this life fail, not because they reach too far and miss.
    But because they reach too short and hit.

    <3
    James
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    • Profile picture of the author sethczerepak
      Originally Posted by JamesDLayton View Post

      People in this life fail, not because they reach too far and miss.
      But because they reach too short and hit.

      <3
      James
      Many fail to become great because they're too busy succeeding at being average.
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      • Profile picture of the author JamesDLayton
        Originally Posted by sethczerepak View Post

        Many fail to become great because they're too busy succeeding at being average.
        Love it Seth

        James
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        all day long." - Earl Nightingale
        One of the easiest transformations I ever undertook as a copywriter was reading that quote every day.
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  • Profile picture of the author Trollfarie
    I was tired of working hard and having very little to show for it. I decided what I was worth and what my time was worth and went from there. Now I won't take a job that pays less than $40 per hour. Once I factor in time talking to the client, advertising taxes, etc. I need to make a good chunk per hour.
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  • Profile picture of the author SDsurfer
    Never sell yourself short. That means something different to everyone, but just keep in mind that if you are good at what you do, people will pay for it.
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