How to Create a Pricing Structure that Builds Consistent Income

Last year at AWAI’s Bootcamp, Nick Usborne spoke about Building a Serious Freelance Writing Business. He talked about the typical work cycle for most freelancers.

In a vicious cycle, he said, they look for work, get work, do work, bill for work, and then start over again.

I used to be in that cycle.

You work hard at getting a client. You switch your focus to working on the project. Because you’ve switched your focus, you don’t invest much, if any, time on finding new clients.

Then the project is over and you switch back to the finding clients mode, with no income coming in while you wait to get another project. You might have another project lined up but don’t have much going on beyond that.

The result is that while you want to quit your full-time job, you just don’t have enough consistency in your freelance income to feel comfortable making that move.

Does any of this sound familiar?

After Nick’s talk, I looked at my own freelance business. I realized the majority of my income was coming from one-time jobs.

This caused me unnecessary stress, not knowing exactly what my income would be month to month, let alone six months down the road.

Increasing the number of retainer clients seemed the obvious solution.

The problem was, I already offered a retainer option. But most clients didn’t take it.

So I developed a new option called the “package plan.” Package plans give a better price to the client while giving you financial stability. This creates consistent income just like a retainer agreement. However, package plans are less risky and easier for clients to understand.

Retainers often mean clients pay a fixed price regardless of the amount of work you do—which can make some clients wary.

Package plans are interpreted as “getting a deal.” Sort of like when you buy one roll of paper towels, you’ll pay more than if you get a package of twelve.

Seven advantages of using a package plan

Within 6 months of putting this strategy in place, I increased my consistent monthly income by 125%. Consistent income isn’t all you’ll receive, though. Here are seven additional benefits:

  • Receive extra project assignments from clients. Because you have an ongoing relationship, it’s easier to make suggestions for extra work. Plus, because you’re working with them regularly, you’re on their mind when another job comes up. They know you already understand their audience. They get a discount for working with you. And they don’t have to spend time finding another writer.
  • Improve your role. Having an ongoing relationship under a package plan agreement can help you shift your role from “just a copywriter” to a strategist and key business partner. This makes you more valuable to your client and therefore makes your relationship more permanent—and potentially lucrative.
  • Elevate your reputation. Once you develop a track record for helping a long-term client grow a business, it’s easier to bill yourself as a strategist and consultant. As a strategist with a proven track record, you can also raise your rates.
  • Increase referrals. I’ve also noticed an increase in referrals since I shifted to this model. This is because when you’re working with clients consistently and producing good work, your name is the first that comes to mind when someone asks. People like to refer those they know, like, and trust.
  • Eliminate rate negotiations. How many times have you been told that a prospect is looking to “establish an ongoing relationship” and therefore would like your lowest rate? Because you’re already offering a discount, you’ll find prospects won’t ask you to give a lower rate for the promise of ongoing work.
  • Reduce the amount of time it takes you to do a project. Typically, at the start of a project, you gather information on your prospect's target audience, product, and service. You look at their competitive situation and study the “voice” of whom you’ll be writing for. With ongoing work for the same client, you most likely won’t have to repeat those steps. So you’ll spend less time on future projects.
  • Get paid for every piece you write. When working on retainer, I’ve had the experience of doing way more work than I was being paid to do. With the package plans, because my projects are clearly defined in the agreement, I always get paid for every piece I write.

Elements of the package plan

My approach is simple. Each package plan proposal has five elements:

Options: Clients are offered three options—an a la carte rate, a 6-month rate, and a 12-month rate.

Content provided: This differs a bit from a retainer agreement. With the package plan, you will contract to do a specific number of projects each month. For example, you’ll write eight emails per month or four case studies per month. The key here is to be exact about what you’re doing for them.

Rates: The 6-month plan gives a 15% discount off a la carte rates, and the 12-month plan gives a 25% discount off a la carte rates.

In addition, the discount is extended to any additional projects above and beyond the agreed-upon number of projects per month.

Important Tip: When determining your rates, make sure you’re comfortable with your discounted rates. Know your worth. Make your lowest discounted rate an amount that is fair to you and the customer.

Trial period: Clients get a 90-day trial period. If for any reason within the 90-day trial the customer isn’t happy, he can cancel his contract. He still pays for the work completed but at the contracted package plan rate with no penalty. However, if the client cancels after the 90-day period, then he is billed the difference between the six- or 12-month rate and the a la carte rate for the work completed.

This 90-day trial eases clients’ concerns about signing a long-term agreement because they know they can try you out, still get the discount, and cancel if they’re not happy. Plus, 90 days is more than sufficient to determine if this is a good fit for both of you.

Option to substitute: If there is a concern about whether they’ll need a certain type of project every month, offer an option to substitute projects. For instance, if a client is under contract to do one case study per month and there’s a month where they don’t have a case study to write, you’d discuss what they might need you to do instead. If the project they need is more costly, you could offer to bill the difference between your contract rate and the rate for the project.

That’s package plan strategy in a nutshell …

If you feel like you’re on the hamster wheel and always chasing projects … or if you want to build a steady income … this could be your solution.

Use this plan to create a consistent flow of monthly income you can count on. You’ll decrease your anxiety while increasing your income … and get more referrals along with more projects from existing clients.

Plus, you’ll be able to charge more for future clients because of your growing reputation as a strategist.

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Published: August 31, 2011

11 Responses to “How to Create a Pricing Structure that Builds Consistent Income”

  1. Great Article! This information is very helpful.


  2. Great article. Just to make sure, I understand--you bill monthly as you would a retainer. The difference is the clients know exactly what they're getting each month and the copywriter knows exactly what projects he/she will be working on.

    Melzetta Williams

  3. This is a phenomenal article, Cindy.

    I've suffered my share of work anxiety just as you described. Your package plan strategy sounds like exactly what I'm looking for. Removing the worry over a constant search for work will allow me to build a deeper relationship with my clients.

    A quick question re the Option to Substitute: please correct me if I'm wrong, but if your client has no need for a case study ($3,000) but wants a white paper instead ($6,000), you'd bill them $3,000. Is that right?


  4. Hi Cindy, Great article and suggestions. It's also nice to be able to plan your day/week/month.
    Obviously, a six-month package for one client might not be the same for another client, depending on the type/quantity of work they want each month.
    So if a client who already has signed up for a package comes to you with additional work that month, do you charge the a la carte price for that extra work?


  5. I understand now, Cindy.

    If the pricing doesn't line up, you simply charge the discount rate depending on which plan the client is on.

    In my example above, the client doesn't pay the price difference between what they originally wanted (a $3,000 case study) and a white paper ($6,000), which amounts to $3,000 (6,000 - 3,000). The client pays the full white paper discount rate of $6,000. Otherwise, you'd be writing a white paper for half price...


  6. Thank you for the insight. I'm half way through the Accelerated 6 Figure Copy Writing Course, and though there is a wealth of information, I've been having anxiety that it wouldn't truly prepare me to find clients, negotiate fees and etc.

    This article is a great resource for a newbie like myself who is truly naive and ignorant to the whole business. I am one who likes to see the big picture and this article has helped me see the picture brighter, clearer and more broadly.

    Thank you.

    Guest (ChrisFace)

  7. Thank you. This is an excellent set of ideas.


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