As a freelance copywriter for the past 19 years (April is my official anniversary month), I've
prided myself on always making sure I get paid a respectable amount of money for the work I'm producing.
I've never given it away for free (i.e., "spec").
I get paid my standard fee (plus royalty), whether I'm working with a big company or a teeny tiny company with just a CEO and not much else.
What separates these companies from the rest isn't that they can "afford" to hire a top-level copywriter.
It's that they realize they can't afford not to.
They can "save money" and take their chances...or they can pay up and hire a proven producer. This willingness to "play big" is what will ultimately allow them to be successful.
Now, I'm able to do this because I have a proven track record of winners under my belt.
So what do you do if you don't yet have that track record?
"Train" on your client's dime!
That's the risk they are willingly taking by trying to get a deal. They shouldn't expect A-level copy for a C-level fee.
(Note: I say this having spent time both on the client side at one of the top direct response marketing companies as well as on the freelancer side.)
However, for every project you take on, it's clearly in your best interest to do your very best and hit it out of the ballpark.
Because that's how you get that track record that eventually gets you the big bucks.
I remember joking when I was starting out as a freelance copywriter with a colleague who was also just starting out that we were getting "paid to learn". (We both had had pretty awesome marketing careers so we weren't complete newbies--and we're both A-level copywriters today.)
We were hired to do projects we hadn't done before. We threw ourselves into them 110%, soaked up every bit of knowledge around us, and did our level best to produce the best possible copy.
Sometimes it was pretty decent. Sometimes not.
But that's how you LEARN.
And when I needed some samples, I still made sure I got paid...certainly not what I would charge today, but a respectable fee nonetheless.
And these samples helped me "climb" the copywriting ladder quickly.