The Leap: Talking side hustles and pricing with Melissa Yap

Welcome to The Leap! For this IG Live series, Wethos CEO Rachel Renock sits down with entrepreneurs who took the leap toward working independently or starting their own project.

In this episode, Rachel sat down with Melissa Yap, an LA-based writer with 16 years of experience across marketing, content strategy, and content marketing. Originally born in Melbourne, Australia Melissa has traipsed the globe from London to New York City and is now working at a technology platform, MNTN. She also freelances on the side, working with technology and lifestyle brands, doing copy and strategy. Her work has been featured in Fortune, Huffington Post, CNN, and Bloomberg. 

Watch the full interview here or read below to learn more about how Melissa got started as a freelance writer, her thoughts on how to price copywriting services, and the difference between copywriting and content strategy. 

Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

RR: Super excited to chat today. Can you tell us a little more about your journey to starting your side business and how it’s evolved over time?

MY: I’ve always had a love for writing. When I started my career in marketing, I would usually just pitch different publications — back home in Melbourne — usually in the lifestyle, food, and fashion arena. And that’s how it got started. I would contribute to these publications and I would usually write for free.

It really took off when I moved to the US. I moved to New York in 2013 and was there for six years. In New York, I continued writing for a publication called Melting Butter. It was owned by a friend of mine, and I was their food writer. She would actually come to me with different pictures and I would go and taste-test some food, and then write about it.

I think when [my side hustle] really took off, was during the pandemic. I hate to say it, but 2020 was actually a very good year for me, business-wise. I was working full time, but I was also getting a lot of demand from clients for freelance writers. It really took off in 2020 and since then, I’ve been taking on projects here and there, more like tech clients in the B2B space.

RR: I saw the copy on your website, which I really loved, which was “your one-stop copy studio.” As a writer, I’m curious, what are the most common things that clients are coming to you for in terms of packages, or services?

MY: This is a really good question. It’s honestly a bit of a mixed bag for me. Before, in 2020, I was focusing a little bit more on long-form writing. There’s a lot of need for long-form writers to write blog posts and white papers because of the time that it takes to do that — it’s a huge time saver for companies. And I think that’s why I see so many postings for that online. So, it varies from blog posts to even social media captions.

Website copy is a big one as well. Sometimes, I also get requests from clients, who want to create a lot of things, but don’t have the strategy in place. And it’s quite clear from the discovery sessions that they still have some work to do on their end. So usually it’s an educational process with the client when they come to me with those types of asks.

RR: How do you help your clients understand their own copywriting needs? Or, navigate through that discovery process, to get a better sense of what’s really going on underneath?

MY: I usually have an introductory or discovery call with the client. But before that call even happens, I’ll have a list of maybe, about five, or so open-ended questions about their brand. “What are their copy needs? Why did you reach out to me? And what do you like about my work, versus other freelancers, or companies that you’ve chosen?”

I think that gets them to think about what they’re actually looking for. I’ll ask them, “What is it about your copy that you’re looking to change and why?” I’ll also ask things like deliverables, budget, and timeline. That’s really important to establish off the bat. From the answers, I know whether or not the client is ready or whether it makes sense to take another call with them. I think a lot of freelancers do this. It’s a vetting process to make sure that it’s a good fit for both parties.

RR: I want to talk about pricing because on our platform, pricing is a huge part of it. When we first launched the software, we published all of our own pricing data. Now we have tens of thousands of people, who we have feedback loops from on all those price points. 

I’m curious, what’s your perspective on pricing your services? Has your perspective evolved from when you started versus where you’re at now? And any tips for folks, particularly the copywriters, trying to figure out how to gauge that client’s willingness to pay fairly?

MY: That’s honestly been an ongoing challenge for me, even now. There are so many different ways to price — value-based pricing, hourly pricing, or even per-word pricing. I remember when I first wrote for this publication back home in Australia, they would pay me $25 for the whole [article]. And back then, I thought that was actually a lot of money. I was like, “Wow, I’m getting paid for this. This is so cool.” That was maybe, over 10, 15 years ago, when I first started. And then, as my freelance career continued on, I would start to charge hourly.

I wasn’t even sure if that was the right way to do it. I was using a lot of resources, going on Google and searching, “How much should you charge for your copywriting services?” And then I would make an estimate based on my years of experience and just come up with an hourly number. Then, when the pandemic happened in 2020 and I was getting a lot of requests, I noticed that [the response to] the pricing that I was giving to clients was “Yeah, that’s fine.” So there’s this Facebook group that I joined called Freelancing Females. And a lot of people were saying, “If you’re getting a lot of clients saying, “Yes” then your pricing is probably too low.”

That has really stuck with me. I would usually take on anything and everything, just because it paid. But then, I got burnt out by that. So I have learned, quality over quantity and just accepting the clients that I think are a good fit for me and vice versa. The most recent project that I did with a startup client, they wanted me to create messaging frameworks for them and website copy for I think four or five pages. That was $15,000. And back then, I would’ve freaked out about charging that, but now I know, over time you accumulate the skills. Wethos is the tool that I was using to price because I wasn’t sure how to price myself. And it honestly gave me the confidence to charge what I’m charging now.

Another thing that I do is increase my rates yearly. Working full-time, you accumulate skills, you get more experience, so you should be charging more for that. And I feel like value-based pricing is definitely the way to go for copywriting. Definitely not per word or per hour because I think per hour, or time-based pricing, you actually penalize yourself, because if you’re more efficient, you’re getting paid less. So, I steer away from those types of clients, who ask “How much do you charge per word?” Because I know automatically off the bat, they’re not the right fit. Value-based pricing is good because you can talk about what the client’s going to get for that amount. Both parties know what they’re getting, so it’s just a little bit cleaner in my opinion.

RR: When you’re raising your rates, how do you explain that to your existing clients? Or, do you do that only for new people that come on? How do you handle that conversation?

MY: I’ve done it for existing clients and usually they don’t have a problem with it. I’ll raise my rates usually between 10 to 20% a year.

RR: I want to talk about copywriting and content strategy and how closely related those things are — it’s arguably hard to pry them apart if you wanted to. How do you think about those two skill sets with your clients? And how much of your day-to-day work do you find to be pure writing with a strategy that it already exists, versus coming up with a strategy and then executing that in writing?

MY: I’d say my full-time job is more execution because the strategy has already been set. When it comes to freelance, it’s a little bit of a mixed bag because you have clients, like I was mentioning at the start of our call, who say they want these things, but they don’t actually know what their brand stands for. Or, they don’t have a defined tone of voice built out. I remember I had a call with a client who wanted a website, some blog posts, and some social media copy, but they didn’t have the foundational set. So when I had that call with them, I was like, “At the moment, I can’t work with this, because I think there’s some work to do on your end.”

RR: Any advice for people who are looking to take the leap?

MY: Honestly, just do it. I have personally found LinkedIn as a very useful tool for landing clients. There are specific hacks that you can use with their search function, actually keywords that you use, that you are looking for. I would search, “Freelance copywriter” and see the most recent ones posted in the day and actually reach out to them.

That’s a little hack of mine. I’ve actually landed clients by going down that route. I mean, the best clients that I’ve gotten are through word of mouth. But if you are starting out, I think LinkedIn is a huge tool to leverage. 

But I think leveraging those platforms and also understanding your worth and what you can bring to the table, is key. Because if you don’t then clients will walk all over you. So that’s probably the number one [tip], just understanding your value and not being afraid to say no if something’s not the right fit. Because something better will always come along.

Ready to take the leap?