Why I Quit the Job That Paid Me $1,450 an Hour

A photo of Laura Belgray Courtesy of Laura Belgray
Just because people want something from you doesn’t mean you have to do it, says author Laura Belgray.
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By the time I retired my one-on-one copywriting services, I was charging $1,450 per hour. 

You read that right.

It was the 10th year of my business, Talking Shrimp. When I started it, in 2009, I was aiming to get more clients for the kind of writing I did back then, which was TV promos. I scripted spots for networks like Nick at Nite, TV Land, Bravo, NBC, HBO, and more, driving viewers to tune in for their shows.

Because I had a toe in the online-entrepreneur world, I also started attracting a different kind of client, which gradually became my bread and butter: small-business owners, service providers, and assorted solopreneurs who needed help with their own copy. I helped write their websites, their social media posts, their marketing emails…anywhere they used words to sell their products or services.

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I raised my prices regularly, from my starting price of $250/hour, to $500, to $750, to $950. I gritted my teeth each time, bracing for bookings to drop off, and yet I continued getting clients. I enjoyed the sessions with them, and loved the results. “My new copy is getting me more bookings,” I’d  hear. Or, “It’s so great to send people to my website now that it actually sounds like me.” 

There was one hitch, though, and I’m very aware this is a luxury problem: After a while, I no longer liked having so many appointments on the calendar. 

For several years, I got excited every time a booking email came into my inbox. It was like the ding of a service bell on the counter, if I had an actual (old-timey) shop. Yay, a customer!

But by the late 2010s, though I was grateful for the business, I was feeling drained. 

I wanted to open my iCal and see nothing but blank space. I wanted more time to do the kind of writing I loved most, which was my own stories, in my own voice, in the form of emails to my list (and, if I could ever get my act together, in the form of a book). 

I started limiting appointments to Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays so I’d have that freedom on Mondays and Fridays. Those two days, if I could help it, remained absolutely blank. My client appointments were more batched together, so I’d have the same number of them per week but across fewer days.

I loved my no-client Mondays and Fridays so much, and felt so creative and productive during them, I thought, “Hmm. What if I also took Tuesdays and Thursdays off the table?” 

I also raised the price of an hour one last time, from $950 to $1,450. If I’d wanted to stay fully booked, this price hike would have been a bigger risk. The truth was, I was half-hoping my new price would deter most clients from signing up. If they did sign up at $1,450/hour, I felt, the income would be well worth having their appointment on the calendar. 

Lo and behold, clients continued to book me at that eye-watering rate—until I admitted to myself I didn’t want to do client work anymore at all. Not even for my favorite, most fun-to-work-with clients. 

I wanted to spend every day I could lost in my writing, without looking at the clock or anticipating a meeting time. 

I fantasized: What would it feel like to say, “I’m sorry, I no longer offer copywriting services”? Just thinking about it brought a wave of relief. Freedom — that’s what it would feel like. The question was, could I pull it off financially? 

I had already created some income streams from more scalable offers, meaning offers that serve multiple (and, sometimes, unlimited) people at once. They included: 

Downloadable copywriting mini-courses, available year-round on my site; 

A high-ticket mastermind/group-mentoring program called Shrimp Club; 

A comprehensive, flagship copywriting course, The Copy Cure, with my partner, Marie Forleo. 

I had yet to create my signature email copywriting courses, which now bring in a sizable percentage of my income, but the trainings I already offered and collaborated on provided enough of a financial cushion that I felt comfortable “retiring” as a copywriter.

In 2019, I went for it. 

When I made this commitment to myself, I was in the process of rebranding my website. To make my retirement official, I removed all the copywriting services from my “Work With Me” page

(I actually went a step further, and linked to the old page so my website visitors could check it out as a model for creating their own services page.)

I’d learned a lesson: If you don’t want to offer something, don’t put it on the menu. 

And so, in restaurant parlance for when you’ve run out of an item, I used my new website to make the announcement: “86 copywriting!”

This big, public declaration of “I’m done”— of walking away from the work I was best known and sought-out for — felt risky, but I had a feeling I’d be happy with it. My hope was that I’d get to: 

  • Serve people (and more of them) in new ways, 
  • Feel more creative and self expressed in my work,
  • Feel more spacious in my life,
    And, most of all,
  • Replace the income I’d been making from client work, and then some…

…And never look back.

That’s what happened. Retiring from 1:1 client work freed up the time and mental bandwidth to focus on: 

  • Adding to my income by creating new offers (the aforementioned Inbox Hero and Launch Hero)
  • Marketing those through my emails and social media
  • Building my audience through media (podcasts interviews, speaking on stages, guest posts like this one!)
  • Writing my first book, Tough Titties (June, 2023 via Hachette) — a lifelong dream. 

Yes, I’ve had to say no to would-be copywriting clients and refer them elsewhere. It’s never been easy for me to turn down good people or good money. But this pivot played out exactly as I’d hoped.

Should you make a similar shift in your business? Should you give up a service or offer that’s lucrative, in high demand, or both? 

If it’s just because you feel pressure to “level up,” but you love what you’re doing and earn enough for your lifestyle, shut out the voices and stay the course. 

If, however, you relish the idea of saying “I don’t do that anymore” and switching to a new way of serving your clientele, here are my best tips to pivot:

Don’t advertise what you don’t want to do or sell. 

If you no longer want to serve ice cream, and are tired of people coming in and asking for ice cream, take down the sign that says “Ice Cream.” 

Remember: Just because you’re great at something and people want it from you doesn’t mean you have to say yes.

Sometimes, if you can’t handle disappointing others, the one you end up letting down is yourself. Over and over.

Build an audience and engage with them regularly.

I would never have been able to make this pivot if I hadn’t built a list of engaged email subscribers and consistently connected with them on such a personal level, they were ready to buy the next thing I offered. 

And no, I never looked back. Maybe you won’t, either. I’ll be rooting for you.