Oh, the elation of a copywriting enquiry! Someone wants YOU to write their copy. Cue happy dancing all around your office (or kitchen).
Then, they ask, how much will it cost?
You crash back to reality, and your stomach fills with stones.
Whether you like it or not, copywriting rates are deeply linked to your value… the value you bring to the project and the value potential clients think they’re getting. Often, there’s a big, echoey gap between these two points, with nothing but your sales patter to bridge it.
Should you charge per word, per hour or per project?
This is probably the most common question copywriters ask about how to price their copywriting services.
Charging per word means that you quote a price for each word you write and complete a word count at the end. I think this style of quoting is a lot more common with American copywriters than with Australian copywriters. In my opinion, it reduces your creative value to a matter of cents and that doesn’t feel good.
Charging per hour is quite similar in delivery. Your copywriting quote includes an estimate on you think you’ll spend on the project but your invoice is for the time you actually spend. And they may be different. This pricing structure is more common with popular (and experienced) copywriters, who can give accurate estimates of how long the copywriting will take. The risk is that if it takes longer, the client has to pay more.
Charging per project is usually a fixed price for the entire copywriting project. The price covers all the inclusions of your service (spelled out in your copywriting quote), and if you spend more time than you quote for, tough luck. However, if you work faster than your quote estimated, you win!
I recommend copywriters quote per project. When you can tell a client a fixed price for a project, everyone has more certainty. Clients know how much they will have to spend and you know exactly how much you will earn. Any way you can reduce anxiety around money, do it!
Who keeps time?
Whether you choose to charge per hour or per project, tracking your time is essential.
I don’t know a single, experienced copywriter who doesn’t track the time they spend in their business. Writing copy, yes, but also the time spent on admin, marketing, accounting and lead generation.
Tracking your time will help you understand how long it takes you to research, write, revise and do project admin. When you analyse the data, you will see patterns of where you lose time and when you need to be more disciplined (did that blog post really need 5 hours of research? No).
When you understand where and how you spend your time, your copywriting quotes will become more accurate. You can also work at becoming more profitable through efficiency (working for less time than you’re charging).
In the first year or so of Copywrite Matters, I was extremely busy but my income wasn’t great. I didn’t seem to be earning that much for all the hours I was putting in. So, I took some time to review my time sheets. I realised that I spent more time on non-billable work than on billable copywriting. I had a wait list of clients but I wasn’t organising my day for billable work. I also realised that for each copywriting project, I spent more time on the project admin than I quoted for.
As a result, I streamlined my project admin with checklists and templates. I also enforced stricter marketing allowances for myself and started using the Pomodoro Technique to boost my billable productivity. This is just one example of how tracking your time can help you become more profitable.
At a more basic level, you’ll get to learn how long it takes you to brief a client or write a webpage or brochure.
It’s up to YOU to learn how long tasks take you and manage your own time. Sometimes, you’re ahead. Sometimes, you’re behind. Tracking your time can help you stay ahead more often than not.
There are plenty of time tracking tools to choose from. I use Toggl but Fast Company has this list of time tracking tools. It’s a great place to start.
But what about the copywriting quote itself?
When you’re thinking about how to quote for your copywriting, you have to factor in:
- Creative thinking and brainstorming
- Researching and writing the copy
- Revisions (usually two rounds of revisions or three versions) including talking through revision comments
- Proofreading (by you or outsourced)
- General project admin (such as emailing and record keeping)
I generally estimate 60% of the project time is spent on writing the first draft, 25% is spent on revisions and proofreading and the rest is spent on project admin (from taking the brief to sending the final invoice).
That’s a rough guideline, but the point is how long it takes you to write the first draft is NOT how long you quote for. There are lots of time-consuming elements for every project that you also have to cover—and tracking your time will give you a feel for how long ‘the rest’ takes.
Is it just A + B + C = Big copywriting quote?
My first step in working out how much to charge for copywriting is to look at the word count or the number of pages, calculate how long it will take me to produce the copy – that’s research, write and revise the copy. If I have no idea, I start with “producing 200 words in an hour” and go from there.
Then I add time for the copywriting brief (1 hr), 30 mins of additional meeting time and multiply that by my hourly rate. Then I add an estimated quote for proofreading. These are the basics of each project: briefing, writing, revisions, proofreading, admin.
I have a quoting spreadsheet that I can use to plug numbers in.
Speaking of hourly rates, The Clever Copywriting School has this great post on recommended rates for copywriting.
Sometimes, it’s a good number straight off. Other times, I would look at the total and think, ‘That’s crazy! No one will pay that!’
Then, I fiddle with the numbers until I felt I had something that was:
- A realistic reflection of how long the job would take me.
- A measure of the effort and professional value I was offering.
- A reasonable price to expect someone to pay.
Creating a copywriting quote is absolutely a balancing act between time, value and market acceptance.
How long is each piece of string?
How much should you charge for each type of copywriting project? I know that’s what you really want to know. And…
… it depends. I know that’s an annoying answer but it really does!
- An (average) website page will take about 2-3 hours + briefing + proofreading + admin.
- An A4 brochure will take about 3-5 hours per page + briefing + proofreading + admin
- An email series will take about 1-2 hours per email + briefing + proofreading + admin.
- A blog of about 500 words on an uncomplicated topic will take about 1-2 hours + proofreading.
But these are pretty loose guidelines. For each project it depends on:
- The topic – is it complicated or relatively basic? This will influence how much research is required.
- The objective – is this is a brand awareness piece or a conversion piece?
- Is it part of a larger project? Is copy being repurposed or written from scratch?
- How long does it really need to be?
- How much will the client pay?
There are a lot of variables, aren’t there?
But the BIG one is… how big is the problem this is solving. That is the biggest indicator of how much someone will pay.
The larger a project is the more efficiencies your copywriting quote can factor in. What the what now?
Let me explain.
You’ll have to do the same amount of preparation and project admin whether you’re writing one page, or ten. So the ‘cost’ of the project admin gets less and less for each page you add. Your writing will also get faster as you get into the flow and immerse yourself in a project. This is why smaller projects can be surprisingly expensive to do.
Does that mean you charge less for additional pages? Hell, no. But, it’s important to realise that, as you’re putting a copywriting quote together your time will average out and hopefully you will end out ahead.
At first, your copywriting quotes will result from a lot of guesswork. As you gain more experience, they will become more accurate.
If every single copywriting quote is accepted, your quotes are probably too low. If none are accepted, you’re probably pricing yourself out of regular work.
So now, it’s over to you.
What’s your process for quoting? Do you make up the numbers or take a scientific approach?
This blog is for Ismail Ishaq who sent me a question after subscribing. Thank you Ismail! I hope this answers your question.