The Copywriter's Crucible

Surviving the Vagaries of the Freelance Life

Archive for June, 2009

How much does a good copywriter cost?

Posted by rachelwriter on June 29, 2009

Photo Courtesy: Tracy O/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: Tracy O/Flickr

One of the most commonly-asked questions I get from new prospects is something along the lines of this:  “Woah, lady, why are your rates so HIGH?”

Followed by: “Can’t you, like, give me a discount for reason X, Y, and Z or something?”

This usually happens to me after the prospect has reviewed the comprehensive (free) quote that I spent a good bit of (my) time preparing for him/her.  And, while few of my clients or prospects actually channel Jeff Spicoli when posing these questions, a good number of them are surprised by how “expensive” my services are.

Expensive?  Really?  Or, are they just… fair?

Atlanta-based creative genius Erik Wolf brought up an excellent point on his business radio show last week: How many of you honestly expect to pay rates equal to or below minimum wage when hiring, say, an accountant?  Or a lawyer?  How about an interior designer? 

How many of you would try to bargain with the computer tech guy who killed that nasty virus on your computer and recovered all of your precious files?  Or the mechanic who stopped your car from spewing clouds of noxious fumes from its muffler?

Answer: none of you.  Unless, of course, you’re a compulsive haggler.  And then I’d just feel sorry for you.  

But, seriously, I think most of you wouldn’t think twice about paying top dollar for those services.  Why?  Because you hired those professionals for their experience and expertise.  Because you admit that they know things that you don’t.  And because you know you could never do what they do. 

The point is, professional writing is a professional service.  And as such, it commands professional rates. 

For some folks, this is a tough pill to swallow.  After all, each of us is schooled in “writing” from the moment we learn to hold a pencil.  We’re “taught” to write throughout our academic careers.  We use “writing” as a form of everyday communication with our family, peers, and colleagues.

But, what if we were to apply that same logic to, say, sports?  Much like writing, each of us is “taught” how to play sports from an early age.  (Remember little league softball at the community park?  Hoop-shooting during gym class?  Summer swim camp?)  Some of us even continue playing sports recreationally into adulthood.  And those of you with children may spend your weekends teaching your little ones all about the rules of the game.  Yet, does that mean we’re all as skilled as the men and women who play sports professionally?  C’mon now.

Look, just because you’ve dribbled a basketball before, it doesn’t make you Michael Jordan.  Similarly, just because you’ve written an essay before—even one that earned you gold stars and smiley faces from your teacher—it doesn’t make you a professional writer. 

So, my advice to anyone seeking professional writing services?

• Expect to pay professional rates. Yes, that means anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, folks!  Get used to it now.  Oh, and if you come across any “writers” who charge anything less, walk away.  You’ll be thankful you did. 

• Expect to pay a percentage of that professional rate (sometimes even the whole fee) up front.  Sorry, but, writers are too often screwed out of the money they rightfully deserve.  It’s a precaution we must take.  Don’t like it?  Don’t hire a professional writer. 

• Know that you will get what you pay for.  Would you really buy a car for $100 and expect great results and dependability from it?  Doubtful.  A $50,000 car?  Damn right, you’d expect great results!  Quality, my friends, comes at a price.  That’s just life.

• Please, please, PLEASE don’t try to talk the writer’s price down.  First of all, it’s kind of rude and degrading.  Who wants to do business with someone who can’t appreciate the value of their work?  Second, you need to start considering professional writing services as an investment in your company’s future.  Pay for quality now, and the copy will pay for itself a hundred times over down the road. 

 –Rachel

Posted in Pricing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

What copywriting is… and isn’t.

Posted by rachelwriter on June 25, 2009

Courtesy: massdistraction/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: massdistraction/Flickr

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of spending the morning with two of Atlanta’s brightest and coolest creative marketing professionals—Stephanie Frost and Erik Wolf of Zero-G Creative—as a guest on their weekly radio show. The topic of discussion? You guessed it: content and copywriting.

Along with fellow Atlanta-based copywriter Emily Capps, one of the things we talked about was the general public’s view on professional writing.  Unfortunately, there’s a widespread misconception that writing is nothing more than a mechanical skill—something that can be learned and taught by rote, much like typing or riding a bike.

But, the truth is… writing is so not something that the average Joe Schmoe on the street can do. (Well, okay, I take that back: Joe Schmoe can probably hold a pen and scribble a few words and letters on paper. He may even be able to type legibly. But he certainly can’t string together meaningful, impactful words to deliver clear, concise, actionable copy. Does Joe Schmoe even know what that means? I doubt it.)

Yes, writing is so much more than pulling random words out of the air and ploppin’ ‘em down on paper. It’s a carefully honed craft, people! One that requires forethought and strategy. Creativity and objectivity. Awareness of audience and brand. A mastery of grammar and punctuation. And, yes, good old-fashioned wordsmithery.

So, to help clear things up and avoid any further confusion, I’ve decided to continue the conversation by shedding some light on what professional copywriting is—and what it isn’t.  Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive breakdown. I’d be here ‘til next week just trying to fill in the blanks. That’s why I encourage you to add your is-s and isn’t-s, too.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Copywriting isn’t…

• Like writing an AP English essay, a senior thesis, or a PhD dissertation—even though all three are difficult in their own right, and even though you earned an A++ on each.

• As arbitrary as updating your Facebook status or Twitter feed, and not really caring who reads it or what they take away from it.

• Like that time you wrote a song for your 10th grade crush, inspired by The Cure.

• As fluffy as the resume and cover letter you just posted on Monster.com.

• As wordy as that contract you signed when you financed your new car.

• As easy and as routine as texting your BFF…while driving.

• As simple as replacing every word in a sentence or phrase with another, more “smart-sounding” word from the thesaurus (whose definition, by the way, you probably never even knew before).

• Haphazardly adding extra, polysyllabic (<–you like that one, don’tcha?) words because you think it makes the copy look and sound more “professional.”

• As emotionally unbridled as that ranting, raving e-mail you sent to your supposed best-friend in a moment of blood-boiling ire.

• As intimate as that deeply profound sonnet you composed in your 7th grade poetry class.

• Writing when you feel “inspired” and only when you want to.

• Like riding a bike.

Copywriting is…

• Understanding precisely who your audience is. Every time. Copy for the nation’s most lucrative furriers is going to be very, very different from copy for the nation’s most ardent PETA supporters.

• Having the ability to write in a myriad of voices and in various tones. Will your copy by youthful, lighthearted, and witty? Or sobering and serious?

• Knowing what questions to ask—about your client, your client’s business, your client’s product, your client’s market, and your client’s competition—and using that knowledge to help shape the style, tone, and type of copy you write.

• Realizing that as few as two or three carefully chosen, impactful words—heck, even one!—can be enough to effectively get an actionable message across. (That’s right, people: more doesn’t always mean merrier.)

• Knowing when and how to turn on your inner editor and start putting unnecessary words on the chopping block.

• Having the ability to distance yourself from your business, product, or service and see things through the objective (sometimes skeptical) eye of the consumer.

• Knowing the difference between your product’s features and its benefits.

• Understanding why and when it’s appropriate to break the rules of grammar and punctuation. (Sorry, grammar haters: you still need to know how to use a comma and a semi-colon correctly.)

So… What else is copywriting?  What else isn’t it?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section, below.

Thanks for reading and joining the discussion!

–Rachel

Posted in The Basics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »