The Copywriter's Crucible

Surviving the Vagaries of the Freelance Life

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. 


4 Responses to “How much does a good copywriter cost?”

  1. wendywclt said

    Thank you so much for expressing what your fellow copywriters feel! The biggest challenges I face in remaining steadfast in my rate structure is when it comes to marketing companies. They usually have one or two in-house copywriters, and that will often be their rationale for wanting me to drop my rates. They’ll say, “we can have our in-house writers do it for less.” I understand they need to earn their commissions and they don’t want to charge their clients more (for fear of losing them). And I understand marketing companies don’t want to reach into their own pockets to cover outside copywriting services. What I don’t understand is why they come to me needing help and then expect me to lower my rates. It makes no sense.
    You’re right, we offer a professional service for which we charge professional rates. We deserve professional courtesies.
    Wendy Wells

    • Wendy:

      Thanks for chiming in! I understand your frustration–believe me. I think clients often look at the quote/bill and assume that all of the money is going straight into our wallets—you know, to help finance our lavish, affluent lifestyles. (Ha.) Unfortunately, they overlook some of the ugly facts of freelance life:

      For one thing, we’re responsible for manually deducting a whopping 35% of each check to cover taxes (which, as you know, we must pay four times a year). This is a lot more painful than having those taxes automatically deducted from every paycheck (as is the case for corporate employees): the financial loss is far more palpable when you’re the one initiating it. We’re also subject to additional taxes that most nine-to-fivers aren’t—just for owning and running our own businesses! Ouch!

      Another ugly truth? Unlike the 9-5 folks at big companies, we indie writers must pay for our insanely expensive health and dental insurance premiums out-of-pocket. We also bear the burden of building up our retirement savings all by ourselves; we’ve got no parent company to match our contributions.

      Freelancing is anything but “free”! We writers need—and deserve—good money!

  2. Hi Rachel

    As a copywriter, I absolutely agree with you… in principle.

    However, as a marketer and salesperson, I’m also aware that it’s up to ME to “sell the difference”.

    I used to sell pretty expensive home improvement products offline, and if I’d just given them the quote (as they always wanted), they would (99 times out of 100) go with the competition, because we were often more expensive than they were. (It was a cut-throat industry, with lots of so-called “budget” companies out there).

    So as the salesperson, it was my job to “sell the difference”, and demonstrate to the customer why it was OUR product they wanted, despite the higher price.

    In other words, I’m not disagreeing with you at all 🙂 I’m simply saying… all other things being equal, people WILL often go with what is cheaper.

    So it’s our job as copywriters to also make the equation UNEQUAL… we need to be salespeople of our own services, and demonstrate to them why hiring us is so much better than hiring the “cheap and cheerful” copywriter who churns out bog standard “cookie cutter” sales letters 🙂

    In other words, we’re under obligation to “sell the difference”.

    • Duly noted, Paul! Thanks for reading and sharing! Indeed, we writers need to be salespeople of our own services. Such is the nature of running a business—whether it’s copywriting, shoe polishing, or running a restaurant. 🙂

      I do, however, think that writing is one of the most (if not THE most) undervalued professional service out there; consequently, we writers are forced to “sell the difference” far more frequently, and intensely, than other business people. And that, in my opinion, is a bit of a shame.

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