Peter Wise
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Freelance copywriting costs

How much should you expect to pay a copywriter?

A simple answer to this would be anywhere between about almost nothing and several thousand pounds or dollars for a day or two’s work.

At the bottom end of the scale, you can go to a services auction site like elance.com, post your project and wait for would-be or never-were copywriters to bid for it, desperately trying to undercut each other.

The offerings on these sites are usually for online projects, typically article writing. The going rate for the average 500-600 word article or blog post is currently somewhere between £5-10 (around US$7-15) or even less, in some instances. For that sort of money, you can guarantee that the writing will be poor, and the spelling, grammar and punctuation worse. Deliberately or not, the articles are also usually near copies of other articles. Few clients use these bidding sites for long – plagiarised, badly written copy doesn’t do their reputation much good or, in the long run, their search engine rankings.

You can also access many of the same writers via the content mills which have sprung up in recent years. They charge more, although still not much more, because they’re essentially still paying writers peanuts to churn out poorly-researched me-too filler.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are a very few select freelance copywriters, nearly always American, who can, on occasion, receive many thousands of pounds (or rather dollars) for writing a single sales letter. The reason they can earn so much is that they’ve negotiated a deal whereby the higher the response, the more money they make.

Good for them, but there is a reason why these copywriters are few and far between. In the first place, although undoubtedly well written in their own way, these letters are usually long copy, highly formulaic affairs. They are usually for a very specific type of product (mass consumer, often information based) and target audience – again, nearly always American. For most products, services, media and target markets, this approach just doesn’t work.

I also suspect that these copywriters have a high proportion of failures which they’re less keen to publicise – they can’t all be earning thousands and thousands for each sales letter, or they’d have retired to lead their dream existence long ago.

In between these two extremes are the rest of us copywriters. In the UK, the going rate for a freelance copywriter is anywhere between about £30 and £75 an hour, or £250 – £550 a day. Some writers (I’m one of them) prefer to charge by the project. That way you can be sure that costs don’t suddenly mount up, and that what you were originally quoted is what you will pay.

Those at the top of the scale cost-wise tend to be very senior advertising copywriters working for leading agencies. Moving down roughly in order of remuneration, you get the slightly less experienced copywriters and the lesser agencies, followed by new media copywriting, then PR and journalism, with the exact rate depending on the experience of the writer concerned.

One important factor to remember with all of these freelancers is the fact you’ll be saving a lot of money by going straight to the professional concerned. So you won’t be paying the fees of an agency or jobs site. The average advertising agency charges its creative people out at £95-150 an hour, plus the cost of the account person to handle the business side, art directors or designers, planners and so forth.

Some freelance copywriters, myself included, will offer discounts for small start-up businesses (though please don’t be offended if we ask for the money up front). Also for large or ongoing projects.

Now that you’ve got a rough idea of what to expect, should you just get several quotes and go with the lowest? Of course not – you balance what you’re going to pay with how well you want the job done. And once you’ve checked out each writer’s website, previous work they’ve done and their testimonials, you may well find that the best is not the lowest costing one.

Remember, what the freelance copywriter writes is almost always going to be seen by large numbers of existing or prospective customers. It’s no use having a great design for your website, idea for your ad or layout for your brochure if the accompanying copy is poorly written.

You also need to check out how long the job will actually take. The cheapest copywriter may take half as long again as the most expensive – and end up costing you more. Make sure you get a clear answer, in writing, as to how much you will have to pay, exactly what you’re paying for, and how long it will take. (Another reason for opting for writers who charge by the project rather than the hour.)

Think too about what you’re actually getting. For example, ask a typical writer to write you a 10-page website and they might charge £900. For that, you may well get well-written pages but that’s as far as it goes.

Another writer might quote you half as much again or more for the same website project. But if they are also doing proper keyword research, writing the tags properly, providing search engine optimisation (SEO) guidance and generally making sure that those web pages get a wide readership then that second writer should actually be a lot more valuable to you. Especially if it means you don’t have to go and spend a lot of money on an SEO company or Google AdWords.

That’s why I always ask potential clients what they want from their website or other marketing rather than just saying ‘yes’ to whatever they say. If it’s not just website content but a site that ranks well with Google then I’ll point them to my Google results for copy optimised sites page

So while the original question ‘How much should you expect to pay a freelance copywriter’ is still valid, a better question to ask yourself is ‘What is a good copywriter worth to me?’

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