If you’re considering hiring a copywriter, you’ll want to assess a number of different factors. The two key ones are “Can they do the job?” and “Do I get on with them?” Inevitably though, at some point you’re going to need to find out one important fact: how much does it cost?
Of course, asking how much it costs to hire a copywriter is a lot like asking how much it costs to go out for a meal. It depends on whether you’re going to McDonalds or a Michelin starred restaurant. On whether you’re having one course or seven. On whether you’re having soup, pasta and salad, or oysters, lobster and steak.
That said, we can give you some factors to consider when it comes to costing your copywriting project, and some guidelines that should help you set your expectations realistically.
Day rate vs project rate
The first variable comes in how people charge for their work. Some freelancers and even agencies use a day rate. For a freelancer, you’re paying for their writing time, plus a small margin to contribute to their other activities, such as admin and marketing. In an agency, you’re likely to be paying what’s known as a “blended rate”, which takes into account the various people who might input into your project, from account execs to strategists.
Now for the actual numbers… New freelancers might start off charging as little £150 per day, and end up charging £700 and even beyond for specialist work or once they’re at a senior level. The top end of freelance rates and the bottom end of agency rates overlap – sometimes by a surprising amount. But not everyone uses a day rate.
At RH&Co, we don’t think they’re a particularly sensible model to work with. Yes, we factor in how long we think any given project should take. But what if one of our writers is having an off day and takes twice as long as they normally would to get a job done? We don’t think our clients should have to pay extra. Nor would we expect to charge less if, in a moment of creative genius, we whizzed through a piece of work in half the time planned.
That’s why we price projects on a, well, project basis. This balances time invested, value delivered, the complexity of the subject matter and a number of other factors. For us this feels like the fairest way to charge for our work.
The cost for retained copywriting work
You might want to engage a copywriter on a longer term basis. For example, you may want them to provide you with weekly blog posts, for which you’d most likely be invoiced on a monthly basis. Or you might decide you need someone available for a set number of hours or days each month, with the actual work being decided as you go.
With retainer work, you may want to – or need to – agree to a retainer rate. This is an ongoing (usually monthly) fee that tends to be paid over a set contract period. Agencies and more established freelancers will often get a service level agreement (SLA) in place so everyone knows what’s expected.
It’s harder to put a price on retainer work, as it very much depends on what and how much you need doing. If your retainer is based on a set number of hours or days then it will be fairly straightforward to work out. But if it’s tied to deliverables, then you’re back to the variations of project pricing.
One thing you can be sure of is that you will get more for your money if you commit to a retainer, as the copywriter or copywriting agency you employ can count on the work coming in. By removing uncertainty from their income projections, you can effectively earn yourself a discount.
Why it’s not about price per word
Newspapers and magazines tend to pay journalists per word. This is because the copy being produced is, in relative terms, fairly standard – a news article or a feature. Although we’re generalising for simplicity here, the more words involved, the more work is likely to have gone into the piece.
With copywriting, there is a much greater variety of projects. And word count is a less dominant factor when it comes to deciding on the value of the copy delivered.
Sure, a 3,000 word white paper takes more effort than an 800 word blog post. But a six word strapline can require more input than both – by a long shot. In this case, pricing is much more to do with the value that’s being added through conceptual input rather than the ‘writing’ itself.
Understanding what you’re paying for
One important factor to take into consideration when gathering pricing information from potential copywriters is what’s included in the cost quoted.
Let’s take blogging as an example. On the one extreme, you may have a strategy in place, customer research done, titles set and a series of briefs written and ready to go. In which case, all your copywriter needs to do is craft an engaging narrative to tie together the information in the brief in a way that authentically represents the brand.
With our clients though, we’re much more involved in the process. Blogging contracts begin with a strategy and onboarding session. We advise on topic and title selection. Our briefings draw out the right information from the client’s experts, and keep them from getting lost in the detail. Once a writer has produced the first draft, a separate editor quality checks and proofreads it. We can even support clients with social sharing copy to help get their blog out there.
When we send an invoice for a blogging project or retainer, we’re charging for a lot more than just a few hours of writing.
Factors that will make your copywriting project more expensive
As you’ll have seen in the last section, there’s a lot more that goes into a copywriting project than pure writing. The more elements you add, the more you should expect to pay.
Here are a few non-writing jobs that you might want included in your project:
Brief creation: Have you got a clear brief written and ready to go or will you need support with this? The more support you need, the more a project will cost.
Concepting: Creating straplines, campaign messaging, ad copy and so on may require less writing but they need a lot more thinking time, adding to the final invoice.
Complexity: The more complex your subject matter, the more you’ll need to spend, either on a specialist or on the time it takes to get a generalist to understand it.
Add ons: Do you need image research or copy uploaded into a CMS? Extra tasks will add to your bill.
Amends: Although a reasonable number of amends will be included, if you’re anticipating the need for more e.g. because of a high number of people inputting their thoughts, this might cost more.
As you can see, coming up with a straightforward answer to the question “How much does hiring a copywriter cost?” is virtually impossible. The best way to get a sense of how much to budget for your project is to get out there and get a few quotes.
Just remember to be clear about what you really need. After all, it’s better to pay that bit extra and get results, than spend a smaller amount and find it’s been wasted because you didn’t get what you were hoping for.
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Journalist turned copywriter Rin Hamburgh (formerly Rin Simpson) is the founder of RH&Co, a Bristol-based strategic brand copywriting agency working with expert-led businesses across the South West, UK and Europe.