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?
THUNK. You crash back to reality, and your stomach fills with stones.
How much should you quote? How long will the job take? How much are you worth?
Whether you like it or not, pricing is deeply linked to your sense of value. How much value do you think you offer and how much value do your potential clients think they’re getting? Often, there’s a big, hairy gap between these two questions, with nothing but your quote to bridge it.
Should you charge per word, per hour or per project?
This is probably the most common question copywriters ask about pricing.
Per word pricing 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 can’t feel good.
Per hour pricing is quite similar in delivery. You quote a price for how long you estimate you’ll spend on a copywriting project and bill the client for the time you spend. 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.
Per project pricing is usually a fixed price for the entire project. The price covers all the inclusions you lay out in your quote, and if you spend more time than you quote for, tough luck. However, if you work faster than your quote estimated, you win!
Personally, I think per project is the best way to go for copywriting projects. The main reason for this is that it gives your client more certainty of how much they will have to spend and that can make for a much happier client at invoicing time.
Who keeps time?
Whether you choose to quote hourly or per project, tracking your time is essential.
Experienced copywriters might tell you they don’t track the time they spend writing copy. They undoubtedly know how long a certain type of job will take and are confident they won’t take much longer (except in unusual circumstances).
But, if you’re starting out as a copywriter or you’re just a bit retentive about reporting (like me), tracking your time can help you understand how long it takes you to research, write, revise and do project admin.
When you understand where and how you spend your time, your copywriting quotes will become more accurate (and profitable).
In the first year or so of Copywrite Matters, I was extremely busy but my cash flow wasn’t great. So, I took some time to review my time sheets. I realised that I spent more time on marketing than billable copywriting. DUH for why my cash flow wasn’t great! I also realised that for each copywriting project, I spent too much time on the project admin (more time than I quoted for).
As a result, I enforced stricter social media allowances for myself (and stopped faffing) and streamlined my project admin with checklists and templates. 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. I believe tracking your time can help you stay ahead more often than not.
There are plenty of time tracking tools to choose from, and in 2014, Fast Company put this list of time tracking tools together. It’s a great place to start.
But what about the copywriting quote?
As part of your copywriting quote you’ll have to factor in:
- Creative thinking and brainstorming
- Researching and writing the copy
- Revisions (usually three rounds of revisions) 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 quoting is to look at the word count or number of pages, calculate how long it would take me to research and write (based on my experience), add time for ‘the rest’ and multiply that by my hourly rate.
Speaking of hourly rates, The Clever Copywriting School has this great post on recommended rates for copywriting.
More often than not, I would look at the total and think, ‘That’s crazy! No one will pay that!’
So I would 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.
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 quote is accepted, your quotes are probably too low. If none is 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?
About the author: Belinda Weaver
Belinda Weaver is the founder of Copywrite Matters and copywriter behind The Copy Detective blog. If you want to be the FIRST to hear when her next copywriting master class course (so you can write better copy, faster) get on the master class prelaunch list.
Join me on www.copywritematters.com.au
When I first left the agency and did some freelance writing, a wise copywriter gave me this advice for charging a client:
• Figure out the very minimum it would take you to do the job and be able to buy dog food. “Dog food” was code for the minimum to survive. You can’t let your pet starve.
• Double the price for your quote.
• Ask for 50% deposit upfront – before you start.
This ensures you get the minimum you need to live. And, if the rest comes in, that’s gravy. It’s a different way of thinking about this, but I think it’s especially good for a newbie freelancer.
I think that’s great advice Sheri!
I was given the additional advice to always add 25% as I am probably under charging anyway. Because we do! It’s the complex linking between our quote and our value and it can be hard to convince ourselves that we’re worth it… at least in the beginning.
Thanks for commenting!
Good article and sound advice. The only thing that you didn’t include–and it’s an important one–is an overhead/general admin/marketing factor that covers the cost of running the business (as opposed to managing the project).
This is usually a percentage on top of the project-specific calculation. It’s the “war chest” money that covers your effort to drum up work, network, market, and all the other things we need to do to keep our business afloat in-between times.
And Sheri, the wise copywriter’s advice is indeed wise; the voice of experience. The only thing I’d add (and do) is that the upfront deposit and all other payments are non-refundable.