December 15, 2010Copywriting price per word

“Eat your words but don’t go hungry / Words have always nearly hung me,” sang the Tom Tom Club, the 1980s Talking Heads spin-off. Truer words were never spoken — especially if you’re a copywriter. But what are words worth? Let’s take a look.

So far, I’ve held off mentioning copy mills — terrible places where semi-pro writers sell blog posts and press releases for as little as 2p a word. Other copywriters have already said all you need to know. Google “Copify” and you’ll find a whole host of complaints and bad reviews. If you pay peanuts, you’re bound to get monkeys. At 2p a word, a blog post earns you less than £10. And how many professional copywriters are willing to work for less than £10 an hour?

If you employed a builder to build a house, would you ask him if he charges per brick? He’d probably give you a very blunt reply.

Comparisons between professional copywriters and copy mill writers are worthless. It’s like trying to compare a painter and decorator to an artist, sure, they’re both painting, but one is giving you a considered, finished piece, while the other is just slapping a coat of paint on so you don’t see the cracks.

Builders don’t charge by the brick because they understand that every project is different. Copywriters don’t charge by the word for the same reason.

A professional copywriter is a jack-of-all-trades, understanding the basics of business and being prepared to do detailed research into your project to get on top of your brief. We’re not just writing, we’re googling — we’re reading up on what you do, we’re checking out your competitors, and most importantly of all, we’re applying our knowledge of how to sell. A copy mill writer is just churning out words with little to no interest in if they actually work.

Even a simple blog post is done differently. A professional copywriter cares about creating linkbait — in other words, writing a blog post that gets linked to, draws traffic to your site, and encourages people to call you. A copy mill writer is just throwing out a few random keywords and hoping it’ll draw a few stragglers in from Google.

Average Price Per Word

I’ve averaged out my long copy (large websites, sales brochures) work and arrived at a final figure. I’d say I’m earning, on average, 10-12p per word for looking at a 2000 word sales brochure that you write. Or, put another way, if you supply it, I can check over it for spelling, punctuation and grammar in a day and I will charge you around £250 for the privilege. If you want me to write it from scratch (or from your bullet points), you can increase that figure. Significantly.

But I can’t tell you how much by. I’ll evaluate you, as well as the work. How long will I spend on the phone with you. How many redrafts will you demand? At the end of the day, if I quote you a fixed price and end up taking twice as long as I had budgeted for, I’m losing out — and, for all you know, I can’t pay my rent next month. It’s that simple — seasoned copywriters won’t under-quote.

It’s not about price per word, it’s about how long it takes.

It’s different for regular clients. I maintain blogs for some of my regulars, and their blog posts can work out at as little as 10p a word. Why? Because I’m used to writing in the correct style, because I understand the ins and outs of their business, and because I’ve worked with them over a number of years, a brief that would take 4 hours to get on top of only takes an hour. And £100 for an hour’s work is a good rate.

Paying by the word doesn’t work.

It took me a week to come up with a product name for a friend’s business recently. Just mulling it over in the back of my head. Creating a witty, memorable name took time and effort. I produced two words, at a cost of £100 a word, mate’s rates. That’s a long way from 20p a word. It’s even further than a paltry 2p. The truth is, some words are worth more than others. Headlines on web pages take hours to write. The accompanying paragraphs take minutes.

So what’s the use of comparing price-per-word?

It’s worth checking out long copy prices per word, as that will give you an approximate idea of how much your copywriter thinks he is worth. But if you think a good product name, or even a good headline, is worth nothing more than pennies, think again. When you pay a professional copywriter for his services, you’re not just paying him to write. You’re paying him to attend meetings, to learn about your business, and to apply his psychological knowledge to create a structured argument designed to get your customers to think about you differently.

In other words a professional copywriter isn’t just a writer. He’s part business consultant, part psychologist and part researcher — if he’s smart, he’s all sales.

Personally, I use my “20p per word minimum” to arrive at a ballpark figure when I’m asked for a quote for long copy. This means a blog post can be anywhere from £50-100, while six web pages will be at least £300, ensuring I’m on a reasonable day rate. If I’m working with nothing more than a blank page, or we’ve already spent several hours on the phone, I double my quote — because experience has taught me it will take twice as long. I then factor in the complexity of the project and the amount of ‘headline’ (ATL) work I’ll need to do.

In other words, price-per-word can be useful when comparing copywriters. But the cheapest is almost always the worst.

Inexperienced copywriters give cheap quotes because they’re a) hungry for the work (they have no longstanding relationships or reputation to feed them regular work) and b) because they frequently underestimate the time a job will take.

Shop around, by all means, but beware the cheap option.

You always get what you pay for.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 15th, 2010 at 3:31 pm and is filed under Blog, Copywriting, Me and my business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment

  1. I stumbled across this and this made for some harsh yet ice-cold reading because I think I am charging way too little for the work that I produce for clients.

    I really appreciate this post – my question is how do you settle on the figure to assess your worth?

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