Blog

June 27, 2011Copywriting rates revisited: How much should I charge?

This is a tutorial post for other freelance copywriters.
If you’re a client looking for details of my day rate, click here.

___________________________________

I seem to get asked for advice by freelance copywriters who are just starting out an awful lot these days. Much more than I used to, anyway. I guess this means that, after a few years in this game, suddenly I’m the voice of wisdom and experience. Funny, because it doesn’t feel like all that long ago I was just starting out myself.

Of course I’ve been writing for ages. But I only turned freelance in 2008. Why? Because suddenly the economy was in freefall and my job was one of the first to be cut. After six of the most embarrassing, painfully slow weeks of my life in the dole queue, I decided this life wasn’t for me. Mere mortals waited for a job. I’d go out and create one for myself.

And that was how I got into freelancing. I knew how to write. But other than that, I knew nothing.

When I was starting out, this is the one thing I wish someone had told me:

As a freelance copywriter, writing is only half the job.

Marketing yourself, dealing with clients, negotiating with subcontractors, attending meetings and conferences, doing admin, answering emails and phone calls, doing your taxes — all take up a lot of your time.

In fact, they take up about half of it.

The most common question I’m asked by new freelance copywriters is “how much should I charge?”

So as a rule of thumb, you should figure out how much you need to survive per year, divide that by 52, divide it again by 5, and then double that figure. That’s your base day rate.

For example — if you set your day rate at £150, you can expect to earn (150 x 5)/2 = £375 per week. You will not earn more than this.

Even if you get a client who pays you for a full five days’ work, there will still be unbillable items, administrative costs, extra meetings and phone calls you cannot charge for. Plus, you won’t have done any marketing this week. Where will your next client come from? You may spend all of next week earning nothing.

So if you charge a day rate of £150, your annual income will be about £18,000.

If you charge a day rate of £250, your annual income will be closer to £32,500.

I charge a day rate of £250 at the moment and most people think I’m insanely cheap for a digital copywriting specialist with several years experience. Personally, I’d rather live a little more modestly now and be able to pick and choose the best clients whose work I think will get me noticed — enabling me to charge more in the future — as well as being much happier with the kind of work I’m doing now.

Good work now = more money later.

My clients don’t choose me. I choose them.

I’ve seen my work appearing in some pretty famous places lately and that means I’m going to be able to charge a lot more in the future. I got here by keeping my prices low and attracting a lot of enquiries from a broad range of clients, creating a varied portfolio.

Instead of choosing my clients by how much they’re able to offer me in cash terms, I’ve often chosen to work with cash poor clients whose design work is better — meaning in the long run I’ll have a better portfolio. But that’s a decision you’ll have to take.

Given the choice between the good designer and the rich client, I’ll always pick the good designer.

If you’re not averse to using the word “solution” in every sentence and writing like a robot for the rest of your life, you could probably earn double what I do writing very staid B2B copy for very dull clients. Good luck to you.

The best thing about being a freelancer is being able to pick and choose your work on your own terms.

Beware the bad client: A cautionary tale

A couple of years ago, I was approached by a client who was willing to pay me over £3000 for what amounted to a little under 4000 words. This is at least double, and in some cases almost quadruple even a battle-hardened senior digital copywriter’s rate.

It sounded too good to be true. It was.

During the length of the project, the client sent me no fewer than 260 emails. Sure some of them took a minute to respond to. Some of them (like the one where he tried to insist I pay his subcontractors and he’d reimburse me and I had to spend four hours trying to think of a politer way of saying two popular words beginning with F and ending in off) took closer to four hours. He wasn’t a bad guy — he was just a nightmare to deal with. So assuming every email took an average of 15 minutes to deal with, 260 * 15 = 65 hours. 65 hours, on email contact time alone. That didn’t take into account the eight days worth of meetings he wanted. At my day rate, that’s over £4,000 already — without a single word being written.

The moral of my story?

As a freelancer, you have to decide how much you’re worth.

A day rate of £200 will put you on about the national average wage.

If you set your copywriting rates slightly lower than your skill level,
you’ll be able to pick and choose your clients — leading to better work in the future.

 

And the golden rule:

Unbillable items such as admin will take up half your time. So work out how much money you want to earn, work out your day rate, then double it. You’ll still be working a full five day week, but as a freelancer, you’ll only be doing billable work half the time…

…Make sure you get paid for it.

Share this article

This entry was posted on Monday, June 27th, 2011 at 2:21 pm and is filed under Blog, Copywriting. 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.

9 comments

  1. Al Hidden says:

    Hi Alastaire

    Some really good points there and they all resonate with my own experience since going freelance in 2006. Well done to you for taking the plunge. It beats ‘working’ doesn’t it!

    I set up my business with ‘be generous with time and money’ as a founding philosophy. No, that doesn’t mean that I let people try to take the p**s – and very few have attempted it (small claims court works!) But what goes around comes around and that generosity has been returned many times over.

    Keep up the good work.

    Al

  2. charles waters says:

    Thanks for excellent advice. Just coming to the end of my copywriting course and glad I found this.

  3. Charles says:

    Thank you this was most useful.

  4. Midnight Writer says:

    Thank you very much.

    My job came to an end last month, so I’ve decided to go freelance. This article has not only helped me decide how much to charge, but also opened my eyes to how much time I’ll spend on admin.

  5. teardrop says:

    Hi I have been freelancing for 11 years and I am also a published author. I have had scores of articles published in consumer magazines. At around 1,000 words, I would be paid £70 and £100 with pictures. The odd time I was paid much more. Now I am trying to take up the position of copywriter as I feel this would give a steadier flow of work. However I think I under-sold myself as when asked to say what salary I wanted, I said £8 per hour, probably because things are so tough out there and I wanted to get a foot in the door. At an interview for a trade magazine for freelance work I realised that a fair sized article would only pay me £42.50 – that’s five and a half hours of solid work for so little money. If I was offered the position I am not sure whether or not to take it. I would be very grateful for any comments. Thanks

  6. Roger says:

    I’ve recently qualified as a freelance copywriter as well as starting up my own business, due to the cut-backs in the public sector.

    You’ve really helped me to work out how much I should charge on a quote to a marketing expert. Your advice has enabled me to price per word and for per day.

    Thank you.

  7. Siena Dexter says:

    Really sound advice. Four weeks since going freelance and finally getting inquiries; the first question? How much my rate is. I have no idea!

    I’ve found myself justifying a day rate of £100 with a paragraph on why it will take me a day to complete the project. A desire to give a fair rate to interesting start-up companies has to be carefully balanced against an impending rent payment and I find myself trying to overcome the urge to say ‘oh just give me £50′. Good to know that by industry standard my rate of £100 a day is far below what I should be charging but with just four weeks’ experience and a strong portfolio to build, will definitely be taking your advice on keeping the rate as it is and getting the interesting work in. After all, if i wanted to write dull copy, I wouldn’t have left my office job!

    Thanks again for the advice and best of luck with everything,

    Siena

  8. Mark says:

    The trouble with charging so little is that your clients won’t value the work you do. I don’t buy into the ‘charge a little, choose your work’ scenario. The clients who appreciate the value of effective copy are the ones who will pay more. They also provide the more interesting work.

    In my experience, good clients are very wary of copywriters who don’t charge enough. “If he’s good, he’ll charge more” is how they think. And the converse – “If he’s desperate or no good he’ll charge less” – is also true.

    The other point Alastaire made about reeling in clients with a low rate and then raising it later is also risky. You’re more likely to lose that client than to raise them up to your new level, especially in these cash strapped times.

    I understand that it’s tricky trying to break into copywriting, and then to make a career out of it. All I would say is that you have to be brave. Don’t undervalue yourself, or else your clients will too.

  9. Thank you for the really helpful advice. I am just starting my career as a commercial copywriter. I used to work in museums. I also made the change to go freelance because of the difficult job market. I write for a cultural lifestyle magazine called Cultnoise for free, which counts as marketing, as it helps to get my name out there.

Leave a comment

Due to an unusually high volume of spam being left on this blog, please solve this problem before sending your comment .

Site by Spencer Lavery