Copywriters: what’s our time worth, anyway?

If you think hiring a professional is expensive wait until you hire an amateur

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a potential client who’d seen my advert on Gumtree. She already had a writer she worked with but wanted to get someone else on board to help with a bulk of upcoming work.

I replied, thanking her for her interest and prompted for more information. The project was a series of 400-500 word blogs on home renovation, with vague subject areas supplied. It sounded interesting, so I was more than happy to provide a quote.

Now I know that unlike other avenues of potential clients, people looking on Gumtree usually have a lower budget. With this in mind, I dropped my price a little as I reasoned it would be regular, consistent work for a couple of months. I clicked send.

Her response made me chuckle, but it was not unexpected. She informed me that my price was high and that her current writer charges just $20 per blog. $20? This basically means they work for less than the minimum hourly wage for a job that would take at least a couple of hours (if done well) to complete.

In addition, she went on to ask what made me so different that I could charge so much. After choking on my tea, I sent her a polite response detailing my 12 years plus experience, clients I’d worked with, and average costs paid to qualified copywriters for blogs of that length. I’m still waiting for her response.

Unfortunately, this is the reality of freelance writing today. Because the internet has made it possible for anyone to become a published online writer, people start to assume that anyone can write. This in itself works against us copywriters who are now expected to provide our services for a less than fair price despite credentials and years of experience.

In addition, outsourcing sites like Fiverr, UpWork and Freelancer, far from opening up opportunities, have devalued our work and made many people looking for freelance services think $5, $10 or $20 is a fair price to pay someone for what could, in reality, be many hours of work.

While these sites may be great news for clients on a budget – if they don’t mind taking a lucky dip on quality – and good for new writers looking to fill their portfolio – on the whole, they suck for us professional copywriters trying to make a decent living.

My personal bugbear with these sites is, not only do they pay poorly and send the true value of a copywriter’s work (or any other freelancer for that matter) plummeting, but when you use them, you also typically have to pitch for the jobs in the first place.

For each job, this means sending a detailed run-down of why you’re suitable for the job and how you’ll tackle the copy. In reality, the time and effort taken to do this in itself can be worth more than you’ll end up getting paid, and you’re not even guaranteed the work. Sometimes you’ll find a client willing to pay what you’re worth, but on the whole, most are looking for a bargain.

A few years back, when I was starting out as a freelancer, I signed up and got on the books of a site that specialises in freelance copywriting – I won’t name names. This one checked past work and credentials, not all do. I pitched and won several jobs but quickly realised my time was way more valuable than the dollars offered. In addition, they don’t even put your name to the work as your words become the intellectual property of the buyer, so, in theory, at least, you can’t even add it to your portfolio.

Even now, I still get daily emails with new jobs looking for writers willing to pitch. $23.50 for a 600-word blog; $15.00 for a webpage; $30 for a series of emails. The other day they even contacted me directly asking if I could write a 2,000-word whitepaper for $100. Considering it would take me a good few days to write and research, I declined.

Now I’m not just writing this blog to have a moan (well, not entirely). My point is that if you’re looking for a copywriter, try to be realistic in what you’re expecting to pay. Not only will you get a better calibre of writer, but you’ll also get better service and more value. You wouldn’t expect a lawyer, electrician, or any or profession or trade to work for $5, so why are we any different?

While I’m willing to work around a client’s budget, I won’t devalue what I do for the sake of a few bucks. So what is a copywriter’s time worth? I charge per project based on estimated hours, but as it’s a creative process, it’s not always easy to set a time limit. A fair price for a blog these days? $150-$200; an infographic? $250; a brochure? 500-$750 – it all depends on the specifics.

Us seasoned copywriters aren’t cheap (we’re not always expensive either), but in a world where words can be, I think we’re worth it.

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