Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.
“It’s you – Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”
So, Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the woman his work of art.
“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”
“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.
“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”
To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”
(*This story and version have been attributed to various authors. Unfortunately, I can’t locate the original version or author for correct attribution)
The Copywriter Fees Debate
One of the hottest debates in any industry is the correct pricing model you should adopt for your business.
A locust plague of consultants has sprung up around pricing models. There are thousands of pricing strategy consultants in posh suits and fancy haircuts – all touting their magic elixir of how to price your product or service to make people buy while you do only a few hours’ work (at most) per week.
There are hundreds of books available on Amazon (often by the same self-styled pricing experts) about how to adjust your pricing model to maximise your profit and minimise your cost.
Some books are brilliant. Others are rip-offs of the brilliant ones or are so filled with an overwhelming ego that the brilliant bits are buried.
Finally, there are mild-mannered business people nearly coming to blows at networking events that their model of pricing is the only one to follow.
Copywriting Pricing Models
Copywriters are not exempt from this debate. You can often see them with sharpened pencils drawn at ten paces discussing the ideal copywriting fees.
Should we charge by the word, by the hour, by the project or should we charge by the value we deliver (and potentially take a % of the profits)?
And my considered response after over a decade as a freelance web copywriter in Brisbane? There is no one size fits all. Each option has pluses and minuses.
From a copywriting perspective, here are a few of the pluses and minuses of each pricing model.
By the word
Some copywriters charge by the word – often charging rates in alignment with the recommended freelance rates from MEAA ($1 per word for the first 1000 words).
Plus – Fewer words are used to say the same thing. Each word counts.
Minus – You end up spending more time arguing with your copywriter about whether more words could be deleted (and hence the bill reduced) rather than focusing on what you are trying to achieve.
By the hour
Many copywriters charge a fixed hourly rate. These rates can vary wildly from $50 per hour for junior copywriters who are just starting out, through to rates for more experienced copywriters of $125-$175 per hour, through to the MEAA recommended rates of $246 per hour.
Plus – This is brilliant for fuzzy jobs where there are no defined boundaries, and you are not quite sure of your business model or the outcome you are trying to achieve.
Minus – Can end up costing a lot of money as the time taken continues to tick over.
The other downside is that charging by the hour also doesn’t consider fast vs. slow copywriters. For example, I am a super-fast web copywriter.
Once I have completed the research for a project (usually a few days for each project) – I then sit down, and the words flow in continuous torrents that can’t be dammed.
That said, there are days where each word comes as smoothly as running through still wet cement. Luckily those days are few and far between.
Other copywriters take a slow and steady approach – polishing each word to a high sheen as they place it. There is nothing wrong with either approach to copywriting, they are just different ways of working and slow copywriters end up costing you more when they bill by the hour.
By the project
If you are clear on exactly what you want to achieve from your project, with only minor clarification needed, going for a project based proposal is a great option.
Plus – You know exactly how much you will be up for before starting your project.
Minus – Project creep is common unless tightly controlled. It can be easy for the copywriter to under-quote for the project leaving them out-of-pocket.
By the profit increase delivered
A copywriting pricing model that is more speculative is through taking a percentage of any profits of the campaign. This is not common in Australian copywriting projects.
Plus – From a copywriter’s perspective, this can be VERY lucrative. Most of the top direct response copywriters only use this method and get a % of all the sales of a campaign.
Minus – It can be hard to get clear delineation of who created the actual success and arguments regularly occur as to the final bill.
What do we do?
Most our copywriting projects are quoted for on a project-by-project basis. That way our clients can be sure of their budget expenditure before starting the project.
If we need more time to research, or if each word only arrives on the page after a hard-fought mental battle – then that is our problem and not yours.
That said, we will be tightening up our scope creep on projects in 2017 to ensure a fair go all round.
What are you really paying for when you hire a copywriter?
When you hire a copywriter, you are paying for a lifetime of experience – of books they have read, of courses they have done.
You are paying for their insight into human behaviour and knowledge of how people consume and act on the information they receive. You are paying for their knowledge which is broader than simply writing glorified school assignments or administrative letters for a living.
A copywriter’s ability to write grammatically correct copy should be a given. What you are really paying for is their wisdom, insight and life knowledge to be applied to you and your business needs. You are not buying words, hours or projects.
In our case, you are getting all our marketing, business and strategic planning, small business entrepreneurship, leadership coaching, internet marketing, SEO, digital marketing and social media skills. You get our deep knowledge of your industry and of the needs of your buyers.
As one of our clients said, “What you do is so much more than just putting words on a page. It is strategy and thinking. It is in-depth mentoring and coaching. It is a wealth of experience.”
What are you really paying for when you hire a copywriter? You are buying outcomes delivered in the most effective and efficient way possible.