Copywriting fees. What to charge: how to charge.

When you’re used to being paid by your employer for writing, it can be difficult to imagine how you’d figure out what to charge if you were out working freelance.

People quite often ask whether it’s a good idea to charge copywriting fees ‘by the word’, which is the way that newspapers and periodicals still often pay for submissions and commissions.

The answer is, “No. It’s not a good idea!” Even for magazine editors with column inches to fill, this has always struck me as nonsense! A quite profound piece of 300 words, say, should be worth a lot more than 1500 words of tedium!

Here’s how I price jobs, which is slightly different to some copywriters, but better, in my view 🙂

In my own head I have 3 day rates, but you could have just one. I have one for individuals/entrepreneurs/tiny businesses, a slightly higher one for medium sized businesses (those where the owner may well be the MD, but the business is an entirely distinct entity from any of its managers’ personal finances), and a higher rate still for blue chip companies (ie companies with no shortage of money where getting a good job done is far more important to them than how much it costs.

But say you fixed on one rate. There are writers out there from about £150/day upwards, but I’d say that as a competent beginner you could aim for between say £200/day and £300/day, choosing how much to rate the days of a particular job at based on your sense of who the client is.

Now. Here’s the way I do it:

Someone asks you to write a simple website with 6 pages of copy. Say they’ve drafted it themselves, so the information is in place and provided, but you have to edit it and rewrite it to make it more interesting, focused and readable. Very typical little job.

I say to the client, “This is 2 days work to go through the material and rewrite it. I’d also like to add in half a day to cover changes and amendments after you receive the first draft and, as you’ve asked me to come to a briefing meeting with you 30 miles from my base, I’d like to count half a day for that also. That makes 3 days”.

I then multiply the 3 days by my day rate, and quote that as the fee. So let’s say you’ve decided to work at £250/day, then you’d quote £750 (+ VAT if you’re VAT registered). Now…in quoting that, I would say to the client, “This is what I’d like to be paid. But I understand that your budget may have some restrictions on it so please do come and discuss this with me if you’d like me to do it but you need me to look at the quote again.”

Now…the cool thing is, the client sees how you’ve arrived at 3 days and thus £750 and thinks that looks fair and he’s happy. Even if the job takes longer than expected, don’t ask him to pay more than he agreed. But…the job I described would probably only take 1 day, and the changes, if there were any, might take a couple of hours if that. So you REALLY work 1.5 days, in this example, for £750. Which means you actually worked at £500/day.

And that’s it!

Always remember, as a rule of thumb, that you can check your day rate by working out your personal income need from copywriting for a year (say it was £20,000), grossing that up to allow for the tax you’ll pay, and then dividing by the number of days you imagine yourself being able to sell in the year. So say you had to earn £25k to nett down to £20k after tax, and you felt you could sell 100 days in a year, then you’d need £25,000/100 =£250/day to achieve it.

Every day over the 100 that you then sell that year is profit. Which is one of the joys of being freelance.