Copywriting fees

Working out how much you should quote for a job never loses its intrigue, no matter how long you do it.

Quote too much, and you’re likely to lose the project to a lower pitching competitor. Quote too little, and you may well secure the project but find the rate at which you earn significantly lower than your target.

Many initial enquiries are accompanied by the request to quote a ‘day rate’. The problem with this lies in the assumption that you’re happy to sell every day, day after day, at the same price, regardless of what you’re being asked to do or for whom you’re being asked to do it. While there are, of course, people who do this, it’s always seemed to me to severely limit the amount of money you’re likely to earn.

Other enquiries ask for quotes on a ‘price per word’ or ‘per thousand words’ basis. This is a journalism practice, the failing of which is that it doesn’t allow you to reflect the work involved in any individual project properly. There are jobs which end up 3 or 4 words long, but on which very handsome fees can be earned, while other tasks running to a few thousand words command fees significantly lower than their word count.

Effective quoting is, of course, a matter of experience. As there are generally no bought-in costs for the writer to factor into his consideration, it’s simply a matter of judging what the job ‘feels’ as though the client will be prepared to pay for it. I’m guessing that most writers start off by applying their own, notional ‘day rate’ to the amount of time they think the project will take, and then tailor this using gut feel, to the kind of client they’re quoting for. Can a 3 day task sold to Microsoft be priced slightly higher than a 3 day task sold to a local hairdresser? You’d think so (though the answer is not always ‘yes’).

The longer we’re in business, however, the better most of us get at sensing the right level at which to quote.

Over the years, I’ve developed a sort of algorithm for quoting with.

I calculate by allocating values to each of 4 factors and then multiplying them together: AxBxCxD = Fee

A) Number of days I consider it’ll take me to do the work

Estimate  the time required to do the task. Allow proper time to do the work, so you don’t later resent working on a task you’ve underestimated to begin with and end up rushing things or being grumpy about revisions.

B) Who the client is

I charge a little more when working for large corporations, and a little less with entrepreneurs, small businesses and NFPs. I do this because it’s my experience that the key concern of large corporations is having the job well written and professionally managed, and in return for that a fair professional fee will generally be agreeable; whereas to smaller concerns fee will generally be more critical in the decision as to where to place the project.

C) The complexity of the work

Some tasks require simply what I consider to be straightforward copywriting skills. There will be lots of writers out there who could do a creditable job on it. I charge less when quoting this kind of task than when the project calls for greater experience and more sophisticated skills which are harder to find in the marketplace.

D) The likely value of the work to the client

If the project involves providing copy for a transient need within the client’s business, I apply a lower factor than if it involves writing or developing something which by its nature will be central to their marketing or brand position for a number of years to come. Similarly, if the work is to be used for broadcast media distribution (TV commercials, for example, or national press advertising campaigns), I’ll incorporate a higher factor.

If you like the model and would like to try it out, you just need to devise your own ratio in which to combine the values, and your own scale for rating them.

(I’m keeping mine private, but you could easily work out your own.)

Once you’ve got the ratio right for you, you have a method of building a quote which reflects your intellectual endeavour and the true commercial situation, rather than simply treating you as if you had a meter on the side of your head.

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