How to quote for copywriting: My experience is your shortcut!

Oh, the elation of a copywriting enquiry! Someone wants YOU to write their copy. Cue happy dancing all around your office (or kitchen).

Then, they ask, how much will it cost?

THUNK.

You crash back to reality, and your stomach fills with stones.

How much should you charge for copywriting? How long will the job take? How much are you worth?

portrait of worried woman

 

Whether you like it or not, copywriting rates are deeply linked to your value… the value you bring to the project and the value potential clients think they’re getting. Often, there’s a big, echoey gap between these two points, with nothing but your sales patter to bridge it.

Should you charge per word, per hour or per project?

This is probably the most common question copywriters ask about how to price their copywriting services.

Charging per word means that you quote a price for each word you write and complete a word count at the end. I think this style of quoting is a lot more common with American copywriters than with Australian copywriters. In my opinion, it reduces your creative value to a matter of cents and that doesn’t feel good.

Charging per hour is quite similar in delivery. Your copywriting quote includes an estimate on you think you’ll spend on the project but your invoice is for the time you actually spend. And they may be different. This pricing structure is more common with popular (and experienced) copywriters, who can give accurate estimates of how long the copywriting will take. The risk is that if it takes longer, the client has to pay more.

Charging per project is usually a fixed price for the entire copywriting project. The price covers all the inclusions of your service (spelled out in your copywriting quote), and if you spend more time than you quote for, tough luck. However, if you work faster than your quote estimated, you win!

I recommend copywriters quote per project. When you can tell a client a fixed price for a project, everyone has more certainty. Clients know how much they will have to spend and you know exactly how much you will earn. Any way you can reduce anxiety around money, do it! 

Gossip At Phone

Who keeps time?

Whether you choose to charge per hour or per project, tracking your time is essential.

I don’t know a single, experienced copywriter who doesn’t track the time they spend in their business. Writing copy, yes, but also the time spent on admin, marketing, accounting and lead generation.

Tracking your time will help you understand how long it takes you to research, write, revise and do project admin. When you analyse the data, you will see patterns of where you lose time and when you need to be more disciplined (did that blog post really need 5 hours of research? No).

When you understand where and how you spend your time, your copywriting quotes will become more accurate. You can also work at becoming more profitable through efficiency (working for less time than you’re charging).

In the first year or so of Copywrite Matters, I was extremely busy but my income wasn’t great. I didn’t seem to be earning that much for all the hours I was putting in. So, I took some time to review my time sheets. I realised that I spent more time on non-billable work than on billable copywriting. I had a wait list of clients but I wasn’t organising my day for billable work. I also realised that for each copywriting project, I spent more time on the project admin than I quoted for.

As a result, I streamlined my project admin with checklists and templates. I also enforced stricter marketing allowances for myself and started using the Pomodoro Technique to boost my billable productivity.  This is just one example of how tracking your time can help you become more profitable.

At a more basic level, you’ll get to learn how long it takes you to brief a client or write a webpage or brochure.

It’s up to YOU to learn how long tasks take you and manage your own time. Sometimes, you’re ahead. Sometimes, you’re behind. Tracking your time can help you stay ahead more often than not.

There are plenty of time tracking tools to choose from. I use Toggl but Fast Company has this list of time tracking tools. It’s a great place to start.

But what about the copywriting quote itself?

When you’re thinking about how to quote for your copywriting, you have to factor in:

  • Creative thinking and brainstorming
  • Researching and writing the copy
  • Revisions (usually two rounds of revisions or three versions) including talking through revision comments
  • Proofreading (by you or outsourced)
  • General project admin (such as emailing and record keeping)

I generally estimate 60% of the project time is spent on writing the first draft, 25% is spent on revisions and proofreading and the rest is spent on project admin (from taking the brief to sending the final invoice).

That’s a rough guideline, but the point is how long it takes you to write the first draft is NOT how long you quote for. There are lots of time-consuming elements for every project that you also have to cover—and tracking your time will give you a feel for how long ‘the rest’ takes.

Is it just A + B + C = Big copywriting quote?

Sometimes!

My first step in working out how much to charge for copywriting is to look at the word count or the number of pages, calculate how long it will take me to produce the copy – that’s research, write and revise the copy. If I have no idea, I start with “producing 200 words in an hour” and go from there.

Then I  add time for the copywriting brief (1 hr), 30 mins of additional meeting time and multiply that by my hourly rate. Then I add an estimated quote for proofreading. These are the basics of each project: briefing, writing, revisions, proofreading, admin.

I have a quoting spreadsheet that I can use to plug numbers in.

Speaking of hourly rates, The Clever Copywriting School has this great post on recommended rates for copywriting.

Sometimes, it’s a good number straight off. Other times, I would look at the total and think, ‘That’s crazy! No one will pay that!’

Then, I fiddle with the numbers until I felt I had something that was:

  • A realistic reflection of how long the job would take me.
  • A measure of the effort and professional value I was offering.
  • A reasonable price to expect someone to pay.

Creating a copywriting quote is absolutely a balancing act between time, value and market acceptance.

How long is each piece of string?

How much should you charge for each type of copywriting project? I know that’s what you really want to know. And…

… it depends. I know that’s an annoying answer but it really does!

  • An (average) website page will take about 2-3 hours + briefing + proofreading + admin.
  • An A4 brochure will take about 3-5 hours per page + briefing + proofreading + admin
  • An email series will take about 1-2 hours per email + briefing + proofreading + admin.
  • A blog of about 500 words on an uncomplicated topic will take about 1-2 hours + proofreading.

But these are pretty loose guidelines. For each project it depends on:

  • The topic – is it complicated or relatively basic? This will influence how much research is required.
  • The objective – is this is a brand awareness piece or a conversion piece?
  • Is it part of a larger project? Is copy being repurposed or written from scratch?
  • How long does it really need to be?
  • How much will the client pay?

There are a lot of variables, aren’t there?

But the BIG one is… how big is the problem this is solving. That is the biggest indicator of how much someone will pay.

Built-in efficiency

The larger a project is the more efficiencies your copywriting quote can factor in. What the what now?

Let me explain.

You’ll have to do the same amount of preparation and project admin whether you’re writing one page, or ten. So the ‘cost’ of the project admin gets less and less for each page you add. Your writing will also get faster as you get into the flow and immerse yourself in a project. This is why smaller projects can be surprisingly expensive to do.

Does that mean you charge less for additional pages? Hell, no. But, it’s important to realise that, as you’re putting a copywriting quote together your time will average out and hopefully you will end out ahead.

At first, your copywriting quotes will result from a lot of guesswork. As you gain more experience, they will become more accurate.

If every single copywriting quote is accepted, your quotes are probably too low. If none are accepted, you’re probably pricing yourself out of regular work.

So now, it’s over to you.

What’s your process for quoting? Do you make up the numbers or take a scientific approach?

Belinda

This blog is for Ismail Ishaq who sent me a question after subscribing. Thank you Ismail! I hope this answers your question.

If you would like a proven quoting system for copywriters, grab my Copy Quotes Made Easy Workshop here.

36 Responses

  1. Thanks for this Belinda, at last, realistic and useful information for those of us who are just starting out. Love your blog! I’ve been faffing about for years writing bits and pieces about anything and everything, started my own business (a small publication) just on a year ago and out of the blue I’ve just been offered some copywriting work (nice, somebody else thinks I can write) – and I love the fact that I found another Aussie online who is willing to share useful info for us beginners – so count me as a ‘follower’ – eagerly waiting for more of your advice , and thank you thank you thank you. PS I agree, I had already decided to charge by ‘the job’, really good to know that you would do the same!

    1. Welcome Colleen! To the blog and to the wonderful world of copywriting! You might find my podcast – Hot Copy – with Kate Toon quite useful. It’s basically us, nerding out on copywriting and sharing what we know.

      Thanks for stopping by and for the great feedback. Rock on!

      1. Note to Colleen … YES, the Hot Copy podcast is worth your time. I’m not a copywriter (per se) and it has been invaluable to me for … for … two years, I think. There have been days I’ve re-run the podcast on my iPad while editing the copy on my website in real time!

    1. Wow thanks Kitto!

      I’ve actually just closed my Copywriting Master Class (copywriting course) but I will be running it again next year. If you’re interested in getting updates, sign up here >> copywritematters.com/learn-copywriting/

      No spam. Just news about the course.

      Thanks for stopping by #highfives

  2. Great tips, Belinda. We also always go with the project-based fee – I find both parties then know exactly what to expect. However, our terms of work state that if the scope of the project changes, so will the fee. Sometimes we get scope creep, and sometimes the brief turns into something completely different.

    Recently, we’ve had a few long-term/regular clients ask us about a retainer fee model for ongoing content + strategic advice. Just wondering if you’ve ever worked on that basis, and if so what would you advise?

    1. Thanks Sara!

      I’ve had one or two retainers in place and found the key is agreement. As in how many hours you allocate, how quickly they can expect you to turn around work, what happens if they go over their allocation etc.

      Some clients, when you’re on a retainer, think they own you so clarifying the terms of the arrangement is a real sanity saver!

      It can also help to have a chat about the types of work they’ll want you to do so you can give them guestimates on how long each types might take… so if you have X number of hours for a client they might get a X blogs, a strategy workshop and X hours of associated admin (for example)….

  3. This is great Belinda! I only wish you’d published it three years ago when I was starting out. I used to charge by the hour but these days I quote per project – clients like the certainty. And I get a 30% deposit – maybe I’ll up it to 50! Cheers.

    1. haha sorry about that Kate! Thanks for stopping in 😉

      50% is a good idea. I used to collect 30% and it’s just not enough to cover all your efforts if the client goes AWOL. And 50% is quite common these days so it’s won’t stand out as unusual.

  4. this is great information that I’m sure we will cover in class but just the same, it is something to ponder early in the game, when you have no practical experience to draw on. Do you work on your quotes from a template of some kind or it is second nature to you now? Talk to you soon, Teach.
    C

    1. At first, I would do my estimates from scratch but as I did more and more copywriting projects, I built up a series of regular quote templates that I would customise as each project needed. As for the proposal document the quote actually sat within.

      Start with a template the customise!

  5. This is the common problem faced by freshers. Though they’ve excellent writing skills but fail to quote the price. Sometimes, they quote very high and lose clients. Other times, quote very low and out of this disappointment the deliver very low quality articles.

    I’ve been their previously and still face same problem in some situations.

  6. Hi Belinda,
    As a fellow copywriter and business owner, I’ve been stalking…er… following you for a while and was very impressed with your recent Yaro podcast. I’ve been running my writing business for 8 years now and funnily enough have found that quoting by the hour is often far more lucrative for me as I’m pretty fast! So I can quote a client 5 hours knowing full well it will actually only take me 2. I’m also lucky enough to have a retainer with my biggest client who rarely takes advantage. When you have a history with clients, it’s very much a ‘swings and roundabouts’ scenario, and one of the reasons my clients recommend me to others is that I’m very flexible.
    If I really want a job and know it will look great on my portfolio, I’m happy to accommodate a lower fee than my normal (quite high) rate. And on the flip side, if the client is not great to deal with or the job is a bit laborious, I’ll charge a higher rate (which helps takes away some of the pain).

    Hope that’s added to the conversation. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks for swinging by Flavia!

      As I read your comment I wondered, do you quote a fixed priced for the work your doing? Or do you only charge the time it took you? If it’s the former, it sounds like project pricing, which can definitely work in your favour (when you work quickly!).

      And charging a higher rate for urgent or painful work is a must. Sometimes I would try and price myself out of the job and then get landed with it anyway! But at least the higher project fee would cover the extra time I knew I’d spend.

      1. Hi Belinda,
        Don’t tell my clients but yes, in most cases I will charge the quoted price (say 6 hours) when indeed it only took me 2. My justification is that they are also paying for 25 years experience, which inevitably results in far less to-ing and fro-ing and very few changes.

        I’m currently working on a “how long is a piece of string” quote (I’m sure you’re familiar with those!) where the client doesn’t know how many elements there may be, cut can I give a ‘ballpark’ figure.
        Eeek! and Grrrr. In these instances, I will adopt the faithful real estate auction price guide, which gives me a lot of leeway.

        1. I think fixed pricing – per project – is definitely the way to go.

          As you alluded to in your first comment, it’s not always about how long a task will take. I thin, when you quote an hourly rate, that’s what it becomes and it can be difficult to factor in your experience and the other business expenses you’re covering.

          For those ball park figure quotes, I just made sure it was clear that it was an estimate based on the scope that was known and that once the scope was locked down, the quote was being redone. You can’t be held to a figure based on no scope!

          Thanks for coming back to chat 🙂

  7. Hey Belinda – great read.

    I also use a couple of tools to track my time; one specifically for client projects, and the other which runs in the background and tracks EVERY movement I make on my computer, which then delivers a productivity report at the start of each week. They’re both essential to keeping me on track.

    And they’ve also been essential to helping me very accurately predict how long a given project will take. These days I’m generally right in the ballpark when it comes to hours worked vs hours quoted (although, like you, I also price by the project as it makes the admin much easier).

    Template creation is also a must! Without a range of proposal templates, it would take me several hours to put a proposal together, rather than about half an hour.

    My only task left is to find the right CRM to track where each project is at. Currently I’m using 3 different platforms, which isn’t ideal, but it does what I need it to do. Feeling a little like Goldilocks at the moment trying to find one that is juuuuuuuuust right 🙂

    1. Cheers Anna and thanks for commenting!

      Have you tried Capsule CRM? I looove it. It’s really easy to use and integrates with lots of other tools, like accounting and email marketing tools. I loved the fact that it would automatically assign client emails (from Gmail) to the client (in the CRM), I could create lists in Mailchimp based on fields in the CRM and it linked with XERO so I could always see their payment status. Love love love it. (no affiliate either! 😉

  8. I’m a very big fan of the fixed price quote. I love being the buyer in situations like that – I just love certainty!

    So much love for certainty when I’m buying something outside of my skill set. I have no idea how long it would take someone to build an alfresco area on my house, but I do know how much I’m willing to spend to have a relaxing space I can enjoy.

    And I love fixed price quotes too as a seller of awesomeness. I love the certainty it brings my clients and their budgets or cash flow planning. Especially if the project is large enough to warrant payment stages such as a deposit, progress, and completion payments.

    1. Agreed Agreed Agreed Fiona! Anxiousness (conscious or unconscious) adds so much stress to a purchasing decision and that definitely filters down to the service provider. Anyway you can increase certainty and confidence is a WIN.

      Thanks for stopping in 🙂

  9. Your attention to the details in this article is good. I think that quoting the client should also involve some authenticity. Like an invoice or something. A good looking and authentic looking invoice template would be a good addition to any copy writer’s arsenal.

    1. Hi Anthony,

      Thanks for leaving your thoughts. I suspect sending an invoice with the proposal could create some extra admin (as you have to remove the invoices for the proposals that aren’t accepted) but it could remove a little to-in and fro-ing after acceptance.

      I’d love to hear your experience on the admin when people don’t accept your proposal.

  10. Hi Belinda,

    Regardless of the pricing method, I believe it is always wise to quote a set final figure up front.

    No client wants to be told half through the project their costs will increase due to unforeseen additional work.

    If I need to go overtime to get it done right, I am actually fine with that. Not something you want to do to often of course!

    James

    1. I completely agree James.Anything you can do to reduce the potential anxiety a customer will have around price is a good thing.

      For me that’s fixed pricing along with a clear proposal and terms and conditions, so if I do have to change the quote it’s not a surprise!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Hi Belinda!

    AWESOME article! My question is about laying it all out in the proposal/quote/estimate.

    For instance, if you’re doing a webpage, would you show the cost of each webpage? Include how many hours?

    Or would you keep it simple :
    Brainstorm and Research:$xxx.xx
    Copywriting: $xxx.xx
    Revisions: $xxx.xx
    Proofing: $xxx.xx
    Admin: $xxx.xx

    Any suggestions you have would be a great help!

    Best,

    Collette

    1. Hey Collette – thanks!

      I would always present one, total price for the entire project. The reason is that by breaking it down you leave the door open for clients to say, “Well, let’s cut down the brainstorming time and cut out the proofing and you can’t possibly need that much admin time can you?” And then you have half a service, which will usually leave the client disappointed and unsatisfied.

      When you present one price, you hen simply explain all the amazingness they get for their investment.

      When I quote on a project with several elements, like a website + brochure + magazine ad I would treat each one as a mini-project, breaking the proposal into sections with a total price for each. Often when clients ask for multiple things, they go ahead with a few but not all. When you break the prices up into mini-projects it makes it easier for them to chop and change if they want to.

      I hope that helps! And thanks for reading 🙂

  12. Thank you!

    Seriously this has been so incredibly helpful. I’ve gotten more help in just a few minutes from you than all the hours of pouring trough “It really just depends” articles that are utterly useless.

    Thank you thank you and keep up the amazing work!

  13. Uh-MAZ-ing info. This was all great in the Daily Draft emails and I have saved them.

    But, having it all here in one place is suh-WEET!

    Appreciate all the time and effort, K.

  14. Super helpful, thank you! It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been freelancing, sometimes you just need some extra guidance to ensure you’re on the right track, because every project and client is different.
    Your blog has it all – a BIG thank you!

  15. Hi there Belinda! I am just starting out and found your article to be amazing. As others have said, it’s not a “it just depends,” article, which….doesn’t help.

    I’m looking forward to reading your other articles. I just discovered you today and I a glad I did.

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