How to Charge for Copywriting Services
Buckle up, bitches! This is going to be a long-ish post about how to charge for copywriting services. If you’d prefer to watch the video, it’s below, but note that it’s long, too. Honestly, this is SUCH an important topic that I suggest doing both: Watch the video below. Then, read the blog post. (Possibly more than once.)
Disclaimers: Remember, I’m in the US, in the Northeast, just outside of Boston. I can only speak to my experience here. What you ultimately charge for your copywriting services will be influenced by the marketplace in your location, BUT THE CONCEPTS I’m discussing below will apply, regardless. (Or they should, anyway.) Remember, I’m not an accountant, a financial advisor, or a lawyer. This info is meant to be educational only.
The biggest mistake new copywriters make when deciding how to charge for copywriting services . . .
They undersell themselves.
I get why, too. If something takes you a couple of hours to write, you might never dream of charging $400, $500, or even more, right? Because you’re thinking in terms of TIME instead of VALUE.
Understand (and embrace) the value you’re delivering to clients.
Remember, content drives sales. Content marketing is a 400 billion-dollar industry, and for good reason. Organizations use compelling content to lure in prospective customers—through emails, videos, podcasts, blog posts, landing pages, case studies, white papers, direct mailers, ads (both digital and print), and so forth.
Great content will help a company . . .
- Build awareness about the brand
- Boost engagement between prospects/customers and the brand
- Convert prospects into customers
- Keep existing customers engaged and interested so that they continue buying
At the end of the day, it’s all about sales, though.
And awesome content motivates people to buy, buy, buy.
But here’s the thing: When you develop a piece of content to help drive sales . . . it isn’t just driving ONE sale, right? The content continues to work. It doesn’t have an expiration date or shelf life—at least, not in the typical ways that we think. (It’s not like that lonely container of yogurt that got lost in the back of your fridge.)
Sure, a time-sensitive ad will have an expiration date, but you get the idea. Great content can have a long shelf life and it can continue to work on behalf of your client long after you bill them your one-time fee.
In other words: The content you create has immense VALUE. And you need to charge accordingly.
How to charge for copywriting services: Example time!
Let’s pretend one of your clients is an acupuncture clinic—and that one of the specialties of this clinic is fertility issues.
The clinic hires you to write a series of blog posts about infertility and how acupuncture can help and/or be a complement to traditional treatment.
You and the client discuss possible angles for posts, you do keyword research, and you come up with the following titles, all of which contain a good keyword phrase:
- How Can Acupuncture Help with Infertility? The title itself is the keyword phrase. It receives 10 searches each month and has wicked low keyword difficulty (KD). However, a phrase WITHIN that phrase (“can acupuncture help with infertility”) has 50 monthly searches and a KD of 51. So this title will work doubly hard.
- Fertility Acupuncture: What to Expect. The phrase “fertility acupuncture what to expect” gets 30 searches a month, but ranks 23 on the keyword difficulty scale, which is very good.
- How Long Does Acupuncture Take for Fertility? Again, the title itself is the keyword phrase with 40 monthly searches and 25 KD.
- Questions to Ask Acupuncturist for Fertility. Ditto as above with 90 monthly searches and 23 KD.
The clinic loves the topics and signs off on them.
From there, you talk to one of the acupuncturists. You spend a little over an hour on the phone with her, but she’s able to answer all the questions you have regarding each topic, so you know the drafting of each blog post should go quickly. (You remember to record the interview so that you can have it transcribed on Rev.com. See my blog post on must-have copywriting tools!)
Now comes the drafting. You do some additional research to get current stats on fertility, pregnancy rates, etc.
You draft the blog posts and share them with the client. Each one clocks in around 750 words.
The client has some revisions. You do those.
Then, they sign off.
You’ve been really good about tracking your time, and you figure, on average, each blog post took 3 hours to do (and that’s including the keyword research, call with the client, additional research, drafting, and revising).
Let’s say you’ve been thinking about an hourly rate of $60/hour because heck—that sounds really great to you! Maybe in your old job working for an employer, your hourly rate was $30/hour. So this is DOUBLE!
$60 x 3 hours = $180 per blog
You decide to round up to $200 per blog. A nice, neat number.
And at 4 blogs, that comes to $800, which is a nice, neat payday.
Or is it?
When figuring out how to charge for copywriting services, don’t undersell yourself!
The NEXT part is critical for anyone who’s thinking, “Wait, that sounds reasonable.”
Here’s what you need to keep in mind—and here’s where I encourage a shift in your thinking.
Think beyond the tangible thing you’re creating—the blog posts. And think about the inherent value in each blog post.
Let’s say the blogs are performing REALLY well. You’ve chosen great longtail keyword phrases with low competition, as described above. You’ve done a great job writing them. You wrote social media posts for the blogs to help promote them even more.
And the acupuncture clinic’s site has seen an increase in web traffic, thanks to those blogs. And, on average, it can attribute two new bookings per month because of those blogs.
(Note: Blog posts are usually considered “top of the funnel” content, meaning they’re being used to educate people who are in the research stage, not quite the buying stage. This is usually true, but I’d argue that sometimes people are in both stages at once—they need education, but they also want—and are willing to—take action sooner rather than later. After some people read these series of blogs and poke around the clinic’s website, they reach out for an initial consultation and treatment.)
Now, let’s say the acupuncture clinic charges $125 for the first visit and $100 for each subsequent visit. And that the average fertility patient books ten visits (including the initial visit).
$125 + (9 x 100) = $1025
You could say the lifetime value of a fertility patient starts at $1025. I say “start,” because there’s a good possibility that a happy fertility patient might refer business to the clinic—or come back for treatments in other areas. So, in essence, each patient is worth even more than you might think.
You’re starting to see it, right? The disparity between what you’re thinking of charging for these blogs and what the acupuncture practice makes from having such awesome content—content that attracts people to the site and convinces them to make an appointment. (And you can apply this logic to all content marketing, not just blog posts.)
To recap the numbers . . .
- You charged a one-time payment of $200/blog. For the series of four blogs on fertility issues, that’s a payday of $800.
- The clinic makes, on average, $1025 per fertility patient. And over 12 months, it brings in 24 fertility patients, which are worth over $24,000.
Even if we just want to look at the initial visit per patient—24 patients per year multiplied by an initial visit fee of $125 is $3000.
See where I’m going? Your blogs have much more value to the customer than simply the “hours” you took to write them. Charge accordingly.
Now, I’m not suggesting your charge $24K or even $3K. But they are worth more than the time you put in.
When deciding how to charge for copywriting services, you also need to keep something else in mind . . .
When you’re freelancing, your rates need to also account for other business expenses since everything is on your shoulders:
- Taxes, like self-employment tax
- Health insurance
Often when you worked as an employee, those things were drawn out of your paycheck automatically. Now, it’s up to you to pay for them. Along with other business expenses, like computers.
See where I’m going? The blog content you create is worth more than simply the “hours” you spent doing it.
Bottom line: Avoid an “hourly” mindset.
Don’t give hourly quotes. Give PROJECT quotes.
Hourly quotes are dangerous for a couple of reasons.
- First of all, you shouldn’t get penalized for being fast—or getting faster over time. You’re still delivering the same value, right? If something takes you two hours or six hours, as long as the value is consistent, THAT’S what matters.
- Second, hourly quotes are stressful. For you. For the client. Too often, with hourly quotes, we fall into psychological traps. “Well, I quoted four hours, so I’ll take four hours.” But what if you could get it done in half that time? Think of what you could do with those other two hours? Now multiply that thinking across all the quotes you give over a week, a month, a year. Not to mention that clients can easily fixate on hours and lose sight of value. You don’t want to nitpick over this.
Project quotes let everyone breathe easier because everyone knows where they stand.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, especially if you’re new to this: “Well, Copy Bitch, this is all well and good, but I still don’t know how to charge for copywriting services. As in, what the heck should my project quotes BE?”
I got you!
Internally, you will need to develop a sense of how long it takes you to produce different types of content, on average.
Some of the stuff you’ll encounter as a freelance copywriter:
- Blog posts, of varying lengths. Usually, you want to aim for at least 750/1000 words. Google rewards longer content. But readers also want to get answers to their questions/pain points. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be value in an occasional 400-word piece—there can be, but based on my experience, longer is better.
- White papers (guides). The term “white paper” used to have a very specific definition 20 years ago (much more clinical/technical). Now, it’s often used interchangeably with “guide.” And that’s what it is. These can vary in length from a few pages to upwards of 20 or so.
- Social media posts. I often write “batches” of social media posts for clients that we schedule out.
- Copy for ads—digital ads, print ads, radio spots.
- Video scripts. Everything from explainer videos to product videos to everything in between.
- Case studies. Typically, you’re talking to your client’s customers.
- Email marketing. Think longer newsletters, but also those simpler emails (sometimes text-based). You do more than simply craft the email copy, though—you write subject lines, preview lines, and the body copy.
- Messaging/branding/content strategy. You might do an overall strategy or specific messaging campaigns that include several different components.
- Content calendars. Often for the blog, but it can (and should) run the gamut of all marketing—webinars, podcasts, social media, premium offers (like guides).
- Website copy. Full websites to specific landing pages.
- Print pieces, like direct mailers and brochures. Yes, there’s still a place for these items in today’s marketing landscape.
When you’re getting started, sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith, give a quote, AND LEARN FROM THE WORK.
And here’s the thing: I’m about to give some of my numbers below, but keep in mind I’ve been doing this since 2002. If you’re new, I get that you might not have the confidence to give pricier quotes. Heck, I also get that the example quote I used above ($800 for the four blog posts) sounds reasonable to you. Especially if you’re doing work like that across, say, four or five clients a month. That’s decent scratch when you’re just starting out (or if it’s side hustle).
My point: Just make sure you are always considering the VALUE you’re delivering. Don’t let someone convince you to write for pennies per word. What you’re doing is so, so much more valuable.
Another point: When you’re starting out, sometimes you need to simply start getting money in the door. So I’d absolutely support someone doing four blog posts for $800—you’ll get solid clips to put in your portfolio and hopefully a client testimonial for your site and LinkedIn.
But over time, you should revisit the quotes. It’s perfectly OK and natural—and expected—to occasionally raise your rates.
You can also work on getting faster. Maybe you’re able to get into a good rhythm with a client and you can write awesome content for a blog post in a little over an hour. (It’s possible, depending on the client.) So aiming to get faster while still delivering the value is a great way to essentially give yourself a raise without even raising your quote for the client.
Give prospective clients a scope of work.
This will include the overall project quote. But it will also outline all the work that goes into the content you’re producing, like interviews, keyword research, drafting, and revisions. It will also state the timeline and financial terms.
Note: With first-time clients, always get a down payment. I ask for 1/3 of the project quote. (Don’t do any work until you get the down payment.)
The balance should be due within 30 days of the client receiving the first draft. Note the word “first” in italics. The reason you don’t want to require payment within 30 days of the client signing off on the final copy is because you could end up waiting a long time for payment. Like, what if the client drags their feet signing off on the copy? You shouldn’t get penalized. Asking for payment within 30 days of the client receiving the first draft also motivates the client to get you feedback about revisions, which brings me to my next point . . .
In your project quote/scope of work, tell clients they must request revisions within 30 days of receiving the first draft. Again, this motivates the client to stay on track—and helps move the project along. (Project management 101, people!)
Plus, it helps YOU plan. If you’re juggling multiple projects in various stages, you can plan your time accordingly.
Here’s a rough idea of how I charge for copywriting services. Note: These are 2022 numbers.
Blog posts. I typically charge $450/blog—give or take. They usually weigh in between 1000 and 1500 words. Anything more than that (and that’s something I’d know in advance), I’d charge more. I wouldn’t charge much less, even if they’re slightly shorter, because again, the value is still there.
Some blogs take me a couple of hours to write. Some might take me four. Not usually longer than that. You can do the math. $100/hour is a healthy rate for me and my needs—and for the marketplace I work in.
Remember, you’re delivering value. Blog posts especially have LONG shelf lives.
Email marketing. I’m anywhere from $75 to $100 per email. It’s worth noting that I give multiple subject line options and preview line options. And I typically provide an option A and B for the body copy. (Not all writers do this.) So if I’m writing a series of 6 emails, yeah—that could be $600. But again, the VALUE I deliver is there.
(We could start a drinking game with this . . . every time I write the word “value,” drink!)
Websites. I have a per-page range: $150 – $250/page. This includes everything: discovery call with the client, keyword phrase research, content/design strategy (usually a collaboration with the designer), basic messaging, and drafting each optimized page using SEO best practices. (Once you see all the work laid out like that you might be thinking, “Heck. Even $250/page isn’t enough.” You’re not necessarily wrong.)
The reason I do a per-page rate is because website projects almost always go off the rails. Clients will come saying, “It’s only going to be an x-page site.” But once you dig in and provide strategy, that will likely change (and be more). But if you quoted on what they presumed the number of pages to be, you’ll be screwed. So I always give them a per page rate. I will say something like, “Based on the current site we’re talking about, which looks to be this many pages, I expect the final quote to be around X. But this number can change if we add more pages.” (And, of course, during the drafting process, I would alert the client if it’s looking like there will be a significant increase in pages.)
Case studies. Effective case studies are usually short—think 1 to 2 pages, max. But they take A LOT of work because they usually involve talking to one of your client’s clients. I often start at $500 per case study (and I suspect I’m on the lower side).
Video scripts. Again, developing a script for a short video—like 30 to 60 seconds—might not sound like a lot of work, but it is. Especially since you usually need to think in terms of copy and video and provide directions for both. I’m anywhere from $450 to $750 per script (and I suspect I might be on the lower side, to be honest).
Don’t let short copy deceive you. Sometimes it takes more effort to write a compelling short piece—like a subject line, PPC ad, or case study—than it does to write something longer.
White papers. These can be tricky. I just wrote a 12-page white paper for a nonprofit. Roughly 4500 words. I’m charging $2000 (because it’s a nonprofit). But honestly, that’s probably more like a $4500 job, which would be roughly $1/word. Which feels right.
Content editorial calendars. I usually develop these calendars every quarter for clients. For a client that posts four blogs a month, I might charge anywhere from $350 to $500 for the quarterly calendar, which includes keyword phrase research, optimized title, and a brief synopsis of the angle.
Messaging/branding/content strategy. This all depends on how deep of a dive the client wants. Are you talking to their customers and building out buyer personas first? Are you doing an audit of current messaging (on the website, for example)? Are you providing a fancy presentation or a down-and-dirty document with messaging recommendations? Even the latter requires many hours of work, so don’t undersell yourself.
The challenge with messaging projects is that some (not all) clients have a hard time wrapping their heads around pricey quotes since the “deliverable” will only be used internally. It’s an internal document rather than a customer-facing piece of content, like a blog post or website page.
Something else to think about: Are you part of a team—like a marketing department—and your job is more focused on language rather than an overall strategy? That could affect your quote. No matter how you slice it, quotes for messaging projects can get big, fast. You need to know what the client expects to be delivered. A down-and-dirty messaging doc for a small business might be in the $1000 range (or even less). A more comprehensive branding/messaging audit where you’re part of a team for a big company? You might charge $3000, even $5000, or more.
Print pieces, like direct mailers and brochures. Again, this can vary widely, depending on the size. A direct mailer that’s an oversized postcard might be $500. But if it’s a long direct mail sales letter, it can be much more than that. (That sort of direct-mail copywriting is a true specialty. It’s not something I do.) Brochures and catalogs—this also depends on the size. A simple tri-fold brochure might be $750 to $1000. The more pages you add, the more work that’s involved, so the bigger your quote.
Closing thoughts on how to charge for copywriting services . . .
The most important thing you should take away from this article is this: Quote on the VALUE you’re delivering, not the hours it takes you to do a project.
Challenge yourself to get faster, while still delivering value. If you get faster with your writing—without losing quality—you’re going to give yourself an automatic “raise” without even having to get your clients to pay more.
Revisit your rates every year or so. Over time, you need to increase rates. For example, if you’ve been consistently charging $100 per website page, maybe you up it to $125 per page.
Be flexible and forgiving. When you’re starting out, you might opt to quote a little low until you build your confidence and to just get some money in the door. There’s a big difference between quoting a little low and letting someone take advantage of you. Avoid the latter. And forgive yourself when you get a quote wrong. Learn from it.
Wishing you much luck in your journey!
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