Why I charge $1,200+ per page for copywriting

September 11, 2009 •

Recently on Twitter, Rob McGuire highlighted a ‘lucrative’ copywriting contract on ScriptLance: 15 x 500 word articles paying $1 each! True to form, when I read this, I had a little rant about paying peanuts and getting monkeys, then I went away and spent a bit of time reflecting on it. And while I was reflecting, a few things happened: I thought about my own pricing; two prospects asked me to explain how I could help them; and I read an article explaining why our ‘Aha!’ moments are most likely to come when we’re daydreaming.

This period of reflection led to an ‘Aha!’ moment of my own: I charge $1,200+ per page for copywriting because I take the time and put in the hard yards to deliver real value. Far more value, in fact, than the $1,200+ I charge. And my clients know it.

(FYI, here’s my rates page.)

I spend around 9 hours on each page of copywriting!

I don’t get paid hundreds of dollars every year 😉 simply ‘cos I have the ability to write a pretty sentence. I get it ‘cos I take the time to figure out exactly what needs to be said, and to say it in EXACTLY the right words.

And it DOES take time. For example, for the average 300-500 word page of copy, I spend:

  • 10 minutes preparing a written fixed price proposal, including scope of project, expected turnaround time, details on my process, and Approval of Quote form.
  • Half an hour discussing the project with the client.
  • Half an hour thinking about what questions I need answered, and preparing a questionnaire.
  • 2-3 hours reviewing the client’s questionnaire answers (again, and again, and again), reading dozens of pages of reference material emailed by the client, and doing my own independent research.
  • Half an hour discussing things with the client on the phone.
  • 3 hours writing draft 1 (I keep going and keep going until it’s just right).
  • 1 hour writing draft 2.
  • And 30 min tweaking for the final version.

That’s a total of up to 9 hours – just to write a single page. A short page, at that!

And that’s just my ‘in the office time’. Much to my wife’s annoyance, I also think about work when I’m driving, when I’m exercising, when I’m getting the kids their breakfast, when I’m in the shower, when the ads come on during ‘Master Chef’, before I go to sleep, and the moment I wake.

I also allow myself to daydream

For a driven person like me, one who runs a business that earns money only when my fingers are busy at the keyboard, it’s natural to think of daydreaming as the enemy. But over the years, I’ve discovered it’s an essential element in my success.

For best results, I HAVE TO step back from the job, if only for a little while. This may mean simply gazing blankly at the landscaping quote to the left of my keyboard. Or it may mean actually calling the landscaper. Alternatively, it may mean standing up and grabbing a coffee, or taking the drastic step of going for a run or doing some weights. However I do it, the key is to stop consciously thinking about the job. To give my brain the time it needs to make sense of the job and figure out how best to do it.

Interestingly, this opinion about daydreaming was recently validated, for me, when I read Robert Lee Hotz’s article, ‘A Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight’. In this article, Hotz cites research that suggests that “our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts.” He says, that during daydreaming, “… our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.”

Pretty cool huh?! At least, now, when my wife pokes her head into the office and sees me staring into space, I have an excuse I can back up with some research!

The important point in all of this is that if I were to charge less than I do, I simply couldn’t afford to let my mind wander, and I’d be doing a worse job, as a result. In fact, for the peanuts that many ‘copywriters’ charge, I wouldn’t have time for anything but typing. Forget pausing to think!

And the proof’s in the pudding. Check out this ‘article’ written by the ‘copywriter’ who won the ScriptLance project discussed above. “Seek a professional advice…”???? “… most efficient path on to staying on the safer side…”???? “… commitments that are made generally do not make any sense unless it is…” C’mon! IMHO, if the client paid $1 for this, they certainly got their money’s worth!!!

But really, it’s all about the value I deliver

Having said all of that, no client in the world is going to pay me $1,200+ per page, just because I spend a lot of time on their job. Understandably, clients are only interested in value.

And when you think about things from this perspective, it’s not at all hard to justify my fees. As I was saying, this morning, to fellow copywriter, Patricia Skinner of Well Written Words, most clients only have to increase sales by a very small percentage in order to more than pay for our services, no matter how much we charge. If I charge $1,200 to write copy promoting a $5,000 training course, and that copy attracts just one additional paying customer, my client hasn’t just paid for my services, s/he has made a handsome return!

Good copywriters are highly skilled professionals

When you go to the doctor or dentist, you expect to pay for the privilege. Same applies when you engage a lawyer, an engineer, an accountant, an architect or an IT consultant. Engaging a copywriter is no different. If you want a copywriter with 15 years professional experience, hundreds of satisfied clients, and a very full schedule, you can expect to pay for it.

No one’s trying to rip you off; that’s just how it works, in every walk of life.

And you can forget getting anything for free!

Inexplicably, some people seem to think writers are quite happy doing stuff for free. Either as a trial or on an ‘if-it-works-we’ll-pay-for-it’ basis. My doctor doesn’t work that way, and nor do I. Writers who do are simply undermining the rest of us.

Watch this entertaining interview with Harlan Ellison for more on this. (Language warning!)

Conclusion

That’s my rant for the day. Now I have to get back to typing away like a good little monkey! Gotta pay that landscaper… (Perhaps if I say, “if this works, there’ll be loads more work coming your way…”, he’ll do it for free! 😉 )

Cheers!

Feel free to comment...
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Angie Haggstrom wrote on September 11th, 2009

lol YAY Glenn! This should be a sticky post on every copywriter's website I swear. There's so much more to copywriting than even you admitted to here...those 9 hours you figured out don't include the conversation that occurs before you do up the proposal, the time you spend on 'special' jobs that require a proposal that's a little different from the standard, any extra phone calls or emails, revisions, or the times when the scope expands or changes. Then, like any other business, there's administrative duties, accounting, marketing, advertising, and all the other expenses that are normally figured into that loaf of bread or jug of milk that you would buy in the store. As you know, I've seen both sides of the fence, and you're absolutely right and there's just no point in running a 'word sweat shop'. And, as a wise copywriter once told me: 'If you don't value your services, how can you expect anyone else to?' Angie Haggstrom Senior Copywriter, Angie's Copywriting

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Paul Jones wrote on September 11th, 2009

I agree, Glenn. It's not about what the copywriting costs. If a client's fixated on that, perhaps you should ditch the client. Find one who's more interested in ROI (return on investment). Is a car that costs $1m expensive? Not if it earns you $2m. The guy that comes up with Coke's latest tagline earns a motza for just a few words. But those few words can sell a LOT of Coke.

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Want a Copywriter Who Works for Free? | Wellwrittenwords SEO Copywriter wrote on September 11th, 2009

[...] of trust between you and your potential customers. Heck, it can even persuade people to buy. Glenn Murray of Divine Write just posted an article on the same subject, as it happens, and he has a lot more to say about the [...]

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Aprill Allen wrote on September 11th, 2009

Thanks for posting this rant. I'm just starting out in copywriting so I'm billing per hour at the low end of town. But that's ok. My service has been retained at 2-3 hours per week ongoing by one particular client. After reading your post I don't feel so bad about the amount of time it can take me to provide a certain amount of copy. I research, I write, I think, I rewrite. Then I go about the rest of my day and I'll have a fantastic phrase come to mind late at night. I'll wake up in the morning and rewrite. I just thought I was slow. Maybe I'm doing my job exactly the way I should be.

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Patricia Skinner wrote on September 11th, 2009

Hi Glenn, just stopped by to say that I agree with you 100 percent on this one: in fact I just blogged along the same lines. Business owners who take pride in what they do should realize that a cheap copywriter will leave a lasting dent in their reputation: to the contrary, great copywriters contribute so much in so many ways to the businesses they touch.

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Karri Flatla wrote on September 11th, 2009

Oh what a totally *cathartic* read! Sigh. I've really very little to add here because I am also one of those biz people who comes up with her best ideas while blow drying her hair ... Thanks for saying it well and out loud, Glenn!

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Simon Hillier wrote on September 11th, 2009

A really well stated case Glenn. I think the problem is that until someone actually goes through the entire process of writing well thought out copy with clear objectives, it's difficult to grasp how much time and work is involved. While it might only take a moment to say "Here's what we do...", you can't just put that on paper (or pixel) and expect results. As you said, it’s vital to spend time up front working with the client to get things crystal clear in everyone’s mind. Who’s the real target audience? What are their most pressing problems? How does the business solve those problems? How do they do it differently or better than the competition? What does the client want customers to do at the end? Etc. Then, of course, you have create and shape the copy over and over until it’s in a tone and structure that grabs those impatient readers, achieves the objectives and fits the brand. And then of course, there's SEO... That’s a huge responsibility for a few hundred words to bear! But I’m very relieved to hear it’s not just my wife who complains, “Where’s your head at?” :)

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KEB wrote on September 12th, 2009

Oh, this is very funny. And we're having the same thing over at my blog - and someone else's I commented on this morning! All these $1 jobs! It's depressing. But then again they act as a big sign: Go Out And Do Some Proper Marketing.

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KEB wrote on September 12th, 2009

Oops, your Twitter field was too clever for me, this time it's right.

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Rob McGuire wrote on September 14th, 2009

You really drive a point home about the "outside the office" time spent on projects. All too often people just aren't aware of that time or haven't considered it.

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Eugen Oprea wrote on September 15th, 2009

Hi Glenn, You are right, as long as you offer high value, professional services and spend hours working on a project the return needs to be accordingly. But your article made me think not only at copywriting, but also at other services that need to be valued more. Thank you for pointing this out. Regards, Eugen

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kris wrote on September 19th, 2009

Wot Eugen said! I've sent this to about everyone I know. It (and the Harlan rant in particular) has a certain resonance with solicitors too! In fact, this is why I drew inspiration for my payment arrangements for my website from yours. You are very clear what the drill is and this absolutely benefits everyone.

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Devin Miller wrote on September 15th, 2010

Hi Glenn! I've been following your work (blog, twitter, vimeos, etc.) for a long time, but this was the first post I had to respond to. I had to say, bravo! Well put. The topic is certainly a hot one. I think from now on, I'll just refer my clients to your blog so they can hear it straight from the top :) Then they'll be happy with my intermediate rates. Really enjoy your work. Devin

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Ros Stiles wrote on June 20th, 2014

Hi Glenn, I am relatively new to freelance writing and have found it very difficult to know what to charge. Thank you so much for giving me some guidance. I was becoming quite distressed that people were not willing to pay for quality.

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Nigel Woollsey wrote on April 27th, 2016

Hey Glenn - This is such a breath of fresh air! How I wish more potential clients understood that decent copywriting isn't just about "filling a page with words" (as one chap once told me as he outlined his needs!). Totally agree with Angie Haggstrom that this should be on a sticky note attached to all copywriter's website! Cheers Nigel

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Glenn Murray wrote on April 27th, 2016

Hi Nigel. Thanks! It never ceases to amaze me when clients say things like that. If they want filler, why not just write it themselves?

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Nadia Barlow wrote on March 22nd, 2017

Hi Glenn, I'm more than a little late to the show here. But I guess that good content stays relevant! This post could almost have been about myself. I am not a fast copywriter and don't think I ever will be. I definitely need time to day deam and let it sink in for those golden bursts of creativity. But as relatively new freelance copywriter, I don't have the 15 years of experience and hundreds of satisfied clients to back up $1200 per page. And my schedule isn't quite as full as yours! So I've figured I'll just have to suck it up and work really hard for less return until I finally do get to that point. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Is that just how it has to be in your first few years starting out? Or is there another way? Thanks in advance for your thoughts. Nadia.

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Glenn Murray wrote on March 22nd, 2017

Hi Nadia. Yeah, I feel your pain. My first client was a local real estate agent. I wrote something on spec for them and approached them out of the blue. They liked it and asked how much I'd charge to write all their property copy. I said $100 per home, and they agreed. But in that price, I had to visit the property, speak to the owner and sometimes the photographer, call the agent and speak to them, then write 2-5 drafts of the copy. Not much per hour! I think the reality is if you're a slow writer / perfectionist, you're never going to make a living at that rate. Not even long enough to build up the clientele you think you need to pimp yourself out with confidence. Instead, I say invest in a website that gives clients confidence (that's what they want), show a few great examples and a few recognisable logos (even if you have to write something for them on spec), and just start charging higher prices. Inch them up, bit by bit, until you get pushback. Then sit for a while before trying again. As soon as you get busy, raise your prices again.

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