How to bill for marketing / copywriting
May 8, 2012 10:14 AM   Subscribe

How should I bill a client for freelance writing of marketing copy?

After a few years of doing web/design work, I've taken on my first client for a freelance project that is only writing marketing copy. The strategy doc will likely include web copy, blog posts, marketing collateral and social networking content.

I feel like web/ design work is easy to bill hourly, because I can just sit and work out the project. Everything is forward movement. Marketing copy is more difficult because I'm not "muscling" though the words - I'm often waiting for a creative idea to hit me, and there is no telling when it hits me. The five words to define a brand will likely take me longer than all of the copy that fills the pages.

How do people bill out for this type of work?
Do you create a set project cost based on the number of words?
Do you ballpark the "thought hours"?
Do you only charge for the time putting words on paper?
posted by monkeystronghold to Work & Money (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I bill hourly. Just because you're not physically writing does not mean you're not spending valuable time thinking about the project. If you only billed for the time spent typing it would amount to very little.

All the freelance copywriters I know bill hourly.
posted by gpoint at 10:34 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Now that I've been doing this for a while, I tend to do fixed bids, with half due up front, which helps with cashflow. But I was getting started, and still do for projects where I'm not as familiar with the deliverable, or where it's hard to scope the project accurately, I do a "not to exceed" estimate, plus or minus 10%.

A key variable in project scoping is the number of rounds of client review. One of the quickest ways to blow up a project's scope is with unplanned-for rounds of changes. My estimate includes language like this:

This is a "not to exceed" estimate. Additional rounds of review or changes to project scope may result in changes to this proposal. If this occurs, I will notify you in writing as soon as possible so we can adjust the scope and/or deliverables by mutual agreement. Any additional hours agreed upon will be billed at a rate of $xx/hour.

When I do a fixed bid, I don't do it based on the number of words, but rather based on estimated hours for each phase--for example, research, outline, first draft, final review. And I definitely include "thought hours."
posted by ottereroticist at 10:35 AM on May 8, 2012

I'm a copywriter. I work about 160-180 hours a month, and about 75% of that is cranking out copy. I don't have time to think of an idea, and my clients can't afford to pay me to think up ideas. I have to motor.

Charge an hourly rate. 1 blog post of 350 words should take 1.25 hours to write and optimize for SEO. A web page should be about the same, although you ought to budget time for research.

For straight copywriting, depending on the size of the client, and if you are doing all of the research and project management, should be about $50/hr.

If you are doing value-added things like content strategy, conversion strategy and conversion optimization, mapping out the customer funnel etc., integrating the copywriting with an online advertising campaign, you can charge more.

But assuming you're doing a bit of research about the company, implementing SEO best practices (but not keyword research), and "project management" of your time, $50/hr is acceptable. And a blog post should take around an hour tops.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:38 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can bill by the project instead of by the hour. Say, X dollars per blog post, etc. It still requires a rough estimate of how much time you expect to put in, but it has two advantage over hourly. One, everybody knows from the start what the bill is going to be. Two, the more efficient you get with your time, the higher your effective hourly rate. And you should get faster if you are doing some of the same types of content over and over.

But first I'd suggest re-thinking how you plan to approach the work. Professional writing is not about sitting around waiting for a creative idea to hit you. It's about putting your ass in the chair and writing whether you happen to feel inspired or not.
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:39 AM on May 8, 2012

Actually, Longtime's advice is good - bill for the project rather than by the hour.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:49 AM on May 8, 2012

I bill hourly for all the time I spend on a project. Spending time thinking, so long as it's actually thinking, counts. Now, I don't bill for like time in the shower when I'm musing--though I should--but when I'm in front of my computer or notebook in hand jotting out ideas and toying with them, that's work.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:50 AM on May 8, 2012

In my agency, either "Research" or "Ideation and Creative Concepting" are how the "thought hours" are billed.

We bill on both an hourly and project basis. Billing on an hourly basis, it's still important to have some agreement up front on about how many hours the project will take, and then talk to the client as soon as it seems likely the project may go over. Nobody likes expensive surprises. Billing on a project basis, the biggest difficulty is limiting the rounds of revision.

Finally, one of the best things you can do to stand out as a vendor is to make sure you understand what value your copy is going to bring to the client, and pitch your effort level accordingly. A client asking for social media content because they want their account to look active...that's "ass in chair" copy. A client launching a new product and not confident on their go-to-market strategy? That's lots and lots of thought time.
posted by psycheslamp at 11:46 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

That $50/hour figure is relative depending on location and client size. When I was freelancing five years ago, I charged $70/hour to a huge agency and they didn't bat an eyelash.
posted by Lieber Frau at 1:10 PM on May 8, 2012

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