Whenever I’m working with a new client, there’s always the awkward money dance: “What’s your hourly rate?”
Not because it’s a hard question to answer. I cringe because hourly rates, while necessary, aren’t an accurate gauge of of the ultimate cost to client.
Here’s the thing: I’ve worked with numerous writers–in ad agencies, at in-house agencies, while freelancing–and I’ve noticed two key things:
- Most writers don’t think strategically.
This is wildly frustrating. How does someone tell you a project is going to take X hours without even asking you questions about performance of similar past projects, where the project fits within the overall marketing strategy, or any other host of questions that are key to providing an accurate estimate?I’ll tell you how: these writers can only write.I’m sure many can write well, but writing well isn’t the only quality you need in a copywriter. Sure, you need someone who can execute. But you also need someone who asks the right questions, understands the project holistically, and then executes with all the necessary information that will inevitably guide the writing itself.
- Many of my colleagues are slow.
This isn’t–necessarily–a bad trait. I rewrite and edit my work as much as the next (good) writer. And I’ve trained myself to slow down whenever possible, starting assignments even if the deadline is months away; the downtime within a project is critical for mind wandering (aka when the best ideas arrive). But sometimes you just need to Get. Stuff. Done. If I charge you 10 camels per hour, but someone else is offering you 5 camels per hour, you think, “Duh, I’m going with 5 camels per hour! That’s half off!”But I’m going to take 5 hours to deliver a finished strategic product. The other person? They’ll probably take 10 or 15. Without the added benefit of actually thinking through the project. In the end, not only do you end up paying more for an ineffective product, but you pay more in wasted time, too.
So how do you ask for rates?
The best way is to have a specific project in mind and ask for the estimate for the entire project. If you want to get a general idea, give an example: “How much would you charge to write a website with 3 pages, similar to [insert your website example]?”
Here’s what you SHOULD get back:
“I expect a 3-page website in the 20-camel range. Here’s what that estimate includes:
- Kickoff calls & meetings
- Strategically planning the UX
- Creating content & writing
- Two rounds of edits
If any of the above are unnecessary or additional rounds of edits are necessary, that will change the project rate.”
Alternatively, your writer may ask additional questions before laying the groundwork behind the estimate.
You should NOT get back:
“It would cost 50 camels for a 3-page website.”
Based on generating concepts and executing those ideas–not to mention the strategic thinking that’s behind each of those elements–there’s a lot more that goes into a project than writing. By asking writers for a project rate versus an hourly rate, you ensure you’re getting your money’s worth (and aren’t stuck paying someone a 100 camels when you only thought it would cost 5).