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What’s a Word Worth?

If you’re a freelance copywriter or a business which uses writers regularly, you’re no doubt aware of platforms like PeoplePerHour, Contently, Fiverr and UpWork. If you’re not, these sites are designed to put freelancers in contact with people who need their services – businesses can quickly find someone to complete their project, and freelancers can find more clients to work with. Cool – especially with a service like copywriting, because it’s so easy to work with people from all over the globe. There’s no reason that freelancers and businesses from all over the world can’t work together, and it means there’s a whole new market for writers to explore.

What’s Your Price?

A criticism that’s often levelled at these sites is that they promote a “race to the bottom” mentality; it pits freelancers against each other in a really competitive atmosphere for every job. You’ll often see dozens of applications coming in for every single job, and the easiest way for clients to pare down the list of potential freelancers is to eliminate the most expensive options.

The problem this leads to is that words become a quantitative commodity – a common question is “how much do you charge per 100 words?”. This seemingly innocuous question actually turns the whole business of copywriting on its head, and incentivises entirely the wrong aspects of writing.

The Goal of Copywriting

Think about what it is you want your writers to achieve; to bring an idea to life? To write copy that’s thought-provoking, well-researched, or genuinely engaging? Do you want a piece of writing that someone will want to read, where sentences are constructed with care and words with thought? Because if that’s what you want, that’s what you should incentivise.

Charging by the word, however, tells the writer that what you really want is an article of x length. Think about it – if a writer knows that by going back and rephrasing, deleting or editing the article to make a point more clearly, they’re actually going further from what you want; there’s no reason for them to do it.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: I’ve spent 60 seconds on each of the below examples. Which one do you think is best?

Typing continually, no editing except typos – 84 words

“If you’re thinking of moving house, the first thing you should do is contact an estate agent. They’ll be able to advise you on all the best practises for moving home, and point out where you should look to find a house that suits your needs. It’s also really important that you work out with your partner exactly what it is that you want from your new home; does it need to be near a school, near your work, or near the local gym?“

Typing quickly with minor editing and a little thinking – 60 words

“Moving house is a stressful experience; a home is an enormous investment, and few people have any prior experience in the industry. Before stepping into the world of real estate, the best thing you can do is get a professional on your side; contacting a local estate agent gives you the best chance to find the home of your dreams.”

To me, the second example is much more compelling – it makes a logical argument for why an estate agent is invaluable, and I could see myself being persuaded by it. The first simply asserts that you need an estate agent because they know best but frankly, what’s to stop you just Googling “best practises for moving home”?

However, when you’re being paid by the word, the second example is objectively worse. What incentive is there to write at a slower rate when I could write 40% more words in the same timeframe? The standard of writing is still good, there are no errors and the sentences are well-constructed, the only difference is that it’s just not going to grab readers in the same way. You’re also incentivising writers to use as many words as possible to get your point across, which is the exact opposite of what they should be doing in order to communicate clearly.

How Should You Charge?

I try to get away from the idea of charging by the word by converting my work into hours. That’s how most other work is charged, and it makes sense to apply that to copywriting too. This also reflects that different jobs take different levels of effort – a website’s service pages, for instance, will take a lot of revising and drafting in order to make them really pop, while a blog is often easier to put together.

This means that while I might charge one fee for a 600-word article, I might charge several times that amount for 600 words of service pages or marketing communications – this reflects the time and effort that goes into picking the right words. It’s misleading to think that a writer will have a rate “per 100 words” that applies across the board, and it’s this concept that sites like PeoplePerHour and Contently inadvertently encourage through their relentless emphasis on competition.

Do you have a copywriting project in mind? Get in touch with me today to discuss my approach and for an obligation-free quote.