Does Copywriting Cost Money? The Hidden Costs of Copywriting

One of the most commonly asked questions I hear is ‘Does copywriting cost money?' As a small business owner you will have many demands on your money – and your time. You will probably be making difficult decisions about where to spend them, and how much to commit. Does copywriting cost money? The short answer to that is yes – even if you do it yourself.

But copywriting requires more than money. There are other hidden costs associated, like your time. Every hour spent on copywriting is an hour that you can't spend running your business – developing new products or talking to customers.

In this blog post I'll look at three ways of getting content written:

  • do-it-yourself,
  • working with a freelancer, and
  • hiring a member of staff.

I'll talk about how much copywriting costs, but also look at the hidden cost of time.  where will you need to spend time on your copywriting.

What are the Main Elements of Copywriting

Before I start answering the question ‘Does copywriting cost money?' I wanted to spend a little time talking about the different elements of copywriting. Some of them will be obvious, but others may be less so. Either way, you should bear these elements in mind when thinking about copywriting rates.

Research

Research for copywriting covers a wide range of areas. Before starting a copywriting project I will research your company, your products, and your competitors. I am trying to understand what your customers' needs are, and how your company's products can best meet those needs. I am also trying to understand how your competitors are meeting your customers' needs, and how they are using language to draw their customers in and complete the sale. I'll also be looking at your writing style, either through your tone of voice guidelines (related reading: 5 Reasons why You Need a Tone of Voice) or through your existing content to understand how you communicate with your customers.

The next part of research (for an online copywriting project) would be to carry out keyword research. As you'll want your online content to be found in Google, we'll start by looking for the keywords that your customers are using in search engines. Through SEO copywriting I can write online content to match the keywords they your customers are using. This means your customers will find your content, and will be more likely to convert to a sale.

Planning

Planning is the part that untrained copywriters often overlook – but it is crucially important to the success of a copywriting project. The core stage of a copywriting project consists of planning, writing and editing your content. The planning part will typically take 25% of my core time.

At this stage I would be pulling together the results of the research, and identifying what parts are useful to this project, and setting out the structure of the content. This means that my copywriting will be focused on your audience, will be coherent, and will take your customers on a journey towards the sale.

Writing

At this point comes the first draft. It may feel a while since I started, but all that preparation will make this part of the project easier. This stage takes up 50% of the core stage time and is where untrained copywriters will spend the majority of their time. There's not a lot to say about this stage – it's pen-to-paper time (or fingers to keyboard).

Editing

The final 25% of the core stage time goes on editing. This is proofreading content for spelling and grammatical error, checking that the narrative arc of the copy is logical, and search engine optimisation (SEO). This is the finishing touches, which makes sure your content looks professional, can be found in the search engines, and will drive your customers to convert.

Publishing

It's not always the case, but sometimes copywriting can involve publishing the content on your company's website, or sourcing royalty-free images to go with it.

Promoting

A skilled copywriter will also be able to craft social media posts that will encourage your followers to click through and read your content. This means increased traffic to your website, which will lead to higher sales.

Does Copywriting Cost Money?

Now that I've covered the different elements of copywriting, it's time to answer the original question: does copywriting cost money? I'm going to talk through the different copywriting options available and the costs (not just monetary) of using them.

Clock face - Time: the hidden cost

1. Do It Yourself

Now, this is obviously going to be the cheapest option available, but even that comes at a cost (ahem).

Money You probably know your company and your products. You might even have a good understanding of who your audience is (related reading: Create an Avatar – A Template for your Audience Avatar). However, you can't do keyword research without using SEO tools, and herein lies an unexpected cost. You can also spend money on stock photography (as search engines love images). Alternatively, you can use your own photography, but consider whether the quality matches the image you want to present of your company.

Time Unfortunately, it's not as simple as paying for SEO tools and appearing at the top of Google. These tools are also not the easiest or most intuitive systems to work with, so it may take you time to learn how to use them properly. Google is also constantly changing it's algorithm, meaning you would need to spend time learning about the latest changes. This is time that you are not spending on developing new products that could help to grow your company.

As I mentioned, most untrained copywriters will skip the planning stage. If you are going to do it yourself, please spend time planning – it will make a big difference to your end product. Planning does take time, and this is time that you won't be able to spend on the rest of your business – and you need to be comfortable that you can afford to take that risk.

Anyone can write – I firmly believe this. But that doesn't make it easy. If writing doesn't come naturally to you, it's possible you could be wasting your time getting frustrated – and that's not productive! (Related read: 4 Ways to Overcome Writers' Block) All this time is time you are not spending building your business.

Editing is a skill in it's own right, and it's more than just checking that your apostrophes are in the right place and that you've correctly spelled millennium. If you want your customers to click on the ‘buy' button then you need to take them through a journey to get them to reach that point. If that journey is confusing, your customer will leave, and there goes your sale.

Finally, using social media to promote your content is free. You can send as many updates to your followers as you can – but this is also time that you cannot focus on developing your business.

2. Work with a Freelancer

Monetary If your work with a freelance copywriter your copywriting will cost money. Everyone's copywriting rates are different, but they fall into 3 broad pools: pay-per-word, hourly rate, and project based. (Related read: I explain why I only work on a project rate basis here).

If you pay-per-word (through a content pool) it will be cheaper, but because this often works out at less than the minimum wage it will be less quality – copywriters in this method skip many of the elements of copywriting outlined above. As a result the quality of the writing is naturally a lot lower, and it will be likely that your content doesn't deliver on it's goal. It will not be search engine optimised, so you may need to spend £100 – 200 per month on the tools to revise your content.

Hourly rates are popular copywriting rates, but I feel that they are open to abuse. While a trained copywriter can estimate how long a copywriting project will take to complete, it is exactly that – an estimate. Your copywriting project may take longer, in which case you will be charged more. I don't provide an hourly rate, but the Pro Copywriters Network (of which I am a member) has this advice for hourly rates. Paying for a freelancer should include SEO copywriting, but you will have to check your itemised quote to be sure. The copywriter will own the SEO tools so that will save you £100 – 200 per month.

Under my favoured copywriting pricing method, project-based, the price might look high, but this is because it is the total outlay for the project. You know that you have the total cost upfront, so you can budget accordingly. SEO copywriting is included so that will save you £100 – 200 per month in SEO tools.

Time As discussed above, money is not the only cost associated with copywriting – time is also an important cost. Each of these pricing methods will have a different outlay on your time.

Pay-per-word This is low-quality copywriting services. You may need to rewrite, edit or search engine optimise your content after it's been written. It is likely you will need to spend time learning how to use SEO tools correctly to improve your chances of being found in Google. Publishing and promoting will also not be included. This is time that you cannot spend on developing new products for your customers.

Hourly rate The quality should be high here, so you shouldn't need to factor in time for rewriting, editing, or SEO. However, if you can't afford an additional round of amends, you will need to find the time to do this yourself. You may find that you need to spend more time processing invoices, but this can be worked around.

Project-based Again, the quality should be high, so you won't need to carry out additional rewriting, editing, or SEO. Because you are paying based on the project, amends do not cost you more (although often there is a restriction in the number of round included), so you don't need to find the time to do this yourself. Invoicing will also be simpler, with 50% upfront and 50% on completion being a common structure.

3. Hire a member of staff

Money Hiring a member of staff is a significant outlay for a small business. You can expect to pay a salary of £19,000 per annum for a junior copywriter with little experience or £50,000 per annum for a senior copywriter with a proven track record. You will need to pay national insurance and pension contributions on top of this. There's the cost of recruiting – advertising costs or hiring a recruitment agency. Your staff copywriter will also need to be able to do their work, so you'll need to invest in a desk (up to £1,000 per year), computer (up to £2,000), and access to the SEO tools (£100 – 200 per month). It is a significant outlay that requires total commitment.

Time When hiring a member of staff you will need to set aside time for the recruitment – writing the job specification, shortlisting and interviewing candidates, and inducting them into your company. This can take you away from working on your business for a period of weeks. You'll also need to factor in time for general management responsibilities, such a performance reviews. If you hire a junior copywriter, you'll need to spend more time editing and reviewing content than you would if you hired a senior copywriter, again taking you away from your core focus.

Conclusion

In this blog post I wanted to answer the question: ‘Does copywriting cost money?' If you want a professional job done, then yes, copywriting will cost you money. It's possible to do it cheaper, through a content mill, but this will reduce the quality of the output. You could save money by doing it yourself, but this will take you away from driving your business forward, and there are costs associated with copywriting software you should be mindful of.

It may be that you are a trained copywriter or marketer, and can produce quality content on demand for your business. But I would still ask you this question: is this the best use of your time?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to copywriting – and nor should there be. But each option comes with different costs on your time and your purse. Hopefully, by now you have an understanding of the different options available and which is the best solution for your needs.

Neal Brown
 

Neal is a freelance copywriter and consultant helping small business owners find their voice and be heard in a noisy marketplace.

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