Open Letter to Copywriters and the People Who Want to Hire Them

Over the past few months, Joanna and I have observed a noticeable jump in the number of emails we get from copywriters (both in-house and freelance) and from people who need to hire/contract the services of a skilled copywriter.

And we’ve been noodling on the reason for the jump.

The most plausible reason – IMHO – is that the Copy Hackers website is earning a bit of a reputation as a hangout for solid copywriting talent. Our data supports that hypotheses, too; visits to this page have doubled in the past 4 months.

With this shift, we’ve started asking ourselves and our readers a bunch of questions. What are you hoping to learn from us? How can we help you? The answers to those questions have revealed that – to our surprise – copywriters don’t know what to charge clients, and clients don’t know what to pay for copywriters. Plus, what’s the difference between a copywriter and a content creator? Should businesses hire both? Should writers be skilled in both? The list goes on. The lines get blurry. And the picture gets muddied.

So we’d love your help in painting a detailed picture.

Introducing the first annual Copy Hackers Salary Survey.

Based on our research, there are plenty of surveys about developers, designers, and even freelancing. But the Google results are pretty thin when it comes to surveys about copywriters/copywriting.

So we’re creating one.

We’re planning to launch the survey within 2 weeks, and our goal is 1,000 respondents from all around the globe. When we launch, we would love and appreciate your participation- especially if you:

  • Are a freelance copywriter
  • Are an in-house copywriter
  • Are a hiring manager or someone who’s hired a copywriter (freelance and/or in-house) before

What’s in it for you? Glad you asked. Besides some cool giveaways, we’ll share a ton of survey insights right here on the blog – stuff you’ll definitely want to know before you send out any proposals in 2015…

… and before you seek out a new copywriter…

… and before you apply for your next in-house copywriting gig.

The survey is nearing completion, but before we lock everything down (there’s no changing a survey once it’s launched!), we’d love to hear from you. We’re wondering: what are your burning questions about this fascinating – and quickly growing – discipline that is copywriting? Here are some of the questions we’re venturing to answer:

ABOUT COMPENSATION

  • What are the min, max, and median annual salaries for in-house copywriters in the US (by state) and other countries?
  • How much are freelancers earning per hour? Per project?
  • What sorts of compensation increases are copywriters seeing year over year?

ABOUT COPYWRITING GIGS

  • What are hiring managers looking for in a copywriter?
  • As a hiring manager, how can you make your position more attractive to copywriters?
  • What are the most attractive aspects of a new project/client?
  • What are perceived by organizations as the most valuable types of copywriting?

ABOUT FINDING A PERFECT MATCH

  • How do freelancers find new clients?
  • How do hiring managers find copywriters?
  • Why do in-house copywriters choose not to freelance? (And vice versa.)
  • What are freelancers’ biggest worries?

Which questions resonate with you?

Which are we missing?

What are you dying to know about compensation for copywriters?

As a copywriter, what would you love to know about other copywriters (and the people who hire them)?

As a hiring manager, what would you like to understand about your peers and the copywriters they seek to attract?

Please share your questions below. We’ll add the most interesting and more frequently mentioned ones to the survey. If you wanna see how the world is hiring – or not hiring – copywriters, add your question to the comments here.

~lance

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  • great

  • Survey information is perfect. copywriter or content writing is not an easy job. From 6 months onwards I started writing contents for blogs. Please give me some tips to improve in content writing. I am not perfect in writing, but not bad. I have to know more about words knowledge.

  • Wendy

    Let me start off by saying I am a copywriter/content writer wannabe..and I am in the early research stages of learning, and a transition hopeful. That said, I have worked as a professional (cpa) in public and private worlds, and have been involved in supervisory,management, customer service and compliance roles over the years. I have worked with, for, and presented to, all different kinds of professionals in many different fields. The reason I bring this up is because I think there is a need for writers to really see themselves as professionals, professionals providing a service that may present as different projects or “deliverables,”, and they should charge like other professionals, per project or hourly rate. For instance, professionals like CPAs and attorneys often charge based on an hourly rate (maybe with a minimum number of hours, and that rate may vary depending on the work i.e. research or writing or planning). Discussions, interviews, analysis, drafts, reports, etc. are commonplace in the world of professionals, and are priced for the deliverable, with modifications as appropriate. But there should be an assumption that you (the writer) are providing a professional service for which you are charging your professional rates. It is up to you to live up to that standard, but there is no reason that is not your foundation. Just some thoughts. Thanks for your time.

  • Sabita

    I would be interested to know how copywriters are packaging their services. There’s an element of writing a copy, helping potential clients understand their customers/clients ( the marketing element), and then there’s the design element ( the graphics). Alongside website development comes into picture. I started off with creating flyers & brochures, and as I am targeting B2B so clients approach me for an entire package. It’d be great to learn how to consider all aspects when approaching clients or when they approach me as a copywriter. Do copywriters take a step-by-step approach for doing so, or do they offer all services as a team ( like an online business)? At what point in providing their services copywriters can gracefully and proudly call themselves Conversion Rate Optimization Consultants?

  • Connected with copywriters, listed on your site. There is lot to learn from them.

    Thanks.

  • Sean Bestor

    Lance, LOVE seeing you use Typeface for the survey! I used the same thing for a post I just did over at LeadPages. I’ll be interested to see the split of copywriters in a company vs freelance copywriters. The shift is fascinating.

  • Josh Wilkinson

    I would love to see a Pareto chart comparing the amount copywriters charge to the amount of time they have been working in the industry.

  • Tania Lyerly

    I’m so glad all of this information will finally will exist and be consolidated in one place. Personally, I’m looking forward to the day I can get the identity crisis of “copywriter” resolved.

    This kind of relates to Andrea’s 2nd question below. Has anyone used/tried hour packages (for lack of a better term) as a form of compensation? What I mean by this is a client can buy a package of hours up front, say 5 hours, which can be used for anything. Time can go towards content strategy, micro projects, helping out on a larger project, whatever. The idea is a discount off of the hourly rate, but not to the extent of a retainer (micro retainer?).

    I’ve thought about trying to use this for those clients who need help on “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” but may not always have a firm set of deliverables. Curious if anyone has tried anything like this and with what success.

    I personally find content planning hard to figure out how to bill when I don’t end up doing any content writing. What are the hardest things to bill for as writer, and how do people structure it?

    Regarding compensation and gigs, does there tend to be be a preference for projects vs retainer agreements vs independent contractor agreements, for what length of time, and are there any time related cutoff points that seem to naturally occur?

    I’m in Austin, TX, which has a pretty big start-up/small business scene that is often tech oriented. I want to try to capitalize on the incubator environment. So information related to later stage start-ups and small businesses would be awesome, especially overlapping with the tech and real estate industries.

  • Lisa Sherman

    I’m so pleased you’re doing this survey! I really can’t tell you how excited I am for the results. Personally, I I’d like to know whether more in-house copywriters work for agencies or individual companies. I’d also be interested in learning how different companies define their roles. For example, my title is copywriter but I’m more of a content manager + curator + editor + copywriter. I’d like to hear from hiring managers about what traits/skills they look for on a resume/in an interview. What do hiring managers think when they see “copywriter” versus “content manager” or some other title? Does one title make more money than another? Are people who possess skills beyond copywriting being shoved into that role for lower pay but expected to do more? How much of the process are in-house “writers” involved in in other companies? Do they simply write assignments or are they involved in the actual brainstorming/strategy/conceptualization process? This should be fascinating!

  • Andrea

    The toughest for me is how to charge for redoing an entire website content-wise. Some of the existing content will stay, some will be revised and some will be added but it is virtually impossible to know how much before diving into the job. Only one client has been willing to do it on an hourly basis, most want to control the purse strings, of course.
    My second question is how to determine the amount of a monthly retainer if the client does not have a specific project in mind and instead, assigns me random tasks.
    Thanks!

  • Peter

    Is copywriting too generic a term?

    It covers everything from adwords to annual reports. Beyond a simple way with words, the different ‘disciplines’ require different skills.

    There’s also a big difference between working with a huge, hulking business and a sprightly start up.

    And, as others have said, there’s a distinction between ‘downstream’ (e.g. responding to a very tight brief) and ‘upstream’ (i.e. thinking through and helping to frame the brief in the first place) assignments.

    Don’t get me wrong. I obsess over these questions (‘Could I get away with charging more?’ ‘Did I lose that gig because I am too expensive? Or was it because I am too obnoxious?’). So I’m eager to see the results. But intrigued to know what you’ll be doing to be sure you’re comparing apples with apples.

  • Wow, I’m so pleased to have been sent this post. I’m sure your survey results will be incredibly useful. As a copywriter/content writer of 7 years (I too struggle with which term is most appropriate), I’m ready to expand my business and ramp up my income. Unfortunately, I’ve only recently learnt that ‘cost per word’ is considered a huge no-no in the copywriting world so I’m looking forward to moving away from this. I now realise that I’m worth a lot more!

    As far as your questions go, they look solid. Although I also like the topic suggested by Sara Frandina with regards to understanding how to differentiate which jobs should be charged hourly or per project.

    A pleasure to be introduced to your website!

    • Welcome Saskia! Please stay far away from cost per word. Your value comes from what you are able to help sell, not how many words you use (or don’t use) to get there.

  • Here’s one I’d like to throw in the hat… I have a guilty pleasure. I love sales letters. Old-school, long copy, highlightery, bold red lettery, Ewen Chia-ey (whuh) sales letters are the funnest thing in the world to write, they convert like mad, they’re fun to read (and, thus, people pay a lot for them). But it seems like only info marketers are into them. Would a more “sophisticated” tech startup (this site’s audience) be interested in using them? Just wondering if it’s something worth presenting to tech entrepreneurs. Any examples of them working here?

    • Quick note about my comment – I know there’s some long form copy out there in the tech startup space (as a matter of fact, Joanna’s written some of the best). And I know it depends on the stage of market awareness. I just find that the copy has to be toned waaay back for most tech entrepreneurs to stomach. I’m talking story-based, highly emotional sales letters. Think they’re open to it? Any examples? Case studies? Thanks!

      • We’d love to hear what others are seeing there. To me, it seems traditional sales letters (even though they may be online) are still primarily reserved for high ticket items (hello, time shares) and miracle cures… products where there are big promises made… and skepticism is high — which is quite different than simple ‘awareness’. My question is… how much perceived risk is there on a $49/month SaaS product that offers a satisfaction guarantee? What level of convincing is required?

        For enterprise-level SaaS tools, entrepreneurs have to deal with procurement departments, which as far as I can recall, don’t put much stock in a well-crafted sales letter.

        In case anyone thinks I’m down on sales letters, it’s actually quite the opposite. I see good ones as works of art… to be framed on a copywriter’s wall (along with a copy of the matching paycheck!).

  • Amanda Shaw

    I’d like to know if copywriters charge per project, per hour, or a mix depending on the client.

    • It’s a clearly developing theme here, Amanda! Many thanks!

    • Reminds me of this quote: “The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.”

  • I have to agree with others who’ve mentioned the blurred lines when it comes to the role of copywriter. As a freelancer who writes a lot of web copy + landing pages, I’m often looked to for layout and UI design, as well. Not my expertise, though I’m learning a whole lot. The dynamic between the web design/development company and copywriter seems to be a hot topic — what comes first, the copy or the design? When the conversation isn’t had, that’s when I feel the lines get blurred for the copywriter. (And responsibility is often tipped our way.)

    In the compensation bucket: while it’s nice to ask how much freelancers are charging — either per hour or by project — I’d definitely like to learn more about the distinction of when they use which method, and how a “by-project” quote is determined.

    Otherwise, I think your questions outlined above look great so far and can’t wait to see the survey when it comes out. Thanks for taking the time to collect information that will help us all!

    • Blurred lines indeed… which make it tough to create a survey, something that generally requires very clear lines to provide clarity (i.e., what we’re asking). I’ll definitely try to tackle the compensation questions around project billing versus hourly, Sara. Thank you!

    • Robert Sanders

      Sara,

      You have identified my pain.

      As a startup, entering a market shrouded in 70 years of prohibition, I find the lines very blurry when contemplating hiring someone to help with content.
      I bought the Copy Hackers bundle, the Copy Hackers course (Don’t want to become a copywriter, just know how to identify good copy when outsourcing this), subscribe to all the growth hacking market experts, Unbounce, Qualrooo, Neil Patel and on goes the list.

      I study every day to learn how all the elements (color, design, flow, typeface, whitespace, voice matched to customer need, message match, a/b testing, etc. etc.) need to work together.

      And here is where the dilemma is: WHERE DOES A LEAN STARTUP GO TO SO THAT THE ELEMENTS ALL WORK TOGETHER?

      I would pay for the value and simplicity in this respect, and as Joanna said in one of her emails: (Because you can have Both) She was referring to quality and quantity but let’s say the intent exists here also.

      Joanna has a part in her emails: You should Tell Me —- What Your #1 Challenge Is — when it comes to writing your copy or optimizing your site.
      Now Joanna understands how all the elements work together, it is evident in her communications. Yes, Joanna you are being idolized here.

      Point is there should be a way for copy/content experts to partner with the other elements and offer that as a service to startups. Seems that kind of diversification could exist without compromising your core competency.

      Thanks for listening!!

      • Robert –

        Completely understand — and you make a great point. It’s one reason that, as a copywriter, I’m not opposed to learning as much about layout + UI design as possible — so that I can act as that resource when necessary, without sacrificing my strengths as a writer. I think the main issue that needs to be overcome is that startups (like yourself) have to be able to ask the right questions (like you are). Otherwise, it’s left to the discretion of the person the work is being outsourced to as to whether or not they’ll make you aware of the fact that everything needs to work together, and how it best can. Some will; some will not. My allegiance is split between both the copywriter AND the startup, as these are the relationships I seek to cultivate, hence my best efforts to offer guidance in branding, layout, and design.

        I have to say, I’m quite impressed at your efforts to understand good copy when you see it. I’d say you’re already many steps ahead of most business owners 🙂

  • Super idea, guys! Thanks for doing this. Now that I’ve tumbled down this CRO rabbit hole (or is it black hole?), I feel like I’m not just a copywriter. After doing Peep’s and Joanna’s courses and working with them on projects, it’s become painfully apparent that you have to be proficient at so much more than copywriting. While the development, design, and GA pieces are out of my wheelhouse, I still need to know how all the moving parts work and coordinate with others if I ever expect to take on larger projects. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m starting to charge for some of these other elements – like heuristic analyses, mockups, etc. – that don’t necessarily seem part of copywriting. It’s all good but we just need to continue to put an emphasis on the education piece so people understand.

    Not sure if this is helpful but it’s where some of the challenges come in for me.

    • It’s great context, thanks Jen. Good to understand how the traditional “responsibilities” of copywriters are shifting/expanding as business owners get smarter about how to grow.

  • Hi Lance:

    I’m a B2B content marketing writer, so I’m offering questions from my perspective.

    Many of us use different rate structures based on what clients need and want. So I’d ask:

    Which rate structure do you use (check all that are relevant):
    Hourly Project Standard Fixed Fees Retainer Other

    Are you B2B? B2C? Both? Check percentages of both.

    Which industries do you work in. Check all that apply.

    Which regions do you serve? U.S. Europe. Asia Middle East Other?

    What are the channels you use to find new clients? Face-to-face networking. Referral. LinkedIn. Twitter. Google+. Marketing campaigns. Conferences. Website. Portfolio sites. Specialty marketplaces (which one). Etc.

    When clients find you, which channels do they use?

    What are the top five questions new clients ask you?

    What are the key factors needed to close a deal? Industry experience. Relevant clips. Competitive budget. Etc.

    Rank order your clients by volume of business: global enterprise, regional/mid-sized enterprise, agencies, strategic consultants, start-ups, etc.

    How do you counterposition against lower-cost competitors?

    How do you structure a pilot project to showcase skills and move rapidly to the next phase?

    What are the top five factors that make a client highly desirable? Match capabilities. Repeat business. Pay rate. Fast payment. Etc.

    • Okay — those are amazing suggestions, Holly! Thank you for including a bunch of response suggestions, as I find those are the most challenging to craft (versus coming up with just the question). I hope you’ll participate in the survey!

      • Thanks, Lance. I’m very interested in the topic and would be more than willing to review the survey, if you so desire. And of course I’ll definitely participate!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Wow – nice work, Holly.

  • Amber

    I’m not sure how you might address this, but one thing I’ve always wondered is the career trajectory for a copywriter – freelance or otherwise. I began as a “marketing copywriter intern,” at an Internet marketing agency, then was hired full-time as a “copywriter,” but now my position is so much more than copywriting and content creation; it includes content strategy, planning, writing, SEO, and implementation. Content manager? Where have others, who started as a “copy/writer,” continued their career? Which jobs did they pursue after their first “copwriting” or “writing” position?

    Thanks Lance!

    • I like where you’re going with that line of thinking Amber. Let me see what I can do to incorporate it!

    • Alison

      I’d love to learn the answer to that question, Amber. My career trajectory has been very similar to yours. I started doing by doing a few freelance projects for an Internet marketing agency and then they hired me full-time as a copywriter. Now, my position includes more than just copywriting. I do audience research and analysis, content strategy, writing, editing, and I manage a team of freelance writers. What are common job titles for people who do that type of work?

      Also, since I am now responsible for managing freelance writers, I’d love to know what others’ processes are for finding and vetting quality writers who are a good fit for your particular project. Do you rely heavily on references and recommendations? Writing samples? Trial writing assignments?

      Lance and Joanna, thanks for putting together this survey. I’m excited to participate and see the results!

  • Thank you so much for your feedback, Tracey! I’m very curious… what was the #1 reason you made the move?

  • Dustin

    Hi Lance — this is a great idea. I’d like to know how many companies keep freelance copywriters on retainers and how the fees are structured. Thanks!

    • Terrific suggestion, thanks Dustin! There are a lot of great ideas here in the comments already… appreciate the feedback.

  • Amy Butcher

    I’m very interested in info about per hour rates, although right now as a freelancer, I’m moving my business more into a per project fee that is anchored against a client’s ROI. I’d like to know about other services clients are looking for in copywriters. I also offer consulting services in content strategy in addition to copywriting (in the non-profit and public sector), so it would be nice to have some survey data as to what kind of value clients place on that. (And I’m also in Canada!)

    • Yay, another Canadian! I’ve got project-based fees covered (great minds, right?) but I will definitely incorporate content strategy into my revisions — thank you!

  • This is awesome, thanks for doing this. I’m interested to see the results and am happy to participate. Thanks Lance!

    • Much appreciated, Liston! We’re looking forward to sharing what we learn.

  • For freelancers, it could be an important distinction of if they’re hired by the client directly or through an agency. From my experience, pay for the freelancer would often be higher in the former.

    • Great point, Jeffrey. I’ll be sure to include that nuance in the questions/responses. Thanks for chiming in!

  • Guest

    Hey Lance, Please more about the difference between a copywriter and a content creator and Canadian #’s please! Also cost per word. Thanks!

    • Agreed, Leanne! It’s an important distinction (between copywriters and content creators) and one we want to tease apart with the survey results.

      We’ll be able to filter all responses by country… so we’ll need plenty of Canadian copywriters to chime in!

      And did you know that “cost per word” is blasphemy on this blog? 😉

    • Just to throw in my two cents: In terms of cost, it might be better to look at this in terms of the project (per blog post, white paper, case study, web copy, etc.) rather than try to differentiate between copywriter and content creator. Titles like this aren’t always so clearly defined, and I see a lot of them used interchangeably.

      • Completely agree — we’ll be sure there is no ambiguity about industry terms used in the survey.

  • Holly

    Maybe there is an opportunity to expand on compensation differences for B2B vs B2C writers, or topical expertise?

    • Absolutely, Holly. Topical expertise is covered, but I hadn’t thought to dig into B2C versus B2B. Thanks for your suggestion!