Why Paying Copywriters Peanuts Isn’t Worth It

The path of a writer is rarely paved with gold, but some of the rates being offered today are nothing short of insulting

Writer and blank notepad

How much do you think a high-quality copywriter should be paid for an 800-word blog post? £100, perhaps? Maybe £200?

How about £6?

As ridiculous as that figure seems, it’s actually what I recently saw being offered in a job advert calling for freelance copywriters. And no, it’s not an hourly rate – it was £6 for 800 words and £9 for 1,200.

The advertiser, a digital marketing agency (I won’t name and shame), was looking for customer-focused, SEO-friendly content, but it clearly had no intention of paying a fair price for it. Once I’d finished laughing heartily at this pitiful level of remuneration, I started thinking about how this stacked up against recommended rates for copywriters, and this agency’s chances of actually finding any decent content.

What Kind Of Rate Is Fair?

Exactly how much a copywriter should be paid isn’t set in stone. It’s largely dependent on factors like location, experience and subject area. For example, a London-based medical writer with decades of experience is likely to be paid significantly more than a recent graduate working for a small marketing agency in the north east. Nevertheless, the average day rate, according to ProCopywriters, is £339.

That seems a little high to me, amounting to £6,780 every four weeks. The freelance ad in question was placed by an agency in the south east, outside of London, so instead I’ll use a typical annual wage for this area and occupation as the basis of my comparison.

With an annual wage of £25,000, the hourly rate is somewhere around £12. For an eight-hour day, that’s £96. Not exactly big money, but common in this particular part of the country.

How The Awful Ad Compares

Now, based on the rate offered by our tight-fisted advertiser, how much would you need to write to make it up to £96? (Full disclosure: maths was never a strong point for me, but hopefully my calculations are correct).

Well, if you wrote only 800-word blog posts all day, you’d need to write 16 of them to reach our magic number. That’s one every half hour, equating to 12,800 words.

How about the longer blog posts? Well, in that case, you’d have to churn out 10.66666666666667. That’s a little over one an hour, and again 12,800 words (12,800.000000000004, to be exact, but what’s 0.000000000004 of a word between friends?).

And, of course, this assumes you wouldn’t have a break all day. Once you account for a half-hour or hour-long break, this level of production seems even more implausible. The fact is that once you account for research time, drafting, proofreading and so on, it would be practically impossible to write enough blog posts to make a reasonable living.

Low-Quality Content

Of course, there are a couple of ways to reach these kind of numbers: by churning out garbage or plagiarising content from the internet. I’m not suggesting any writers should plagiarise content, but as an editor, I’ve had to deal with freelancers who were fully prepared to take this route to turn a quick profit. Those are the kind of people this job advertisement could attract.

That said, young, inexperienced wannabes might also be drawn in by the chance to get their work published. Maybe that’s a fair deal. It certainly works for the Huffington Post. But, as I’ve seen on many occasions, most of these newbies will submit content that simply doesn’t make the grade. The ones that are good enough, meanwhile, deserve to be paid properly, rather than cheapening themselves and their profession by accepting less than they’re worth.

Nevertheless, assuming this job ad does manage to attract some decent writers, how much content could they likely produce in an eight-hour day, and how much cash would it earn them?

Let’s start by assuming our new writer works the full eight hours, without a lunch break. Now let’s say they research an 800-word blog post for half an hour (an extremely conservative estimate, and it would likely take much longer for a new client). If they possess reasonable typing skills, they could probably knock out something of acceptable quality in another half hour. So that’s one hour in total for an 800-word blog post. That, of course, is eight blog posts in a day, which, at the abysmal rate of £6 per post, works out at £48 in total. £48 for a full day’s work. £6 per hour.

As you may know, the current minimum wage for over-25s in the UK is £7.50. In fact, only people younger than 20 could legally earn less than £6, ruling out the possibility of anyone with any experience being suitable for this role.

Race To The Bottom

Needless to say, I didn’t respond to this advert. I know I’m worth more than this, and I know I could never make a reasonable living in this way. Furthermore, the fact that this company is only prepared to pay such meagre rates tells me that the people in charge of these decisions don’t value good content. Their only concern is to save money, even if it’s to the detriment of their company image. This is probably the kind of organisation that fires its more experienced staff and then replaces them with interns, who – surprise, surprise – can’t do the jobs they’ve been hired for.

This company, and to companies like it, I say stop and think. Think about how poor-quality copywriting reflects on your brand. Think about how customers will react upon seeing your badly written marketing content. And think about how much difference good content could make to your bottom line.

Like anything, it’s an investment. Put the money in at the beginning, and you’ll reap the rewards later. Don’t and your business will suffer.

And copywriters – don’t accept less than you’re worth.

Looking for professionally written copy for your website or marketing collateral? Contact me today.