For Real, What Should You Pay a Professional Writer?

When I shop online for shoes, clothes, electronics … even hotels or housewares … I select the filters that allow me to look at the most expensive items first. I typically want to know what the best in the category looks like. Once I do that, I may attempt to do a little comparative shopping and bargain hunting. I’ll at least do enough due diligence to ensure I’m not getting swindled. But my go-to is to invest in the best.

Of course, this is not to say I don’t like a deal or that I will pay a higher price when the value is not there. If I can find a boutique hotel, a fabulous wine, or a comfy pair of sweats with a bargain price tag, I’m all about it.

I generally proceed the same way for services – be they for the yard, the home, my personal finances and activities, or my business. Quality first.

When I hire someone, I want to be confident that they will deliver what’s expected when it’s expected, maybe even provide a little extra-something I didn’t know I needed. I don’t want to have to look over their shoulders, call them back, or bring in someone else for fixes or complete redo’s. I want to smile and dance and be able to brag to my friends when the job is done to perfection. The first time.

This is why I struggle with the concept of making hiring decisions based on hourly rates. I get you have to start somewhere. There has to be a way to compare and contrast, justify decisions, and manage budgets. But an hour for one writer might be considerably more productive for another. Also, some writers may invest more time in research, fact-checking, editing, and proofing – or simply be a lot more talented. Isn’t it usually preferable to spend an extra few bucks for a superior product that won’t come back to bite you in the behind? Paying someone by the word disincentivizes the writer to write crisply. They’ll settle for a first or second draft and skip the crucifying edits. Most business communication requires tight, clear writing, not meandering prose. Less is more. (Just look at the slew of Mark Twain and David Ogilvy quotes on this topic.)

Having worked for decades in the agency business, I am accustomed to monitoring my hours and managing budgets. I know what things cost – more, what they should cost. I also know the difference between an overused word and the just-right word. I appreciate the difference between a tired expression and a fresh arrangement of ideas. I value work that is research-informed, riveting, and purposeful. I think the right cadence can be cathartic for the reader. It’s necessary that writing resonate with its intended audience, that it accomplishes its objective. I loathe typos, syntax and grammatical errors, and careless repetition.

I’m not saying you have to pay a lot more for this level of writing. But I am saying it should matter. Before thinking about price, find a writer whose work you admire. Someone you think you’ll enjoy working with. Who is right for the job. Who you trust.

Then have a conversation. Share your ambitions and your desired budget range. Be open to some feedback. Then decide on a final scope – as detailed as possible, with a contingency for large or long projects – along with a not-to-exceed budget. In doing this, you free the writer to fall in love with your project, to do his or her very best work, without watching the clock. Often, they’ll happily give you considerably more of their time. It’s worth it. One better word can make a calculable difference. Which reminds me, give your writer as much time as you can. If you want to see an early draft, fine. But allow germinating time. It’s magical.

By the way, I’m thrilled when I can come in under budget – and I often do. If something moves more quickly or more easily than I expect, I delight in telling my client so. It should be more about the work and relationships, versus an extra $25 an hour or 5 cents a word.

Just to keep it real, I’ll offer this observation. Since leaving the agency world and starting my own small content creation firm, I’ve seen a lot of pricing models for corporate writers. While I wish it were higher, my experience has been that the hourly fee range for corporate writing is $65 to $125 an hour in the Midwest. By the word, maybe 40 cents to $1. Nonprofits sometimes can get prices lower than that. I wouldn’t recommend paying less. In fact, I’d recommend paying on the high end of the scale. For writing, as anything else, you generally do get what you pay for.

Keep in mind, the price will vary depending on things like subject matter (level of difficulty), length of piece, required research/interviews, style guidelines, art and project management add-ons, and approval processes.

Per hour and per word prices go up for technical writing and significantly down for authoring a book, for example. Fortunately, it does seem more and more agencies, corporations and nonprofits are working collaboratively with their trusted writers to develop win-win compensation agreements.

Comments are closed.