How do you charge for copywriting? What price your content? How do you price in experience? Is per word a good model? Let’s look at some options.

- Hisham Wyne

So I’m hastily penning a few thoughts down on this because I’ve received variations on this question for a few years now. Here’s a quick look at some models that work, and some that clearly don't.

Charging per word: Great for writing features, press releases and articles- but that’s about it. Keep in mind that charging per word only works if you’re writing reams of them.

Remember that per word sometimes opens you up to less than ideal rates. Most publishing houses in the UAE have been stuck at an anachronistic AED 1/word since around 1992. Still not bad, you might say. Perhaps. And the work is often quite interesting.

But remember that your word rate needs to cover legwork – because legwork is everything to half-decent writing. And if a dirham a word work were your only source of income, you’d have to press around 15,000 serviceable words into play every single month to continue paying rent with a bit left aside. And that’s not really doable without burning out, or resorting to filing utter dross.

Charging per page: Apparently, against all common sense, this is a THING. Every now and again, I’ll get a lovely nuisance call from someone asking me to beat a rate of AED 200/page. Now, there are a few things that are automatically wrong with this:

What is a PAGE? The modern miracle of scalable fonts and MS Word’s snakelike margins means I can fit just about two sentences, or around 12 words, onto a page if I really wanted to.

Look, it’s a wrong metric. A page means nothing. Rather like the Millennium Falcon doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs…

The great thing about requests such as these is that nuisance clients are self-signalling. They’re great at identifying themselves, which is good for us. If this is how business communication is starting out, it’s unlikely to get much better. My recommendation: run. Far and fast.

You’re asking for junk: Dear deluded client, I don’t quite know what your business model is, but I can hazard a guess. Someone asking for a per page rate is interested in serious bulk, at massively low quality. Which means there’ll always be someone cheaper out there. If not in the UAE, then in China, the Philippines, or India. Most of the SEO-type click bait I run into is composed of words that, try as they might, never manage to assemble themselves into any collective sense of purpose.

Trust me, you don’t want to be part of that market. Well, not if you value your sanity.

It just doesn’t work: Most of the work a tech/business writer puts in is before a single word is penned or typed. There are interviews, transcriptions, a distillation of key messages, and more meetings still.

If the meter by your desk is only rising by the syllable, you’re out of pocket for thousands before you’re even ready to write. And that is BAD.

Charging per day: Now we’re talking! Establish a day rate. It covers interviews, transcriptions, meetings, and walking around the client’s office premises with a magnifying glass. But be reasonable: a day means around 6 hours of solid work. There’s no reason a full billed “day” can’t stretch over several actual days.

Charging per hour: Now, this is just a segmentation of charging per day. Say your day rate is AED 2,000. Divide that into 6-8 workable hours. I tend not to put forward hourly rates, because it all seems rather nitpicky, with the accounting becoming complicated. Yes, it works for lawyers. But we don’t have those automated systems.

Charging per project: Yes! Clients want this. Clients love this. Regardless of whether they’re end clients, or agencies acting as intermediaries, a per project charge is great. It offers them – and you – financial certainty. You’ve locked them down. At the same time, you’ve absorbed both risks and rewards. There’s very little going back, even if project creep becomes a thing.

But! There’s no way of effectively charging per project without using one of the metrics above (word, day, hour) to estimate effort put in and/or words crafted. At the end of the day, charging per project means estimating the work you need to put in.

The bottom line – charging per word works for long copy. Charging per day/hour/lump sum per project is a better way to go when the legwork is long but the actual copy very succinct - which is usually the case for corporate content. Your thoughts, folks?