Grow Your Business

Confessions of a 6-figure copywriter: Here’s how to hire me

Your hunch was right.

There’s too much to write, and not enough people to write it.

How did I know you thought that? Because just about every business owner I know feels that way. And the numbers back it up. In 2017, businesses spent an estimated $205 billion on internet ads and wrote more than 2 million blog posts per day and 2.4 million emails every second.

That’s a lot of words that need to be written by someone.

For a one-person business, there’s emails, blog posts, website pages, social media posts (have you lost count of the channels yet?), presentations, video scripts, webinars, sales pages, opt-in forms … the list goes on and on.

And all this demand for copy has created a bigger problem if you’re looking to hire a writer.

You see, the copywriting industry has no central certifying body or universally recognized training path. So there’s a ton of opportunity, low barrier to entry, and no standardized pricing.

Combine that with the fact that many think they just naturally “get” how to write great copy, and all it takes for someone to “become a copywriter” is a $10 book and the word “copywriter” slapped on their website.

This all creates a confusing and costly landscape for you.

Because there are no standards, the range is extremely wide for both experience and pricing (and the two don’t necessarily correlate).

The current culture around copy encourages people to charge very high prices … while learning the craft and creating quality work is secondary. Which is heartbreaking to me because I’ve seen what great copy can do for a business.

I’ve worked with some of the best. People like GrowthLab CEO Ramit Sethi, Ryan Levesque, and Jeff Walker, who regularly have multimillion-dollar launches. I’ve worked on launches with 187 separate copy deliverables (yes, that’s a real number), written sales letters for direct-mail powerhouses like Agora, and even launched my own products.

And lately, I’ve been working with seven- and eight-figure businesses to build out their content and copy teams. Like you, these businesses, despite having great success hiring for other positions, are confused and frustrated about where to find and how to hire great copywriters. (And in many cases, they overpay for mediocre talent.)

So let’s dispel some myths and misconceptions about copywriters. I’ll also reveal the results of a pricing survey so you know exactly what to pay, and then we’ll break down how to hire a copywriter without overpaying or setting yourself up for frustration.

Step 1: Figure out if you even need a copywriter

There are two types of people who come to me looking for a “copywriter” who don’t actually need a copywriter.

The first is the Mr. Desperate-For-Conversions. Often this is someone who has just launched their first product to crickets. They did all the “right” things — created a sales page, sent emails, ran a webinar — and instead of getting the $5 million launch they were expecting, they got two sales.

“It must be the copy!” they think. And they go out searching for “the very best” direct-response copywriter to rewrite their sales page.

Here’s a secret: copy can’t save a bad product or bad marketing. If you don’t have a good list or a marketing strategy, I could channel all the Eugene Schwartz and David Ogilvy I can muster and you won’t get any more sales.

And if your offer is no good (you’re selling something people don’t want, you don’t understand your numbers, and/or you haven’t done any market research), copy won’t fix that either.

This situation sets up both the copywriter and the business owner for a lot of frustration. A good copywriter will ask some key questions before you even start working together.

At a minimum, during your first call or two, the copywriter will want to know about your current copy and what you like/dislike about it; info about your business like voice, market, strengths, and programs; testimonials from current/former students; your goals for the project (why are you writing the copy, to whom, and with what result).

They’ll also ask what your marketing and traffic strategy is, who you’re targeting, and all the details about the offer. I have 50+ questions I need answered before any project starts.

Many copy and conversion problems are actually product development problems in disguise. So before you look for a copywriter, evaluate your offer. (HINT: A tell-tale sign of a bad offer is buyer’s remorse. Do you have high refund rates? Are you inundated with customer service tickets AFTER the sale?) You can also glean a lot of insight from both buyer and non-buyer surveys — there are two great scripts here.

So on the first call with a potential copywriter, ask yourself:

  • Does the copywriter ask a lot of questions during the prospecting process? At a minimum, a good copywriter will want to know about your current copy and what you like/dislike about it; info about your business, voice, market, strengths, and programs; testimonials from current/former students; your goals for the project (why are you writing the copy, to whom, and with what result).
  • Have they given you new insight about your promotion or product?
  • Do they seem excited about the project? (If you feel like you’re “just another client” in the beginning, you can expect communication problems down the road.)

The second type of person who comes looking for a copywriter is Mr. This-Just-Needs-To-Get-Published.

Most of the time, this person isn’t actually looking for a copywriter at all. What they really need is a content writer. They have a high volume of needs (daily emails, guest posts, blogs, etc.) of what’s called “top of the funnel” writing.

Here’s the difference:

Direct response copywriters combine sales psychology, human behavior, and writing to make people take action. They write things like sales pages, landing pages, and ads. This writing has to convert.

A content writer is someone who writes things like blog posts, articles, and YouTube descriptions. This writing summarizes, engages, introduces, and educates. Often, these are the bulk of the business needs.

If you need a content writer and approach direct response copywriters, you’ll be overwhelmed by the prices you’re quoted.

Step 2: Know where to look for a copywriter

As I mentioned above, just about anyone can put “copywriter” on their website. And they can do the same for their profile on Upwork, LinkedIn, Fiverr, Facebook, or wherever else they advertise their services.

You can find low-cost copywriters (or more often, content writers) in all of those places. But to shortcut the costly trial-and-error, try these options instead.

OPTION 1: Find copy you like and reach out to find the writer

Most of your favorite online businesses have a team of copywriters who help produce the incredible copy you see. And while some of the time they are full-time employees and don’t have the bandwidth to take on new projects, they are often freelancers.

For example, Ramit didn’t create this $5-million week on his own. The volume of copy was staggering! (I know, because I happened to be on that team.) One person would never be able to write all that himself.

You can often reach out and find out who your colleagues and mentors work with, and get connected. People are generally happy to connect great people with each other.

Screen Shot 2017 12 21 at 10.12.47 AM

OPTION 2: Play the Kevin Bacon game

Here’s where you’ll run into a sticking point on option 1 — if a copywriter is already working on high-level teams, they often have more work than they can handle. That’s the bad news.

The good news is Kevin Bacon.

Have you heard of that game, “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? The theory goes that every person in Hollywood can be connected to Kevin Bacon by six people or less. (Fun fact: I’m only two degrees away, as a good friend of mine trained dogs on set with Kevin once!)

The point is, in every industry, people are connected.

Great copywriters know great copywriters. The referral Ramit sent me above? It didn’t end up being the right fit for me at the time. But, I connected Shane to a colleague of mine and they walked off hand-in-hand into the sunset.

If someone tells you they can’t take you on as a client, the next email from you should be:

“Awww, too bad! Do you know anyone who might be a fit?”

OPTION 3: My “Ace in the Hole”

There are a lot of places where wanna-be copywriters hang out. But, only one place I know that’s filled with pro-level copywriters.

The difference between this forum and others is that it’s a paid site. This keeps out the “copywriting!? I don’t know what it is, but I bet I can do it” crowd. Both business owners and copywriters have to pay a fee to join, but it is well worth it for both sides of the table.

There’s a built-in job board, an opportunity to have any piece of copy critiqued, and even a vetted group of recommended copywriters.

It’s run by a mentor of mine, Kevin Rogers, and is found at copychief.com.

I’ve hired copywriters from Copy Chief and also found clients and partners there. Kevin opens it up to new members about once a month.

Here are a few questions to ask after you’ve connected with a potential copywriter:

  • Can you view copy samples or get in touch with their former clients?
  • Do they have proven experience in your niche or similar niches?
  • During conversations, did they come prepared, having reviewed your material? (At minimum, they should do an “audit” of your website and have a good understanding of what you do.)

Step 3: Know what to pay your copywriter

Definitions to know for this section:

  • Royalty: A percentage of sales paid to a copywriter when the promotion goes live (typically paid after the refund period is over).
  • Retainer: A monthly, quarterly, or yearly agreement to provide a certain amount of service (measured either hourly or by amount of product produced) on a regular basis.

Recently, I set out to answer the “how much?” question definitively. There are a lot of copy pricing guides out there. And after reviewing a half-a-dozen of them, I discovered they were arbitrary at best and misleading at worst.

Either they were based solely on the author’s experience, or they surveyed our aforementioned “buy a book and slap on a title” copywriters. I don’t know about you, but I’m not really interested in what someone charges who hasn’t even figured out that it’s spelled “copywriter” and not “copyrighter.”

(Some “copyrighters” for hire on Upwork)

So, I surveyed 68 of my colleagues — copywriters who I knew had actual, paying clients online. And I asked them what they charged for 14 different types of common projects.

The range was insane.

Let’s take online sales pages for example. The range started at $50 and went up to $17,000 + royalties.

That’s not helpful for anyone, so I dug in to answer, what’s reasonable? First I took out “side hustlers” — those who said copywriting was not their main source of income (13%). Then, I took out all data for copywriters working less than two years, since many were still working out their prices and the ranges were least consistent during that time frame. The results then made a little bit more sense.

GL Experience 1

As you would imagine, the average prices go up each year across most services.

It was also interesting to note that only copywriters working less than two years listed “per word” or “per hour” responses to project estimates.

A few other notes on this survey:

Remember this is for freelance copywriters (not content writers) on a per-project basis.

Freelancers typically have higher rates because they don’t receive employee benefits, they pay for their own equipment and office space, and have to budget in the time it takes them to acquire clients into their annual salary.

Hourly rates will be much lower for in-house copywriters or long-term retainer relationships. If you have a lot of copy or content needs, you’ll save a lot of money over the long term hiring a full-time employee or even a copywriter on retainer.

When negotiating price with a copywriter, ask yourself the following:

  • Do they offer you a range of prices and/or packages?
  • Do their prices seem to match their experience level? (Quoting too low can be as much of a red flag as too high.)
  • Are they listening to your suggestions and goals or set on proceeding in a certain way? (A copywriter should be like a partner — combining their expertise with yours.)
  • Do they respond in a timely fashion to comments, questions, and suggestions? (If they are slow to respond before you’ve said yes, can you imagine how communication is going to be once they have your money??)

To sum it up: A 10-point checklist for hiring a copywriter

Whatever your needs are and wherever you find your copywriter, there are some things that signal red flags across the industry. They’re pretty easy to identify when you know what to look for.

Here are 10 questions you should ask yourself when hiring a copywriter:

On the first call:

  • Does the copywriter ask a lot of questions during the prospecting process? At a minimum, a good copywriter will want to know about your current copy and what you like/dislike about it; info about your business, voice, market, strengths, and programs; testimonials from current/former students; your goals for the project (why are you writing the copy, to whom, and with what result).
  • During your first call or two, have they given you new insight about your promotion or product?
  • Do they seem excited about the project? (If you feel like you’re “just another client” in the beginning, you can expect communication problems down the road.)

During the hiring process:

  • Can you view copy samples or get in touch with their former clients?
  • Do they have proven experience in your niche or similar niches?
  • During conversations, did they come prepared, having reviewed your material? (At minimum, they should do an “audit” of your website and have a good understanding of what you do.)

During negotiations:

  • Do they offer you a range of prices and/or packages?
  • Do their prices seem to match their experience level? (Quoting too low can be as much of a red flag as too high.)
  • Are they listening to your suggestions and goals or set on proceeding in a certain way? (A copywriter should be like a partner — combining their expertise with yours.)
  • Do they respond in a timely fashion to comments, questions, and suggestions? (If they are slow to respond before you’ve said yes, can you imagine how communication is going to be once they have your money??)

When copy works it can be one of the single biggest growth levers in your business. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it. And there are so many great copywriters out there looking for a partner like you to make magic with.

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There Are 30 Comments

 

Fantastic article, Abbey! You nailed all the reasons it can be so complicated and downright SCARY to engage a copyrighter… err copywriter.

I love how you broke it down and removed the friction of all those unknowns. You rock!

And thanks for the mention 🙂

Kevin

You rock Kev! So glad I heard your launch podcast interview all those years ago… best career move we ever made!

P.S. for anyone wondering, Copy Chief is 100% worth it!

I’m a member of CopyChief (YAY!) and I wrote a comment on a quiet thread which shared some awesome content (by an Agora-related copywriter, no less)…

“There’s so much awesome stuff going on at CopyChief, I guess this thread got lost…”

I am continually blown away by CopyChief, on many levels.

It’s more addicting than Facebook. Whenever I log in, I can easily spend hours consuming exceptionally high quality content. CopyChief is like eating a high quality nutritious diet (and, forgive the mixed metaphor) …nearly everything else pales by comparison.

CopyChief is in a class by itself.

Oh yeah … and Abbey, thank you for this highly informative and useful article.

Prescott Paulin

Great article. I love the deep research you did on rates. I assume you’re in ZTL? I went to your website to get in touch with KC and the about / contact page is blocked as members only content… There is no easy way to reach you guys, other than get on your list and hope you reach out. You might consider getting Intercom.com or ManyChat so potential clients can easily communicate with you. Otherwise it feels like a giant brick wall before the relationship begins.

Hey Prescott. Great feedback!

Most people connect with us through my blog at onlifeandwriting.com

You can reach KC directly at [email protected]

And yes, I’ve been through ZTL several times. I actually worked with the IWT team on all that launch copy. It was an awesome experience. Working with IWT and GrowthLab was like getting paid to go to the best business school on the planet!

What an awesome rundown Abbey! Being a 6-figure copywriter myself, one thing I struggle with is connecting with other copywriters. Mostly just because I haven’t taken the time to do so.

I’ve listened to Kevin’s podcast many times but never looked into CopyChief. You’ve convinced me as I’ve been looking for a great group of experienced writers to e-hang out with.

(Drat, gotta wait until it opens again 😀 )

You’re awesome, Abbey!

Ha! I know exactly what you mean. CopyChief is great for fighting the loneliness of copywriting. “Nobody writes alone” is the tagline.

Michael Gurevich

QUALITY POST regarding an issue that’s often overlooked! Nice graphics, solid, actionable advice. Ramit and Team are BACK!

Wow, fantastic article, Abbey! What a pleasant surprise! Great rundown of the copywriter continuum from both the client and freelancer perspective. I especially appreciate the pricing layout and analysis.

…and you have a really great infographic designer, btw.

Thanks for the insightful article, Abbey! Having loved books and words my entire life and written novels and for magazines, it was hard for me to realize my skills did not extend to writing the copy for my own design site! I worked with a great copywriter who rewrote my about page better than I could have imagined. It reaffirmed how much I love working with writers, even though I am no longer pursuing a writing career myself, and cemented my decision to focus on designing for writers!

Great point, Katie. My undergrad was in English (with a focus on Modern Irish Literature)… I realized when I got out that my writing skills were definitely an advantage… but I also had to “unlearn” a lot of habits that are great for writing novels and essays, but not so good for copy.

People certainly miss recognizing where that skill gap is, so kudos to you for focusing on your strengths and getting help from those who have complementary skills.

Melissa s. Webster

Ha! Mine was the exact opposite. My writing style has always naturally leaned towards the marketing side of writing. As a journalist I have to consciously make myself stop writing album and book reviews, interviews and political/social reports like a publicist promoting a product, especially if I’m passionate about the subject and/or emotionally invested in it. I have failed in this effort many times. 🙂

Amazing article Abbey! Love the attention to detail, the survey results and the checklist at the end. This will be super useful for hiring my copywriting team :).

Thanks so much Primoz. That’s a huge compliment coming from the king of epic content!

Please reach out if I can support with your growth 🙂

Thanks so much, Abbey! I’m struggling to start a freelance copywriting business, and this article made me see the difference between content writing and copywriting. That’ll help me so much in interviews and in my prospecting. And your CHECKLISTS are amazing! Such great content.

Thanks for the kind words, Lem! I’ve become a huge fan of checklists over the years. It started when Ramit sent me a copy of “Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande. I highly recommend you *check* it out! (sorry, couldn’t resist a good pun!)

Amazing article – I love the details, and you do a great job of explaining the difference between content and copy (so many business owners don’t understand), and I love the detail you went into regarding pricing and the checklist. Thanks for such an informative post – you’re a great copywriter AND content writer! 🙂

Thanks, Melody. I originally had that graphic created for a client, actually! Because you’re completely right, a lot of business owners don’t understand. It’s our job to educate them to give them what they need to meet their goals.

Hi Abbey, great article…

What would you say is the best ways to get more clients as a copywriter and grow a freelance career?

Hey Cobus. I have a phrase that I stole and modified from Kevin Rogers: “Every single one of my clients can be traced back to a cocktail at a hotel bar.”

I get most of my clients from live events and referrals. I write a lot about that on my blog, onlifeandwriting.com

The second thing I’d recommend is CopyChief. It’s a great place to find great clients in a much better setting that the “cattle calls” of Facebook and Upwork and the like.

Abbey,

Being a newbie, I much appreciate the distinction you draw between content and copy. I haven’t heard it stated so clearly, and I think it will help me in my development I’ve heard you on the Copy Chief’s podcasts. Your tips are invaluable.

Fab article Abbey.

Do you have any tips for how to network with excellent copywriters?

I’m a conversion optimisation specialist, and I’m looking to build some symbiotic relationships with copywriters.

Bookmarked. Thanks for the survey tip! It doesn’t apply to ones in SEAsia with non-dollars and far below the thousand numbers but it’sa great insight to see how the industry is doing there.

Thank you for this highly educational, eye-opening piece, Abbey. I write both copy and content and I’m just curious—in many cases, content is what takes a reader to the sales page (with the right SEO or distribution strategy). Might content marketing, together with keyword or promotion strategy, be just as valuable as copywriting, for its lead generation potential? This blog article of yours led me to check out copychief.com, and if for example I became a customer, I would think that you (and Ramit, who shared your piece on twitter), had much influence on the conversion. Is it because sales copy is a deal-closing script with only one production timeline, that makes it more weighty than content marketing, which is a continuous process? Just wanted to know if you had any thoughts on that. 🙂

Hey Janina. Absolutely. Content is insanely important for the business. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have taken the dozens of hours it took to write this post on Growth Lab.

The reason that copy is more expensive than content is yes, because it’s the “deal closer.” Inside one of Ramit’s programs, copywriter Mike Williams put it perfectly: “The closer to the money you are, the higher your salary.” It’s why sales people of any kind tend to make more than the “back office” people who arguably contribute just as much to getting the customer “primed” for the sale.

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