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Pennies for your thoughts

Freelance Copywriters should charge for their thinking time.
The blog of Jonathan Wilcock.

What are you selling as a copywriter?

Words? Not really.

You’re selling your brain. Your life experiences. Your emotions. Your intellect. Your creativity.

Words are just the vehicle.

In a recent blog post, 37 things I’ve learned from a career in copywriting, point 14 says, ‘If you don’t charge for thinking time, you’re not charging enough.’

Think about that.

Thinking time. Not on-the-job, clock-able, bum-on-seat, whacking the keyboard time. Thinking time.

How many ‘ping’ moments have you had in the shower or waiting for the kettle to boil?

Me? At least infinity.

I bet you’re the same. Yet you sit down at the laptop, QWERTY-poised. You jot down the time, or click Toggl and crack out some guff or other (sorry, beautifully constructed first draft). Stop. Make a note of the time/Toggl. Stretch, make some toast, doom scroll a bit. Repeat.

If you’re only charging for the doing, you’re selling yourself very, very short old chum.

Without the thinking time, there can be no writing time. Unless you’re a robot.

Your thought process is valuable. Digesting the brief. Reading between the lines. Researching the competition, mulling, noodle-doodling… it all adds up. Brewing, as well as doing.

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT charge by the word

When I see a copywriter banging on about bashing out 5 blog posts a day, I despair. Either they’re lying, they work 76-hour days in a parallel universe, or their writing is a pile of stink bubbles.

Good copy needs room to breathe. We need time to think.

If I had an app that counted the seconds my fingers are actually in contact with the keys, then turned those seconds into client invoices, I bet I’d be on the breadline.

Between each keystroke, there’s thinking time. Cross-referencing a thousand thoughts. Brain fiddling. Without it, well let’s give it a go shall we.

Here’s 30 seconds of typing without time allowed for thinking between words.

Starting… now!

There waid was a ln mana caleed Joanahtahana who lieved d oun a a plasce caoeed ajbexhill anad tehend he awwas ywwriiytindg c[some woerdds .

Man, that was horrible. I actually feel a bit sick.

Sorry. Where was I?

Oh yes, if you’re a freelance Copywriter, and you don’t charge for thinking time, you’re not charging enough.

Sounds obvious, but there are many extenuating circumstances that make us believe we can’t charge for the moments between words appearing on the page. The biggest culprit, from my own experience, is clients ‘knowing’ how long a piece of copy should take to write. This, backed up by the bizarre concept of paying per word.

You can’t blame ’em. If you’re not a Copywriter, or don’t have an inkling of how the process might work, you’d quite logically assume that ‘more words’ equalls ‘more time’.

And if there’s no concern for storytelling structure or creative quality, you’d be right.

But if you’re crafting a strapline of three or four words, that you can hang a decade of marketing communications on, production line logic goes out the window (and beyond the horizon).

Thinking time is billable time. End of.

So when your client says, “we only want 15 words, so you should be able to churn that out in minutes, eh!” Tell them:

Salad handbag, humdrum knicker elastic. Pork fork talk limp depilatory fudge buggy. Wind waft stump-grinder.

“There you go, that’ll be fifteen quid.”

Love and patience. x

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can
drop me a line here, or email