How much time will it take to write copy?

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Dr. Freelance: I have a client who is constantly asking me how much time it will take me to write copy for their website. I feel self-conscious, because I typically consider myself to be a slow writer (and I pride myself on being precise). Nonetheless, he wants to know how long it takes me to write a 500-word article with little research involved. It usually takes me about 60 minutes from start to finish. Do you think that is an appropriate time? Or do you think I should be faster or slower?—Got the Time

GTT: You think cranking out 500 words in an hour is slow?!? I’d have to imagine that actually ranks you in the upper percentile of wordsmiths. If that’s your speed for solid, clean, no-research text, that’s for you to decide, not for me to judge. Personally, that’s a much faster rate than I would ever commit to.

More important, I think fast estimates (and focusing on how much time will it take to write copy) might set you up for unrealistic client expectations:

  • What about the times when it takes longer? Is the client going to be willing to pay extra?
  • What about sickness or injuries slowing you down? It happens even in our low-impact industry—I unexpectedly broke a finger doing yardwork a few years ago.
  • Is 500 words an hour a pace you can maintain, day after day, year after year—or are you risking burnout?

I know you didn’t ask, but I would also recommend you factor in whether you’re earning a rate that makes sense. Anne Wayman’s post “How much should I charge for…it doesn’t matter for what!” makes an important point along the same lines. My freelance rate calculator freelance rate calculator is a good way to ferret out what your rate should be.

Look at it this way: If you’re able to get that client to pay you a dollar a word at that speed, I think you’d find a lot of people would be envious—that’s $500 an hour! If, on the other hand, you’re only making 10 cents a word, that’s $50 an hour for exactly the same amount of work. The choice, at a very basic level, is yours.

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  1. Mike J. says

    I have to believe I’d burn out at 500 words per hour for any extended length of time. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather put that kind of high-speed effort toward finishing my NaNoWriMo novel.

  2. Gina A. says

    Anyone who cares about the quality of writing knows that people who write for volume and speed are low quality writers who care only about money. Ironically, this approach makes less money in the long run.

    Becoming a high quality writer takes work, time and incessant learning. Period.

    These fast-writer mentality types irritate me. They offend my better senses. They don’t deserve to be called writers.

  3. Dr. Freelance says

    @Mike, that’s pretty much my feeling about it as well. Even attempting NaNo was too much for me last year!

    @Gina, you are 100% correct in the long-term damage that can come from short-term thinking. I’ve got a video post coming up in response to what you’ve said here…stay tuned!

  4. Anne Wayman says

    Thanks for pointing to my article.

    Writing 500 good words in an hour is a nice rate.

    I know I’m fast because I’ve been inside and been able to compare. I rarely tell a client how long it will take me to do x but I work with flat fees most of the tme.

  5. Dr. Freelance says

    @Anne, yours was a good post with good comments–always worth a share.

    @Charlotte, that’s a very pragmatic way to look at the equation, since you can determine how hard you want to hit the throttle–rather than being at the mercy of a client who’s expecting a certain number of widgets per hour. I have fast days and slow days, but my clients don’t need to know about ’em, as long as they’re satisfied with the result!

  6. Gina A. says

    What exactly is no-research writing? Are we talking about a writer already being an expert in a particular field?

  7. Wendy says

    Their idea of “little research” and my idea of it are usually two completely different things. How many times has a “little research” turned out to be hours of searching, on my part, to find what they want? Too many.

    I couldn’t possibly lock myself into a specific time-frame on any type of project. It would only bite me in the butt.

  8. Dr. Freelance says

    @Gina, I pretty much copied and pasted the question, so I take “GTT” at his/her word, and thus assume an SME. (GTT, if you’re lurking out there, please feel free to share more–inquiring minds want to know!)

    @Wendy, agreed. Even the stuff I consider myself well-versed in always requires some kind of digging, to keep it fresh if nothing else. And you are rightly wary of locking yourself into time frames.

    Thanks, all, for the thought-provoking comments. It was certainly a question I haven’t heard before in my dozen-plus years of being in the biz.

  9. says

    I assume you are charging by the hour, because if you are not then it really isn’t any of the client’s business how long it takes you to write some material. The only questions that should concern the client are, “What will it cost me? When will I get it? Will it be at an adequate level of quality?”

    So the time question is only relevant if it answers the cost questions, ie, this project will take x hours at x dollars an hour and thus cost you x dollars.

    If you are charging by the hour, I would answer, “The time a project takes can vary, but the range is generally X to Y. I can’t tell you with absolute certainty because writing isn’t a standardized assembly line process.”

    If you are charging by the project, I would answer, “I don’t really track the time I spent on each project, and every project is different because writing isn’t a standardized assembly line process. So the answer is: It takes as much time as it takes to get it right.”

  10. Dr. Freelance says

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Joe. Couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said and the reasoning behind it.

  11. Kim says

    Reading GTT’s ballpark of 500 an hour, and him thinking he was a ‘slow’ writer hit me right in that freelancer’s sweet validation spot. I discovered that I am in fact quite fast, even factoring in painstaking detail, fact-checking, proofing. But charging a healthy rate for a project I can usually do in half the time satisfies both me and my client. They get a far superior product (in this case an SEO-rich article that is good enough for “real eyes”) and I get the business. And I truly enjoy the project…

    Thank you for this blog. It re-energizes me when my screaming meamies of defeat are closing in. : )

  12. Brian C says

    I take GTT’s client’s asking as a preliminary to micromanaging and/or beating the price down. This is one of the pitfalls of quoting work by the hour or word.

    In planning a job, I distinguish between time expended and time elapsed. Time expended is my business, not the client’s. I never quote a variable rate, only a dollar amount for a narrowly defined piece of work.

    E. g., “I propose to produce for you a 2-page sales letter, based on the materials you have provided me, for the flat fee of $475. Delivery 5 days after receipt of your written acceptance and deposit check in the amount of $235 (50%). One revision is included if requested within 5 days of delivery.”

    Believe me, stating all the specifics up front weeds out the prospects you never will want to work for. People who operate by jerking you around are usually quite uncomfortable with specifics. And, yes, I may adjust the delivery or revision schedules to accommodate the client’s needs, but never the price.

  13. says

    @Kim, first of all, thanks for the kind words. I am humbled. And I love your point about finding the healthy rate that satisfies you *and* the client.

    @Brian C, thanks for a thoughtful comment. Nothing gives me a worse case of hives than being micromanaged! I heartily endorse your policy of specificity—a nice way of clarifying the parameters and protecting yourself all in one fell swoop.

  14. Alex says

    I am very new to Online freelance writing I don’t even have my own Website yet. (I have only been freelancing with our local newspapers and magazines here on the tiny island of Guam in the Central Pacific for over 5 years).

    In fact, I am still learning before I get up and run Online.

    I am discovering now, though, especially from articles and discussions like yours, that there is so much more to Online freelance writing.

    At times now, I am even wondering if I can do this.

    Dr. Freelance, I just want to take the time now to thank you for this opportunity to be part of this discussion and the whole experience. I mean, I was just listening to real writers on the web talking about “things” that are still ahead of me as of yet.

    The more I read at sites like yours, the more I realize that I can do this- and I must. This is encouraging, and very informative.

    Again, thank you.