When you think of a writer, what image does it conjure up? The romantics will picture some bent over a bureau, perhaps sipping on a whiskey, impoverished but suffering for their art.
Or a picture of Sex In The City, tippetty tapping on a wonderfully clean Mac book in the local shiny coffee shop pops into your head. Sorry, I don’t remember the characters name. I was never a fan. The line “I wanted to become a writer so I made myself a writer” really annoyed me as a journalism student who couldn’t afford to take two weeks off a paying job to do ‘work experience’.
Maybe you see journalists and copywriters sat in an office, throwing bits of paper into the bin, chewing on a pencil or like a real life Peggy in Mad Men.
None of these are real, whatever image you conjure up. A writer is someone who does a job in return for money. Because words are powerful. They can make people buy things, learn stuff, and understand difficult concepts.
WORDS CAN SAVE LIVES.
Not in a ‘doctor performing heart surgery’ way of saving lives but not far off. Think about it. If you want to know how to avoid coronavirus, you read about how to blow your nose, wash your hands, and when to self-isolate.
What about strokes? Great copy means we can remember the acronym FAST for Face, Arm, Speech, Time. Words can save lives.
Of course the words we use when we speak to each other matter. Words can cause immeasurable hurt. They can also heal.
When it comes to our business, the words on our websites matter. People find your website because of search engines and a significant part of that is the words. Understanding the right words and phrases that your customers are using to search for your services.
Then once they are on your site, you need more of those ‘right words’ to attract your perfect customer to come and take a look around. Of course the photographs, graphics, audio and video plays a huge part in this but the words matter.
Words are there to convince. To compel you to do something, take an action. Sign up. Buy this. Read here. Check the small print. Join us. Get involved. Donate. Click to find out more. Get in touch.
Writers know that the most important words on the page is the headline. That’s the bit that you, the reader, sees first and makes your subconscious decision to stick around or leave.
But writing those few words of a headline can take just as long as the article itself. Each word is fighting for space and needs to make an impact. Which is why it should always ring alarm bells when someone wants to…
CHARGE BY THE WORD
My favourite example of why charging by the word is a problem is to look at famous taglines. Imagine if the copywriters for Nike, McDonald’s, or Honda charged by the word. Some of the most powerful and clever writing in the world would have cost pennies.
It can often take the same amount of time, if not longer, to come up with something short than it does to ramble on in a long form blog post. Don’t believe me? Then I challenge you to write a piece of flash fiction in 100 words. You’ll soon discover there is a real skill to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end with such limitations.
Charging by the time is probably more realistic. Or a better way is to charge by the project. You see, the sort of writer you employ will come with their own price tag. It’s worked out based on their experience, the market rate, what the project is and to some extent, what they know about you, their customer. And I can guarantee you that this will cost you more than £10 or £15 for a blog.
IF WORDS MATTER, WHY AREN’T THEY VALUED?
Without the written copy, your business wouldn’t thrive. So, why do many businesses seem to devalue words? Why do we elevate great writers for their craft and at the same time EXPECT all writers to work for free at some point.
I believe it is because we have a romanticised view of writers and their motivations for the job.
Most people who work in the creative industries will have heard the immortal phrase: ‘we can’t afford to pay you but it will be great exposure.’ And here lies the problem: exposure doesn’t pay the bills.
EXPOSURE DOESN’T PAY THE BILLS
Presumably these same people who are paying with exposure understand that every other industry expects to be paid for work they do. You can’t rent an office with the promise of ‘exposure’ instead of money. I’m pretty sure the internet they are using isn’t doing it for the great ‘exposure’ this publication will give them.
The idea that to be a writer you must build a portfolio for FREE before you can prove yourself worthy of being PAID needs to be resigned to the past. All it does is devalue the words. Words which are bringing business (and money) to someone else.
It is ingrained in us that if you do something vaguely artistic then you are doing it for love and not money so therefore you need to pay your dues to some unknown due-collector-in-chief before you can be considered worthy.
The problem with this is that it drives costs down across the board. It becomes a race to the bottom. Why pay an experienced writer a decent amount of money for a well-written blog when you have a mate who’s ‘thinking about getting into copywriting’ that will do it for free?
Businesses who understand that well-written copy will bring in more than it costs to produce will be thriving in five or ten years’ time. The ones who decide to cut corners with key-word loaded blogs that cost a pittance from a content mill will find it’s a bit like throwing spaghetti at a wall. Hoping something will stick but making a massive mess of their website in the process.
You see, this blog came out of my frustration of seeing yet another post from talented writers who are either being pushed down on price or not able to make ends meet as a freelance writer. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, and even big businesses who are getting their words for free because they either don’t care or don’t appreciate the value of paying for them.
These are businesses that would happily have their website written by an inexperienced intern than someone who is professionally trained and experienced. What message are you sending to your potential customers if you care so little about what and how you speak to them that you’re not willing to pay for a professional service?
If you’re starting out, I get it. Words are free. We all have them inside of us. It doesn’t cost you anything to drop them out of your head and onto a computer. It might not be the best or most polished but it’s what budget you have available right now. That stuff, I understand.
CHANGE YOUR IMAGE OF A WRITER
There’s no easy way for words and their creators to be better valued unless we change our view on what a ‘writer’ is. While we still think of the writer as either suffering for their craft, doing it for their art, or being independently wealthy then nothing is going to change.
As long as there are people out there willing to work for ‘exposure’ then the price will be driven down. While businesses and publications are actively taking on unpaid work experience and submissions that they then profit from through circulation or website traffic, then nothing will change.
It’s easy for a paid writer to say ‘stop working for free’. We’re taught to pay our dues, get experience ‘on the job’, do a test piece and work our way up. I’ve written for free for national publications, glossy mags, small websites. This work does form part of a portfolio and learning process. But it only pays off if you have good editors supporting you and helping you find the PAID work. And that happens less and less.
But we know that words can save lives, cause people to take action, and make money for a business. So why wouldn’t you, as a business, pay for that skill, expertise and service? And if you’re a writer, why would you work with someone who doesn’t value what you do?