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Buy cheap, pay twice: the real cost of bargain-basement copywriting

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

Why cheap copy costs more and delivers less.

A good and faithful servant

Yesterday my hubby was wearing a t-shirt that makes me smile. Eleven years ago we were preparing to board a helicopter on our honeymoon, fulfilling my dream to fly under and over the Golden Gate bridge.

And there it is…fresh and new in the photos…the most expensive top I’d ever bought him. A khaki Carthartt t-shirt that cost about £40.

At the time, that seemed eye-watering. But it has turned out to be a good and faithful servant. Still going strong after a decade, it is older than our daughter and probably in better shape than our marriage (jk!).

In comparison, subsequent t-shirts purchased by my frugal hubby – supermarket cheapies at £5 a pop – have come and gone in a matter of months. In fact, I’d estimate that one own-brand tee lasts about six months max. Which means, in the lifetime of the £40 Carthartt t-shirt, he’s spent £110 on each ‘cheap’ alternative.

Not to mention the cost of acquiring those tops. The time, the petrol, the self-checkout.

'Unexpected item in the bagging area’.

Seriously, life’s too short.

I'm THAT t-shirt

Which brings me onto marketing. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m the Carthartt in this equation. A bit more pricey but finger my fabric and you’ll see why.

Many of my clients have come to me after being burnt by the copywriting equivalent of a supermarket cheapie.

On paper it makes sense. Same product, lower cost.

But there is a cost to buying cheap. Behind a cheap price is often additional time and money you need to spend.

  • The time it takes to handhold an inexperienced writer

  • Extra rounds of amends because they've not got the brief

  • Sometimes even having to ditch content that is irredeemable and start again

And don’t forget the costs you might not realise – the poor ROI, the missing traffic, the overlooked opportunities for SEO.

Y'see... everyone thinks they’re a copywriter these days

An emerging challenge for clients looking to commission copy is this. There's no barrier to setting up as a copywriter. Anyone with an interest in writing can set themselves up as a writer and start selling their services. Even with ZERO knowledge or experience.

And this is where the problems can start. Because writing and copywriting are two totally different things.

Copywriters aren’t just people who can string a sentence together. They’re marketers who understand how to persuade for profit. They have technical knowhow about SEO and user experience. Copywriters know to sell the sizzle, not the steak.

It puts me in mind of the much-maligned Donald Rumsfeld famously saying ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’. This is very evident in some of the side-hustle copywriters who don’t understand the limits of their knowledge.

Need more convincing? Take a look at Johari’s window and see who’s waving to you. A great copywriter will be right there in the open window. Avoid anyone in the others.

There's nothing wrong with junior writers

Now I know that not every project needs an experienced copywriter. Sometimes a junior writer - who you can train and shape to your needs - is the right choice for your budget. But you need to be aware that there will be additional costs.

What I'm warning against is the race-to-the-bottom when it comes to the price of copywriting.

If you try to apply the same low price to every copywriter - silly Upwork prices for entry-level learners - then you'll never be able to attract the copywriting talent you need.

The benefits of using an experienced copywriter

Quality copy and content are an investment and - more often than not - you get what you pay for.

An experienced writer can provide:

  • right-first-time copy that you can use straight away

  • top tips for SEO, customer engagement and user experience

  • bright ideas you might not have thought of

So pay for quality and save yourself a lot of stress.

As Mr M’s wardrobe proves…buy cheap and you pay twice.

Or in his case, 22 times...

To find out what you can expect to pay a copywriter in the UK, check out the ProCopywriters Suggested Rates for Freelance Copywriters.


About the author

Libby Marks is an award-winning copywriter and content marketer. After 15+ years in marketing and communications, she escaped the 9 to 5 and started Write on Tyne.

Write on Tyne is a small content and copywriting agency dedicated to making marketing managers' lives easier. We provide top-notch copy for campaigns, content marketing, and websites - underpinned by expertise in marketing strategy and SEO.


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