Pay Peanuts, Get Monkeys

Pay Peanuts, Get Monkeys
Kate Headen Waddell - Tue May 04, 2010 @ 04:48AM
Comments: 22

Money MonkeyEvery business is on a budget. Even when we’re not sitting at the tail end (hopefully) of one of the worst recessions in recent history, there is a budget. Usually businesses, more than consumers, understand that you get what you pay for when it comes to everything from pens to enterprise software and look at the value they are getting from the money they spend rather than the immediate “benefit” of saving a few bucks. But not always.

When saving money costs you clients

Case in point. Guy contacts me a few weeks ago saying he wants to talk to me about some web copywriting. I check out his website, and sure enough, it is the worst kind of example of someone writing their own web copy. Grammatical errors, spelling errors, rambling sentence construction, the whole nine yards. But I give the guy props that he wants to hire a professional to clean the thing up.


When we get on the call however, I find out that he wants me to write only one page of web copy for a new product they are launching and then write the copy for the product brochure. I mention that they may want me to edit their existing web copy. Ummm. Maybe next time. Give us a quote for the new product collateral first.

I quote the guy and then don’t hear anything for awhile. When I finally get the guy to respond he tells me I am way out of their budget. That he can get a friend of his to do it for a quarter of the price. I try to let him know, gently, that projecting a professional image is too critical to growing his business to leave it to someone who clearly can’t write his way out of a paper bag. “We’re on a budget,” is his only response. And they will continue to be on a budget as their web storefront scares off one client after another. It’s like opening an upscale dress shop in bad neighborhood with hand-painted sign: no one is even going to come in.


$2 or $200?

Now this is only one example, but I am sure the other copywriters out there all have dozens of stories like this one. And there are plenty of “copywriters” out there (mostly in India and Pakistan) willing to work for $2 a page. But what are you getting? I think a forum I stumbled across summed it up best. The group was discussing what you should pay for copywriting and why some people charge $2 a page and others charge $200 a page. One of the members chimed in: “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

So what do you get when you pay the going rate for a professional copywriter? Just a few of the highlights:

-         A full-time, professional copywriter who does this for a living. He or she will be available during regular business hours, will walk you through the project so you know what to expect, and likely keeps up with the latest in marketing and copywriting science.

-         Someone with the experience to add real value to the project. Many of my colleagues have ten or even twenty years of experience crafting marketing copy for big name companies. You can be sure they learned a few things along the way.

-         Copy that does what it is supposed to do. Even an inexperienced writer can string together a few sentences that sound good to the average reader. But does the copy engage the reader immediately, educate without insulting, and give them a compelling reason to take the next step?

These are just a few of the many benefits that you get from hiring someone who has the audacity to charge fair market rates for their work. So when you look at the budget, ask yourself if you want someone willing to work for peanuts representing your company to the world. My guess is probably not.

Copywriters and marketers: what are your best reasons for clients to pay market rates for your work?

 About the author: Kate Headen Waddell is a strategic copywriter specializing in web copy, white papers, case studies, solution briefs and other B2B marketing tools. You can visit her website at

Comments: 22


1. Will  |  my website   |   Tue May 04, 2010 @ 09:52AM

Feels good to vent about how cheap people are - I do it myself when people won't buy my guitar lesson courses or when clients try to hire cheaper, overseas programmers. But I usually try to focus on those who actually have the budgets :)

2. Brian V. Hunt  |  my website   |   Mon May 10, 2010 @ 01:27PM


So very true. I recently read a rant by a freelance graphic artist who had a call from a former client who wanted a quote but was dismayed by the amount. The client said, "This will only take a couple of hours."

To which this wise freelancer responded, "Yes, a couple of hours and fifteen years of experience."

3. Kate Waddell  |  my website   |   Wed May 12, 2010 @ 04:14AM

@Will - great advice. I don't waste time on the bargain hunters either. But it's still fun to kvetch.

@Brian - You win the award for best comeback. It gives me hives when potential clients say things like "this should be a quick and easy project for the right person." That is just code for "we think that the better you are at your job, the less we should have to pay you for it." (!?!?)

4. Kari  |  my website   |   Fri May 14, 2010 @ 02:32PM

Kate, it seems like this potential client with whom you spoke had absolutely no clue that their existing copy was all that bad. If they don't even know what "good" and effective copy looks like, then nothing will convince them that they need to pay more for an experienced copywriter who's actually worth their salt. Hell, they probably think they could get an actual monkey to write their copy for them. :-)

5. Joyce  |  my website   |   Wed May 19, 2010 @ 04:11AM

I've had similar experiences. One client requested a quote, agreed to my price and hired me to write a sales letter. After I turned in the first draft, he told me that he went ahead and wrote the letter himself and showed both our letters to his employees. Not surprisingly, all the people that worked for him "like his letter better". Of course they liked it better - he's the boss! There was no mention as to which letter would actually be more effective, apparently that doesn't matter in popularity contests. Needless to say he never paid me for my work and I scratched him off my client list.

6. WriterA  |  my website   |   Tue Aug 03, 2010 @ 11:02PM

It is becoming common habit today for prospective clients to mention their budget for a content job. Very often, this rate is so low that it leaves no room for talk or negotiation. There is a definite shift in the mindsets of website owners today - they do want to pay attention to their website content but at the cheapest rate possible.

7. Kate Waddell  |  my website   |   Wed Aug 04, 2010 @ 04:22AM

Thanks for all the comments, and a special thank you to Joe Pulizzi for using this entry as a jumping off point for a great post on Junta 42 last week:

One of the biggest hiccups in the online content system right now is the seeming confusion between "web copy" and "web content." Unfortunately, as long as low barriers to entry keep the quick buck folks chasing after top Google rankings with a crap offering to back it up, there will continue to be a strong market for $1 per page web content and continuing confusion on up the food chain as to how much is appropriate to pay for certain types of content creation.

Joe makes an excellent point about copywriting being only one leg of a marketing strategy. Those who understand that will continue to pay fair rates for excellent work, while the others will gum up the Google search results until Google changes the algorhythm (again). And annoy those of us who don't want to waste time producing quotes for folks who weren't serious in the first place.

Look for a full blog post on this in the near future.

8. Jenny  |  my website   |   Tue Aug 31, 2010 @ 08:56AM

Thank you!

In my world (PR) the word is golden...still...and although in this great new on-line world there is a place for some "automated" text who can argue with a great "got milk" or "just do it" to illustrate just how vital a good THINKING writer is!!!


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10. grovesalan   |   Tue Jun 18, 2013 @ 12:06AM

Of course they liked it better - he's the boss! There was no mention as to which letter would actually be more effective, apparently that doesn't matter in popularity contests.

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Good marketing technique! According to me only those techniques are relevant which gives huge profit by yielding simple things! As explained here if a monkey costs a peanut why should we spare that one? Keep sharing such innovative ideas!

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