Why That Freelance Copywriter Is Asking for Your Budget

does that freelance copywriter see dollar signsWhile dinking around on the Internet the other day, I found a blog post that made freelance copywriters like me seem about as trustworthy as an onion skin. (I don’t know why I am choosing an onion skin as my comparison. It just popped into my head and I’m going with it…)

There were several things this writer described as “red flags” that were perfectly reasonable requests for a copywriter to make, in my opinion. One of those was asking for the budget.

In that writer’s mind, I guess, asking for the budget only means a copywriter would take the client for every penny available. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In the end, the client and the copywriter want the same thing: to get the job done as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. Talking budget from the beginning helps.

Why that freelance copywriter wants to know your budget
Any copywriter who has been around the block a time or two has come up against this situation: The client has champagne tastes on a beer budget. But the copywriter doesn’t know it’s a beer budget, because the client wouldn’t disclose the budget from the beginning. Instead, the client is comparison shopping, thinking they will go with the cheapest copywriter. Therefore the budget remains a secret.

The problem with this is that it wastes a lot of time. If someone comes to me wanting a full blown website, and doesn’t tell me they have a budget of only $200, then I waste time learning more about their needs and coming up with an estimate, and then they waste time waiting on me to reply, only to tell me after the fact that their budget is so limited.

As a copywriter, I sell two things: my brain and my time. I live by the billable ball and chain. That means time literally is money for me, and for every other freelance copywriter.

It averages me between 30 minutes and an hour to come up with an estimate, and this is usually after spending at least 15 to 30 minutes on the phone with someone learning more about a project. If it turns out the budget isn’t there, this ends up being time lost and never compensated.

But it’s not all about me. The client has also wasted precious time in contacting me, describing the project to me, and then waiting on me. And then the client has to waste more time telling me I’m over budget, and starting their search all over again.

You don’t have to know your budget, but it helps
A budget isn’t required before talking to a freelancer. On my own freelance copywriter inquiry form, under budget, it says it’s okay to say “don’t know yet” and that’s what most people put in that box. Sometimes you know you have a need for copywriting, but you don’t know yet how much it will cost or how much you will have to spend. It’s not our first rodeo. We get that. No problem.

If, on the other hand, you do know your budget, you really should tell the freelance copywriter right upfront. You’ll be able to make an apples–to-apples comparison between freelancers, and you’ll find out just what your budget can buy (because it might not be as much as you think it is). Most importantly, you’ll save your time and the freelancers too. And time is money, for me and for you!

An honest copywriter is honest about estimates
So what are people afraid of, when they won’t disclose the actual budget upfront? Are they afraid a copywriter will cheat them out of money not earned? That might be a risk, but it has to be a tiny one. An honest copywriter should tell you the actual estimated cost, even if your budget is higher than that. And I have to believe the majority of copywriters are honest!

A few months ago, a major association contacted me about taking over the production of their email newsletter, and they put the budget in the inquiry form: $2,000 a month, they said. When I talked to them on the phone and learned more about how little work was required to create the newsletter (because it turned out to be content curation, not creation), I asked where they got the dollar figure from because it seemed high to me. I was estimating half that cost to do the work.

It turned out, they got that high price from the first agency they talked to, and I think they just assumed that was a reasonable number and the one to work with. (In the end, I think they wanted to pay that much money, because it made their newsletter seem more important, and I made a mistake in questioning their budget that early in the conversation! But I have to live with myself, you know? And I would rather be upfront in the beginning too.)

Do you want to work with someone you don’t trust?
If you’re not sure you can trust a freelance copywriter enough to tell them your budget, you’re probably getting off to a bad start anyway. I am not sure of the solution, because telling people they should be honest about their budgets from the beginning might call my own integrity into question, if we circle back to the dangers of copywriters that were described in the blog post that prompted this whole defense on my part.

But when all is said and done, I just want to be efficient, and to help others be efficient too. If we can take the whole guessing game of budget out of the equation, we can save that much time and get to work quicker.

And we all can agree on that, right?

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