An hourly rate? Really? Are you sure?

Katherine Wildman

Haydn Grey Ltd

All hail the project fee.

Godin got this one right. Because, Godin.

Thank you mighty Seth. And thanks, too, to my fellow copywriter Mike Garner from Branding With Words for posting this in a forum we’re both members of.

Most professionals ought to charge by the project, because it’s a project the customer wants, not an hour.
Seth Godin

The dilemma of the hourly rate. When to have one, and when to insist that the very idea is a fallacy – which I do, often – for many reasons.

And this is my main one.

How on earth does one give an hourly rate to solve a business problem?

Especially a big, juicy business problem? Like some of the ones I’ve heard this week.

And yes, it’s only Wednesday.

  • My website doesn’t get any traffic and needs a rewrite… from scratch.
  • I need new content, but I don’t know how to blog… or what to write.
  • We’ve tried to write our own copy. How much would it cost for you to ‘tweak’ it so it reads well?
  • We need a new brochure. How long will it take you to write it from these three files of A4 notes..? Oh, and this PDF

When does the clock start?

All big problems. All requiring a large amount of thought, reflection and understanding. Not to mention hours of research.

Here’s the thing.

My head starts to work – and think of possible answers – at the moment a problem is presented to me.

Not that it’s relevant here, but it does the same thing when I’m asked what I’d like to eat for dinner.

But does that mean my prospective client wants to start paying me an hourly fee from the moment we speak?
(Steak and chips, since the thought’s now there and you’re thinking about it too.)

Do they want to be paying me for the 4 am wake-up call that sees me scribbling ideas for their web copy in the notepad by my bed?

Or to be paying me later that day, when I’m standing in the queue at the supermarket (My bag is full of receipts covered in illegible scrawls) thinking of options for their new strapline?

And do they want to still be paying me an hourly rate when the project has been put on hold for a month while the photography/branding/graphic design is curated, but I’m still thinking of blog topics they could use?

I’ll stop there.

Because this is basically the long way around to my answer. Which is – there is no such thing as an ‘hourly rate’.

If you want to use the services of a professional creative person who has studied, read, written, thought, spoken, considered, practiced and perfected their art – and can now apply all of that knowledge to your business.

In the best way they know how.

With a smile on their face.

And a spring in their step.

You won’t ask them for an hourly rate.

Because “it’s a project the customer wants, not an hour.”

With thanks to Seth Godin.

First published on


6th September 2018

Gillian Cullis

I completely agree with you. Per project with everything factored in, so the client gets no nasty surprises with hidden costs, is a far better way to do things.

And to address the other matter.. Beef stew and dumplings.. 😃

6th October 2018

Jane Shepley

Absolutely. If you charged by the hour you’d be paid less for absolutely nailing some copy first time around, than by taking three rounds of drafts and amends (with the accompanying faff and frustration for the client). Just makes no sense at all.

16th December 2020

Patricia Lane

Wholeheartedly agree. Moreover, billing by time spent or by volume commoditizes our work (words by the pound anyone?) rather than focusing on results.

Even better for both parties, when a client has recurring and varying needs, is to opt for a retainer-points system. That frees the client from having to make budget allocations at the start of the year without knowing what will be a priority down the pike. It allows the client to spread communications costs over time. The client is free to decide what type of deliverable is needed at a specific moment, knowing also their copywriter of choice has the availability required.

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