What to do when you can’t afford a copywriter

You’ve read about the false economy of cheap copy and are convinced about the value an expert freelance copywriter can add to your project. You’ve maybe even identified “the one” who would be a great fit for your brand and you’d love to hire them.

The only problem? With the best will in the world, you simply can’t afford their price tag.

It may seem like a content mill is your only option but fear not, there is still hope. You might be able to work with the copywriter of your dreams, just in a slightly different capacity than you first imagined.

Here are some suggestions that won’t piss your chosen copywriter off – we’re such divas, daaahling – and still get their eyes and brains on your project.

And none of them involve asking for a discount (don’t do this, trust me).

Ask about copywriting payment plans

Superstar copywriters are expensive, and they’re also in high demand. That’s why getting your project on their books usually requires a downpayment of around 50% of the project fee to reserve your spot.

This can be a substantial barrier to entry for those with modest marketing budgets. However, it doesn’t mean you need to immediately give up hope. Most copywriters know they are expensive and are happy to talk about payment plans to make their services more affordable.

Rather than a standard 50% deposit, with the remainder due upon completion, you could propose four staggered payments of 25% or something similar that’s going to work for your budget.

I’m certainly far more willing to discuss this type of arrangement with a new client than talk about discounts for my work. Open with this and “awkward client” alarm bells start ringing. You’ll get short shrift and shunted to the back of a waiting list behind the people willing to pay full price.

Respect a copywriter’s prices and they’re more likely to respect your budget and find a way of working with it.

Start with your minimal viable product

When you really get the bit between your teeth with a new project you’ll want everything done now, now, now. Or, even better, yesterday. Shiny new website, a blog full of content, paid ads up and running, social media channels firing on all cylinders. The works.

I know the feeling well. However, doing all these things at once comes with a hefty price tag – and not just the copywriting bits.

If you’re working with a tight budget, it might be more beneficial to work out what your “minimal viable product” (MVP) is for marketing, spend your money getting this right first and iterate from there.

A term borrowed from Lean Startup, MVP is a development technique where a new product or website is launched with sufficient features to satisfy early users.

I’m bastardising it slightly here to mean the essential marketing elements you need to get your project or business off the ground.

Maybe you can get away with a basic website while you focus on growing a social media following, or perhaps getting an all-singing, all-dancing website live is your top priority before you start worrying about launching your podcast, growing your mailing list or whatever else is on your marketing wishlist.

It’s different for every new venture but investing properly in your MVP rather than spreading your time, attention and funds thinly across too many things is a strategy I would always recommend.

You can then free up some cash to get a top-class copywriter on board to perfect your number one priority – whatever that may be.

Another word of warning here – don’t try to use the promise of “more work down the line” as leverage to get a discount on the work you’re offering right now. That’s another sure-fire way to set off the “awkward client” klaxon and send your chosen copywriter running for the hills.

Learn to write your own copy

If you really only have a few hundred pounds in your budget for copywriting, investing that in teaching yourself to write better copy is the wisest move. Much, much better than paying a bargain-basement content mill for cheap, crappy copy.

At the top end of the price bracket, the Institute of Data and Marketing’s Award in Digital Copywriting comes highly recommended as a well-rounded introduction to writing online. The Chartered Institute of Marketing also offer a range of copywriting and content courses that come in around the £500 to £1,000 mark.

On the cheaper end of the scale, I’ve heard good things about Andy Malsen’s Copywriting Academy which offers 32 online video seminars, a 300-page course manual and more for around £100 – excellent value.

There are plenty of free resources out there too. Copyhackers, Copyblogger and Procopywriters all have a wealth of information and resources for those new to copywriting (Copyhackers’ Tutorial Tuesdays are my favourite – super useful, packed with insight and so easy to follow).

If you’re keen on Twitter, following the hashtag #ContentClubUK will provide you with regular nuggets of wisdom from some of the UK’s top copy and content writers.

There are books on copywriting too, so many books. Kira and Rob at The Copywriter Club have done the hard work for me and compiled a huge list of recommended books for aspiring copywriters. You’ll find podcast, course and blog suggestions there too.

Ask about a copywriting consultation

This suggestion follows on from the last one. If you’ve decided to level up your skills to write your own copy and find yourself with a bit of spare cash left over, it’s worth asking a copywriter if they offer a copywriting consultation or review service.

I do, and so do lots of others.

For a fraction of the price of writing copy for you, they can look over your work and give you suggestions for improvement.

Or, if you’re having trouble with a particular aspect of your copy you could ask for an hour of consultancy time to try and get to the bottom of your problem.

It’s a good compromise to add a bit of extra polish to your copy without paying for the full service.

First published on


15th July 2020

nicolas schwabach

I have developed maths software that works out what a copywriter can charge a client. It takes over ten variables into account.

The outcome? You can definitely charge more than you thought and present a spreadsheet to prove it.

If you want me to do the maths for you, drop me a line on

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