What is a copywriting retainer? And is it right for your business?

As you start rolling out your content strategy for 2023, you might be feeling a tad overwhelmed. From blogs to social media posts to media releases and website updates, you’ve likely got a ton of copy to produce and no time to do it. Outsourcing to a copywriter is always a good idea but often the best copywriters are booked up months in advance.

Enter the copywriting retainer. Copywriting retainers are an arrangement between a business and a copywriter whereby the business pays a set fee to secure a copywriter’s services for a specified period of time. When done right, it’s a win-win because the copywriter gets a guaranteed portion of income per month and the business gets a guaranteed allocation of their time.

The trick is finding a union that’s more Jules and Cam than Carolina and Dion (that’s a MAFS reference for my I-never-watch-trash-TV readers).

Let’s break it down like Dean Wells circa Season 5 (IYKYK).

An image of melbourne copywriter, Jacqui McCallum and what's included in her blog on copywriting retainers

How does a copywriting retainer work?

You and your copywriter sign a contract that outlines the specifics of your retainer agreement. In most cases, you’ll pay the copywriter a set fee upfront each month. In exchange, the copywriter will commit to providing an agreed list of copywriting services.

For example, you could book a copywriter for one day per week to write a blog, an EDM and some social media captions. You might agree to a specific set of tasks each month or a specific number of hours. The exact terms will depend on your contract. Some copywriters charge a day rate, others charge an hourly rate.

What kind of work are retainers good for?

I don’t recommend copywriting retainers for project-based work like a campaign launch or  SEO-optimised website copy. They work well for ongoing content marketing like blogs, EDMs, LinkedIn articles and social media captions as well as ad hoc jobs like media releases, staff bios and web copy updates.

If I book a day, how do I know I’m getting bang for my buck?

It’s all about setting clear expectations on both sides. When my clients express interest in a retainer agreement, I give them an idea of what I can complete in a day. They can then decide whether it fits into their budget and how frequently they’ll need to book me. As a rough guide, I can usually complete one of the following:

  • 2 x 800-word SEO-optimised blogs plus 4 x social snippets OR
  • A 1000-word LinkedIn thought leadership article (research or interview required) plus 2 x social media snippets OR
  • 20 x social media posts OR
  • 10 x 100-word product descriptions.

Every copywriter is different in terms of output.

An image of melbourne copywriter, Jacqui McCallum working on a clients copywriting retainer

What if I don’t use my allocated hours?

I’ve never had a client who couldn’t find copywriting jobs for me to complete. It’s all about being organised and knowing what you want the copywriter to work on before each week/fortnight/month rolls around. Keep in mind the allocated time needs to allow for briefing, interviews and research.

Like most relationships, retainer agreements work best when there is understanding, respect and open communication. I’ll allow my clients to carry over some of their hours if they need to but it’s best if it doesn’t become a habit as each month’s work is scheduled in advance.

What does it cost?

Again, every copywriter is different. A newbie copywriter might charge $80 per hour or $500 per day while a senior copywriter might charge $250 per hour or $1700+ per day. I have 16 years of experience as a copywriter and charge my retainer clients a day rate of $1300 plus GST (7 hours).

Keep in mind that experienced copywriters can produce quality content pretty quickly while it might take a newbie more time to get things done. It’s about the value to your business rather than time. The Clever Copywriting School has a great guide called Recommended Rates for Australian Copywriters if you’re after more info on rates.

How long is the commitment?

Retainers aren’t for people who want a one-day-stand. They’re about developing a long-term relationship between the business and the copywriter. My minimum retainer agreement is 3 months and minimum booking is 1 day per month.

The longer you commit, the longer you’re able to lock in the copywriter’s current rates. Most copywriters will increase their rates once a year. Wondering what happens if it doesn’t work out? It can be negotiated and covered in the pre-nup, I mean contract.

Melbourne copywriter, Jacqui McCallum talks to a client about her copywriting retainer

What are the benefits of copywriting retainers?

  • It provides your business with a consistent, reliable source of high-quality content. This can help build your brand or establish you as a thought leader in your industry. All those tasks that you never get around to? They get done, consistently.
  • It saves you time and money. Retainers are more cost-effective than hiring a copywriter for one-off tasks. You also spend a lot less time on briefing and amendments because the copywriter gets to know your business better over time.
  • You get copy with a consistent and distinct tone of voice because the copywriter is familiar with your business goals, ethos, tone and style.
  • If something urgent crops up, you know you have someone on standby to help get it done. No scrambling for an available copywriter. And no paying rush fees of 20-25%.

Just like a TV show about people trying to accrue Insta followers at the altar, retainers aren’t for everyone. But if you have ongoing writing tasks that need an expert touch, a retainer can build your brand and save your sanity.

Interested in discussing a retainer agreement with me? Book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if we’re a good match.

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