What should we get paid for our writing? Can we put a price on our words? Apart from pornography, what’s the best-paid type of writing? These questions and more were addressed at 26’s ‘Wordsworth’ event held at Interbrand on 26 October.

As a follow up, we agreed to run an online anonymous survey for writers and people who employ us; this will collect a stack of data about what we are paid and our attitudes towards payment; We’ll publish the url shortly so 26 members and other writers can join in. Shortly after that, we’ll publish the results.

We made our way up the magically suspended staircase which leads from Interbrand’s minimalist ground floor portal to the bright white branding capital of the world on the first floor. Someone had turned off the corridor lights and none of us could find the switch, but at the end of the hall was a room with people chatting and we think that all the visiting 26 members found their way there.

How would the British overcome our legendary reticence to discuss what our words are worth? (In public.) We did it in three different ways.

Sarah McCartney explained that the 26 events team had long been planning a ‘Wordsworth’ event, in order to get an idea of what is a fair price for what we charge and told tales of her own experience with clients from 11 years working as a freelance writer and running Little Max.

Richard Crabb from Start explained that his agency is unusual for a design company in that it employs in-house writers who are charged out to clients at the same rate as designers. He showed us examples of his agency’s work, using words intertwined with design to create some fabulous stuff which works better because of the teams’ synergy. His view – we asked him for a designer’s perspective – was that Start shows the value of words not only by paying writers the same as designers but by treating them as equal creative partners, not the people who fill in the gaps between the graphics.

Neil Fletcher from Tool Box Marketing talked in practical terms about how to negotiate rates and get paid on time. (At this point the rate of note-taking showed a definite increase amongst auduence members). Neil advised to be clear about rates from the minute we start talking to clients, to charge 50% at the start of the contract and never to feel guilty about chasing late payment; at that point it’s not their money, it’s ours.

Our Q&A session revealed that most of us charge different amounts to different clients. Sarah leans towards Karl Marx’s guidance, “From each according to his ability to each according to his needs,” but explained that this backfired when a small client expanded into an international organisation – and still pays her the same rates.

The big question, “What do we actually charge?” was answered something like this:

£500 a day for writing (negotiable according to the clients’ ability).
£700-£1000 a day for strategy work and consulting.

Tom Lynham only slightly flippantly suggested that 26 may be turning into the trade union for business writers.

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