There are plenty of abbreviations thrown around haphazardly in the content industry — TK, SEO, SEM — and the list goes on. But one that you perhaps haven’t given much thought to is ROI, which stands for return on investment.
For talented wordsmiths who build their career one paragraph at a time, understanding the value of your work and using that information to land and retain clients is an invaluable skill. Not only does it build your confidence when you can explain how your work helped meet numbers, amp sales or develop a brand, but it challenges full-time freelancers to think more holistically about their companies.
After all, even if you consider yourself merely a ‘writer,’ you’re actually an entrepreneur, who should have a business strategy roadmap that fosters growth and scale.
As writer and principal Bruce Mendelsohn explains, for copywriters and content developers, ROI is the sweet spot where a writer’s work ethic, responsiveness, creativity, talent and clarity meets measurable activity for the client’s goals.
“To generate ROI — whether crafting print or digital copy — writers must quickly understand the requested deliverables and apply oral, written and digital communications mastery to deliver engaging, compelling and action-oriented content,” he explains.
Here, a few reasons why ROI should matter to your budding (or fully-fledged) writing career:
Tracking ROI contributes to your bottom line as a writer.
When you decide to support yourself 100 percent by juggling various freelance contracts, you suddenly become even more acutely aware of where every dollar is coming and going out. But to scale your business and thus, generate more income, there are certain investments you have to make. These include your website design, your technology must-haves (computers, chargers, voice recorders, and so on), as well as collateral materials to help you pitch yourself.
Journalist and content writer Jolene Latimer gives the example of an ebook that cost $500. Whether you wrote it yourself and lost that time working for someone else, or hired someone, that was money you allocated with a goal in mind.
You wanted this impressive work of art to lure in new clients, and over the course of the next six months, you landed a lead who paid you $400. “That might seem exciting, but the truth is you’d actually still be $100 in the red on that investment,” Latimer explains. “Tracking your ROI helps you know if you’re spending money on the right things. The biggest spending you’ll want to track will probably come from marketing your services.”
ROI isn’t just monetary.
In addition to helping you become better schooled in simple math, workplace expert and industrial-organizational psychology practitioner Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D. says ROI can also be measured via your emotional and personal gain.
Say, for instance, you’re given the chance to write about a topic you’re inherently passionate about, but the pay isn’t stellar. Because it’s something that fuels your soul, it’ll likely be easier for you to pen and you’ll feel motivated to meet the deadline. Then, once it’s a published article, you can use the clip to pitch various angles to higher-paying publications, which will ultimately be the greatest success of the experience.
The same could be said for a travel story to a destination you’ve never been to. The rate is low but being on assignment allows you experiences — from hotels to restaurants — that otherwise, you couldn’t afford. Hakim suggests always pausing to look at the bigger picture before turning down any opportunity. If it will lead to ROI in the future, it could be worth the hard work today.
Explaining ROI helps build client trust.
Think back to some of the gigs you snagged: why did the client come to you, specifically? Perhaps they had a negative experience after hiring a writer with (unreasonably low) rates — and now they need an expert to chime in and edit?
When you’re considered a thought leader in your industry, it comes with certain expectations on the return you can provide from a client’s investment. As writer and consultant Michelle Garrett explains, a good writer provides ROI in more ways than one:
It’s good practice to advise clients to think about the potential cost of not hiring a professional writer. Typos and poorly worded copy on their site or in any document causes them to look unprofessional — and can impact a buyer’s decision to choose them over a competitor. Don’t give them reasons to do so with poorly written content. If clear writing indicates clear thinking, what does unclear writing indicate?
One important stat you could use in your pitches? The fact that bad writing is costing American businesses close to $400 billion a year, according to Josh Bernoff.
Your ROI should change with your experience.
When you think about ROI, consider two things: time and money. Though it seems basic, Hakim shares it’s actually a forever-evolving balance to determine what you’re charging for the hours you spend writing. As you gain more experience, you’re able to charge more and work less, as you get into a groove.
This means you will have to always strategize and return to your ROI throughout every tenure of your career. “When starting out, you may decide to accept any and every writing gig. However, it is important to consider the amount of time that it takes to complete an assignment. Ideally, you should accept those gigs that take less time and yield the most earnings,” she explains.
And while sometimes you instantly mesh with an editor and share a brain wave on expectations from an assignment or a branded piece, other times, it’s not a match. Whether it’s endless revisions or not finding a happy compromise with voice, if the amount you make doesn’t compensate for the effort required, it might be time to move on.
When your client base grows, your ROI can help you know when it’s time to cut your losses. And more importantly, find a better investment for your talent.