Freelancing

3rd Annual Freelance Copywriter Salary Survey (Updated 2017)

UPDATE: Our original post has been updated to include data from our 2016 and 2017 salary surveys.

In other words, everything below has been completely refreshed…

It all started with a simple question to freelance copywriters: How much money are you earning?

To find the answer, we reached out to copywriters around the world — in late 2014 and again in 2016 and 2017.

A multi-year survey is the ideal way to discover trends. Our goal each year is to repeat the majority of questions (to allow for reliable year-over-year comparisons), but we also want to uncover new or emerging trends.

So for example, we included a few new questions in our 2017 survey that were specifically targeted at in-house copywriters and other types of marketers so that we could make some comparisons between them and the freelancers.

What did we discover in the 1000+ responses? Perhaps that Earth was once visited by ancient aliens? (If only.)

Read on to learn more…

Before we launch into the data, Joanna and I want to express our sincere gratitude to the all the respondents who completed the surveys and contributed their insights. You made all this possible. Thank you!

The survey breaks down into 19 questions across 6 categories (+ a bonus category!), so feel free to jump around and explore…

1. What does a “day in our life” look like?

2. Where does our work come from?

3. What are my peers charging and earning?

4. Should I consider going in-house?

5. What about becoming a different type of marketer?

6. Who responded to the survey?

BONUS: Freelancer quips and quotes

Okay, let’s do this!

1. What does a “day in our life” look like?

What are copywriters’ top motivations for freelancing?

Key findings:

  • Scheduling flexibility sits at the top of the list of motivations in all 3 years
  • Having a variety of work has become much less important to freelancers since our 1st survey
  • Note: In 2017 we asked respondents to choose a maximum of 3 options from the list; in prior years, respondents could select as many options as they wanted

How much experience do freelancers have?

Key findings:

  • The large majority of respondents to our surveys have between 1 and 5 years of experience
  • In 2017 we saw participation from more senior-level freelancers and fewer newbies

What types of copy do freelancers write?

Key findings:

  • Respondents’ copywriting is focused primarily on websites, content and email
  • Printed media and advertising copy have fallen off since 2015

How many hours do freelancers work?

Key findings:

  • In 2017, 56% of respondents worked between 31 and 50 hours per week; in 2016, that number was only 37%
  • On the whole, it appears that we’re seeing a shift to freelancers working more hours — does it feel that way to you?

How satisfied are freelancers with their work?

Key findings:

  • In 2017, the average satisfaction rating was 6.9; in 2015 and 2016 it was 6.7
  • However, averages can be deceiving: in 2017, 40% of respondents selected 0 – 6 on the scale, versus just 28% in 2016 and 23% in 2015
  • Are we seeing a shift to lower job satisfaction over time? Could an uptick in working hours mean more stress?

2. Where does our work come from?

What’s the top source of new clients?

Key findings:

  • If you’re looking for additional work, look no further than client referrals
  • Freelancers may be shifting away from websites like Upwork
  • Guest blogging lags pretty much every other source of new clients — either it doesn’t work or it’s not being tracked correctly

How is the demand for copywriting services changing?

Key finding:

  • The trend is pretty clear… demand for freelance copywriters is on the rise, which appears to correlate with the recent increase in working hours

3. What are my peers charging and earning?

Do freelancers charge hourly or by the project?

Key findings:

  • There’s a slight upward trend in freelancers charging by the project versus by the hour
  • This could be the result of influencers extolling the virtues of project-based fees

What’s their hourly rate?

Key findings:

  • In 2017, hourly rates moved in the right direction: up!
  • 73% of 2017 respondents charged between $50 and $149 per hour; that number was 54% in 2016 and 61% in 2015

What’s their average project size?

Key findings:

  • We also see a nice upward trend in larger project sizes from year to year
  • In 2017, 54% of respondents charged at least $1000 per project; in 2016 that number was 44% and in 2015 it was 39%
  • If in doubt, follow the trend and charge 10% more!

How much are freelancers earning?

Key findings:

  • The bad news: more than 50% of freelance copywriters expect to earn less than $50,000 USD in 2017
  • The good news: that percentage is steadily dropping and we’re seeing a solid increase in annual earnings
  • There’s more work to be done here…

How satisfied are freelancers with their compensation?

Key findings:

  • Given the prior chart, it’s perhaps not surprising that compensation satisfaction isn’t off the charts in positive territory
  • In 2017, the average satisfaction rating was 5.7; it was 5.5 in 2015 and 2016
  • Also notable in 2017: although the average was up slightly, there were more 7s selected and fewer 9s and 10s

4. Should I consider going in-house?

What motivates copywriters to go in-house? (2017)

Key findings:

  • Predictable pay was selected by nearly 8 in 10 in-house copywriters
  • Interestingly, while freelancers in 2017 are most motivated by a flexible work schedule, in-house copywriters feel quite the opposite
  • Skills and career building are also important to your in-house cousins

What do in-house copywriters earn in salary? (2017)

Key findings:

  • In-house copywriters are earning slightly more on average than freelancers, with 50% making at least $50,000 USD per year, versus 48% of freelancers who expect to earn $50K or more
  • However, freelancers face more pressure on the expense side, such as health insurance costs and home office expenses (tax deductions not withstanding)

5. What about becoming a different type of marketer?

How much do CROs, SEOs and other marketers earn? (2017)

Key findings:

  • 56% of marketer respondents (i.e., who are not copywriters) expect to earn at least $50K USD in 2017
  • 18% expect to earn at least $100K, versus 7% for in-house copywriters and 13% for freelance copywriters

6. Who responded to the survey?

Aside from some minor age and gender differences between 2017 and prior year surveys, the demographics between survey respondents are very similar.

Gender breakdown

Age breakdown

Education breakdown

Country of residence breakdown

BONUS: Freelancer quips and quotes

In the 2017 survey, we posed 3 open-ended questions to freelancers… and here’s what they had to say!

“How do you position your services to compete against lower-cost competitors?”

You get what you pay for…though not that blunt. 🙂

Think like a marketer, research like a journalist, write like a writer.

I refuse to negotiate my rate with new clients. I’ve only ever had 1 or 2 turn me down for that.

Self confidence and expertise. However it is not really a problem I face. I qualify my prospects before offering a price.

Results speak FOR me.

I name drop my fancy-pants clients. But most of my clients are referrals, so they contact me and already know their budget/my value.

Quality over quantity is a big one. I’m not here to dash something out and move onto the next job, because I need to complete 100 $5 jobs in a day to make sure I can pay the rent.

My brand voice is pretty different and people are drawn to that. ‘Lower-cost competitors’ can all write same-same stuff.

I’m fighting it out on UpWork and winning. Once you rise above the fray, UpWork makes it easy. My reviews and testimonials position me far above 99% of the competition. 

If there’s any waffling over price, I acknowledge the lower-priced competition (ie. the elephant in the room).  Then I point out what several clients have told me: A reliable freelancer who understands their business ends up costing less than the trial and error that often accompanies “budget” alternatives.  This is especially valuable for companies looking to develop a long-term relationship with a writer.  Over time and as I acquire a deeper understanding of the client, writing becomes easier and the hand-holding shrinks with it.

“What’s your biggest worry as a copywriter?”

Writer’s block. Full stop.

That I can’t take on every project I want to.

Will machines replace me?

WHAT IF MY FAVORITE ANCHOR CLIENT DOESN’T NEED ME ANYMORE?????!!!!!! I’ll have to hustle, you say? I don’t waaaaaaaaaant to! But I sure AF will, rather than get office job 🙂

That people don’t value the words as much as I do.

That in reality I actually have no idea what I’m doing.

That my work is mediocre or not good enough. But then I remember it’s not the client who should be the judge of that but their clients.

That my daughter is in my makeup bag! (Figuring out the dynamics of mothering and working, especially as my kids get older and my family grows.)

That I’ll lose the use of my arms. For real.

The clients. 😉 I guess I don’t have to explain this to you. There are plenty of knowledgeable ones, but some seem to be intent on diametrically opposing every best practice out there (using you as a scapegoat if it turns out to be the bad idea you’ve already let them know it is, but you end up doing as they asked because you need the monnaie) some don’t end up wanting to pay you, and their brief is usually shite.

“What’s the thing you love most about being a copywriter?”

FREEEEDOOOOOM

Turning words into money. I’ve always loved writing, but having an impact on people is the best reward.

The thing I love the most about being a copywriter is that I can be creative and persuasive at the same time.

I love pretending to be my clients when I write.

I get to do a job I love doing the only thing I was ever good at. 🙂

The inherent joy of creating something powerful, joyous, or thought-arresting.

The freedom and flexibility of freelancing. I have great regular clients and a comfortable financial situation (which is why I don’t stress about increasing my freelancing income). 

The badassery, opportunities for continued learning, self-expression.

Not ever going to an office to work where I would be forced to deal with office politics and drama. 

I love that I’m not beholden to any single client. My background is in television, and I was scarred by some of the personalities – from the unapologetic bully bosses to the supremely disorganized folks who made me wonder if the entire world had been lobotomized. I still encounter these types occasionally, but the fact that I don’t rely on them for my livelihood has made me more assertive. Even more, I never have to work with them if I don’t want to!

And that’s it until next year… (for the survey, not for Copy Hackers blog posts)

So what do you think? Any surprises in there? 😮

What questions would you like us to add to next year’s survey?

~Lance

About the author

Lance Jones

Lance Jones is a CRO and SaaS growth expert.

  • AWESOME survey! So many answers, so much solidarity, and some big revelations for me personally. Some questions related to career growth that I’d love you to ask next time: what do copywriters see as the next step in their careers? (Director of Marketing? CEO of their own agency? Novelist?) And what do they actually end up doing? Also, how many think about scaling up and hiring employees and growing their business? One of the things I’m most uncertain about as a freelancer is where to go from here and how to keep growing my business, expertise, and skill set, especially in the digital economy. Thanks again, Lance! This was phenomenal and I enjoyed sharing it. http://www.erinelyons.com

    • Thanks Erin! Glad you found it useful… and it was fun to put together. I really appreciate your suggestions for future questions, too. (I wish I’d asked a few of them in our most recent survey — where were you when I was working on it??? 🙂 )

  • Al Simon

    Have the results of the 2016 survey been published yet?

  • Really nice to share this with us team Copyhackers! Lance, I am assuming someone like you and Joanna would be considered freelance even though you have a business and serve as copywriters for your business. Is that correct? Freelancers basically are business owners, so, sometimes the line seems blurred. BTW, loving Airstory!

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