What’s the average copywriter salary in 2021 (in-house and freelance)?

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“What’s the average copywriter salary?”

That’s the #1 question I get from wannabe copywriters who dream of creating their own wildly successful copywriting career

And I get it – it’s understandable to want to attach some monetary definition to a new career. 

But, it’s also really hard to find accurate information online. 

From the gurus who promise you millions while sipping Pina Coladas on the beach to the anonymous people online claiming random figures that can’t really be verified or backed up…

…it’s hard to know what’s true, what’s accurate, and what’s reasonable to expect at various points in your career. 

I’ll try to add a little bit of clarity to this question here. 

First, let’s set a few simple parameters. 

If you plan on being a copywriter, you probably either want to work for a company you love or for yourself. 

That gives us two neat categories which makes it far easier to understand the potential copywriter salary you could get: 

Category #1: Employed Copywriters

Category #2: Freelance Copywriters

Types of copywriters and their copywriter salary

Before I jump into the salaries for each just keep this in mind – everyone’s path is different and you can make a lot of money (or very little) in just about any career.

The real question you should be asking is “How can I make a great living in a role I love?”. 

But I know you’re here for the salary questions, so here you go!

Category #1: How much money does an employed copywriter make? (Agency & In-House)

Average employed copywriter salary

When we’re talking about employed copywriter’s salaries, we’re specifically referring to copywriters who have a full-time position with a single employer.  

Their pay comes from one source, and they are often locked into working with that one employer through a contract (as in, no moonlighting or freelance work on the side). 

The employer could be an agency, through which the copywriter would be able to work with multiple client brands. Or they could be in house handling all kinds of copy for a single brand (more on that later).  

Whatever the workplace, the kind of agreement is the same. 

These copywriters draw their entire salary from a single source.

When it comes to these copywriters’ salaries, the only real calculation for profit is how much they earn minus taxes. Which makes understanding your take home a lot easier.    

Average Employed Copywriter Salary: 

Average Employed copywriter annual salary: $40,000 – $80,000

Average Employed copywriter hourly rate: $30 – 50/hr

Average copywriter salary bands for in-house copywriters

The Work: 

Copywriters with “regular jobs” typically work either for an agency or directly in-house for a single brand.

An agency can be anything from a boutique, 2-person shop to a massive company like WPP (which has 130,000+ employees). Agencies can focus on specific areas or offer different services to a range of different industries.

The actual day-to-day work you’ll do at an agency or in-house for a specific brand really comes down to the company you’re working for. 

You’re likely going to be seen as one part of a larger creative team. As a copywriter, your projects will probably involve collaborating with an editor, a graphic designer, technical SEOs, web designer/developers, and others. 

This could mean writing content, writing ad copy, tweaking a landing page, and then totally rewriting a sales page. I’ve seen thousands of copywriter job descriptions, and they almost always expect you to wear several creative hats. 

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is really up to the specific work you enjoy doing. For many junior copywriters, getting exposure to a diverse set of marketing and sales assets can be a fantastic way to learn the ropes. 

This sort of work is what you’ll find at 95%+ of in-house or agency copywriting jobs.

Where it’s a little different is at a specialized agency, like one of the Agora companies, which work solely on direct response copywriting. 

In agencies like these, you’ll get the same sort of work over and over, and you’ll get more focused training. If you’re dead-set on being a direct response copywriter, you should do your best to get hired by one of these companies – you’ll get world class training (and you’ll probably end up earning much more than the average copywriter at some rinky dink agency). 

Career Path:

Career path for in-house copywriters

Copywriters are usually divided into 2 or 3 levels:

  • Junior Copywriter 
  • Copywriter
  • Senior Copywriter

If you’re working your way up from the beginning, you’ll probably join a company as a Junior Copywriter and work your way up to becoming a Senior Copywriter over the next 5-7 years (that’s a rough estimate – again, it largely comes down to the specific type of company you’re working for).

If you progress past those stages, you can become an ACD (Assistant Creative Director) and then a CD (Creative Director). 

However, from what I’ve heard from folk those roles often go to the design side rather than the copy side.  

It’s not impossible for a copywriter to get there, though.

If you do get to the CD levels, the income will obviously be higher than even that of a senior copywriter’s salary. That’s how you can break into the six figures and even $150,000+ bracket. 

But, the key point here is pretty depressing – if you want to be paid well, a traditional role as an employed copywriter is only going to take you so far. If you want to be paid significant sums of money, you’re going to have to transition out of copywriting and into a different role. 

Pros and Cons of being an in-house employed copywriter

pros and cons to in house copywriter salary

Pros: 

  • Security! 
  • A career path.
  • Possible mentorship.
  • You’ll build up a strong portfolio.
  • Working with a team.
  • Benefits. 

Cons: 

  • Lack of creative freedom.
  • Slow development.
  • Might have a bad mentor.
  • Ceiling on your earning potential.
  • Often locked into a set career path development 

X Factors that will affect employed copywriters’ salary

If you go down the employed route, your salary (and career) development will largely depend on two things:

X Factor #1: Where you work.

“Where” you work matters, both geographically and from a CV perspective.

Firstly, copywriters in major hubs like New York City, San Francisco, London, and Paris are typically going to earn more than copywriters in a small town. 

Of course, those big cities often come bundled with significantly more expensive cost-of-living, so the higher salary may not have a massive effect. 

“Where” also matters from a reputation point of view. If you’re trying to land bigger and better jobs with bigger and better companies, you’d better believe that your track record matters!

Name-recognition carries a lot of weight in this industry.

If you’ve worked for a bunch of great – but unknown – little brands….it’s probably going to be difficult to break into a major ad agency. 

Similarly, if you’ve written under a famous copywriter, dropping their name will be a huge door-opener for you.

X Factor #2: Your management.

This can be either a good thing or a bad thing, but your boss has the power to shape your career. 

Get a good boss, and you’ll have someone who’s always behind you. 

At large organizations (agencies or brands), you’re more likely to have a structured development path to a senior position. 

A copywriter’s development also often comes down to who their managers are. A technical mentor can help elevate your writing and help your future opportunities dramatically. And, a bad manager can hold you back. 

Unfortunately, you’ll have little say over who your mentors within an agency are.  

Category #2: How much does a freelance copywriter make?

Average freelance copywriter salary

Freelance copywriters, unlike employed copywriters, work with various different clients across multiple niches and deliverables. 

The work is incredibly varied, but it’s also far more complex to understand what the real copywriting salary here is going to be.  

It’s more complex because freelance copywriters are, in effect, business owners. 

And as a result they’re gonna have much higher costs to keep the business running.   

For example, a freelance copywriter who earns $100,000 / year might then have to pay $15,000 on services to keep the business running, plus a further $5000 on equipment, and $5,000 on contractors.  

That puts revenue at $75,000 pre tax. 

A lot of people online muddy the waters here to make themselves sound more successful than they are.  

Being freelance it’s not as simple as saying “this is the average freelance copywriter salary”. There are a number of extra costs that people omit that can negatively affect how much you actually take home.  

However, the potential income for a freelance copywriter is vastly higher than an employed copywriter. That is, as long as you figure out fair but profitable rates – something you can do easily with our freelance rate calculator.  

Average freelance copywriter salary: <$10,000 to > $250,000

Average freelance copywriter hourly rate: $61-70/hr (Source)

Average freelance copywriter daily rate: $501 (Source)

The Work:

Freelance copywriters can range from doing highly focused, specialized work (like optimizing the text on your site’s buttons) to taking on any projects related to communication. 

“Copywriting” can mean content, sales copy, emails, and all sorts of communication types. Copywriting is anything that persuades a person to take an action with a business

Thing is, your work as a freelancer actually goes well beyond the actual act of writing copy. 

As a freelancer, you’re essentially operating a one-person business. That means you’ve got to be all the departments of your business. 

Freelance copywriter salary does not equal revenue. They're two different things.

You’ve got to market yourself, sell your services, onboard clients, create new content, manage clients, craft freelance contracts and invoices ….AND actually write. 

For most people, this is the overwhelming part. 

The income plateaus that new freelance copywriters hit often come down to the simple act of managing all these different “jobs”. 

The freelancers who develop and make great money do so because they’ve figured out how to handle landing freelance clients “on-demand”, manage multiple clients efficiently, and keep their marketing running smoothly. 

This often comes down to the business systems that a freelancer has in place. These systems are where you see the biggest difference in the new freelance copywriter vs the consultant who’s a decade into it.

First-timers often don’t have any systems.

They flit from job to job randomly, even though they spend a lot of time trying to drum up work. On the other hand, veteran freelance copywriters have sales systems that often operate autonomously, in the background. 

When it comes to handling work, new freelancers create everything from scratch for every client. They spend hours building new docs, new pages, new ads that are completely bespoke. 

They think this is good service, but in reality it takes up precious project time and….the solutions might not work very well.

And their overall copywriter salary ends up being below minimum wage.

Compare this with experienced copywriters who use proven templates and processes to create big wins for their own business and for their clients.

In this case, the copywriter knows what works because it’s worked for dozens of previous clients. The deliverables improve with each project – it’s almost like they’re being paid to create reliable, powerful templates for their copy.

And when you have those templates you have a really predictable level of success.

It’s how I know I can easily land $10,000 of work if I just send 100 cold emails – a process I’ve actually given you in this linked article.

If I follow that process every month, I’ll exceed the “gold standard” copywriter salary of $100,000 by a further $20k.

Systems and processes are the primary difference for success in my opinion.

Lastly, new freelancers usually have no idea how to improve their businesses.

This is a fundamentally important part of your career as a freelancer – you must find specific ways to improve your pricing, your offer, and your client management. Newbies take random actions while experienced freelancers will smoothly move from project to project, improving their business with each round. 

If you focus on the right things, your work as a freelance copywriter can be fulfilling and rewarding. You can manage projects easily, get paid more, and build up a long waitlist of people who are practically begging to work with you.

That’s the secret to a huge freelance copywriter salary. It’s not just about charging higher fees, but about improving all the small elements of your business for compounding gains.

But, to get there, you’ve got to have strong business systems in place. You’ve got to see your “job” as partially client work, partially improving your freelance business as an operations manager.

Pros and cons of freelance copywriting salary

Pros

  • Creative freedom. 
  • You can set your own schedule.
  • No artificial ceiling on your earnings.
  • You’ll get to pick and choose your team.
  • A sense of fulfilment, if you do it right!

Cons

  • More risk.
  • You’ve got to spend time + effort on selling projects.
  • You’ve got to juggle multiple roles in the business,
  • No fancy office with craft beer and ping pong tables.

X Factors that will affect Freelance Copywriters’ salary

As mentioned above, increasing a freelance copywriter salary isn’t just a case of “charge more”. You’ve got to understand that it comes down to…

  • Improving your business processes so you can achieve results with predictability in less time
  • Ensure you provide a valuable ROI for your clients

Here’s a few x factors that will help you do just that.

X factor #1: Your niche + specialization

Freelance copywriters who specialise in a specific copywriting service tend to earn more than those who stay general. 

And while certain fields tend to pay more (like medical and financial writing), you shouldn’t really be that concerned with which area you choose to focus on. Instead, think about the actual service you’re specializing in, and how it affects your clients’ businesses.

Here’s a good question to ask yourself when considering a specialization: 

How much is this service going to affect your client’s business? What is their ROI for hiring you?

Example 1: If you’re writing blog posts, what is the ROI the client will see for an individual article? How is that going to affect what you can earn while keeping the client happy?

Example 2: If you’re optimizing a sales page, what is the ROI a client will see on the project? How is that going to affect what you can earn while keeping them happy?

If you can laser in on a specialization that’s closely connected to sales or some other form of measurable ROI, your copywriter salary potential will be very high.

If you don’t, you’ll end up scraping the bottom of the barrel like the majority of other freelancers out there. 

X factor #2: Your business systems

Most freelance copywriters don’t really have business systems in place. 

That’s why the feast-or-family cycle is so common. They float from job to job, trying to drum up work, then manage the work, then drum up more work.

This cycle is a financial killer. There’s no better way to ensure you stay at the lower end of the freelance copywriter salary spectrum.

But it also hurts your career development as a freelancer. You end up stuck in the weeds as you flit between those two stages – scrambling to find work and scrambling to manage the work. 

You end up super busy, but not exactly productive.

If you look at most freelancers, they never get past that feast-or-famine stage and never really develop their business. 

That’s why so many freelancers are overworked, underpaid, and always seem like they’re on the edge of burnout, while a few are living the good life.

The difference is really simple – business systems.

Without them, your earnings as a freelancing will never be very impressive and you’ll hate your day-to-day work. Frankly, it’d be better getting a job with an agency or a brand. 

But with business systems in place, you’ll be able to consistently level up your earnings for years. 

Freelancers pulling a very healthy 6-figure copywriter salary do so because they’ve built the systems that automate, delegate, and optimize their own business’ sales and marketing. 

If there’s a “secret” behind a great freelance career with great pay and great work, this is it.

Hidden mistakes that hurt freelance copywriters’ salaries

I’m going to focus specifically on freelance copywriter mistakes, because they’re a little more subtle and a lot more dangerous. When you’re employed in-house or at an agency, there’s not much of a threat to your salary – there’s just a relatively low ceiling.

These mistakes are what most new freelancers run into when they’re trying to grow their businesses and earn more income.

Mistake #1) They mistake revenue for income.

This is a really, really common issue for many new business owners in general, freelance copywriters included. 

I mentioned it briefly above, but I’m gonna break it down with some rounded, real number from my own history here.  

We often calculate freelance copywriter salaries with the  money paid by clients.

The client pays $100, so you make $100, right? 

Wrong.

As freelancers, we have to account for all the costs of doing business before paying ourselves. 

That includes:

  • Taxes
  • Health insurance
  • Internet
  • Your computer
  • Etc
freelance revenue does not equal income

Let’s run through a hypothetical. 

The first time I grew to 6-figures I did it as a solo worker. To hit a 6-figure copywriting salary you need to make $8,333 / month.  

That means you come out with just over $100,000. 

Back then I’d average around  $9,500 – $11,000 / month. 

Which means that, overall, I was making over 6 figures, right? 

But here’s the thing.   

I had to pay for software, services and help every month to keep the business running. 

If we imagine a freelancer is earning a solid $9,500 / month for a year and has (relatively) stable costs, what would that look like in terms of their copywriting salary and what they’d actually take home?   

I’ve simplified the numbers for clarity’s sake. 

Below I’ve only used…

  • The retainer income we mentioned of a stable $9,500 / month
  • A quick total of the software costs I was using when I first hit 6-figs (hosting, Leadpages, ESP, later on an SEO tool)
  • Fees for an accountant and VA (used my VA to build a single list of leads every month)
  • An unexpected cost of a new laptop when the one you’re on fries
MonthIncomeSoftware costsAccountant and VA costsUnexpected costsProfit
January9,500-250-2009,050
February9,500-250-2009,050
March9,500-250-2009,050
April9,500-250-2009,050
May9,500-250-200-20007,050
June9,500-250-2009,050
July9,500-250-2009,050
August9,500-325-2008,975
September9,500-325-2008,975
October9,500-325-2008,975
November9,500-325-2008,975
December9,500-325-2008,975
Total114,000337524002000106,225

In the above, the copywriter’s salary was around $8000 less than revenue, or total money earned. 

And that’s pre-tax.  

If this copywriter was like me and in the UK, they’d take home £62,246.95 after tax (about $82,000 USD).  

freelance copywriter salary after tax

Which is still great and more than enough to live a comfortable life on.  . 

And honestly, someone getting 106,000 as an employed copywriter salary would have taken home the same after tax.

The point here is to not get drawn in by claims of huge amounts of cash and earnings online.  

A lot of the time people omit things like business operation fees and tax to make themselves sound more profitable than they are. 

The real crazy thing? 

As I grew my business to employ several contractors, running ads, and to operate as a limited company that profit margin massively reduced.  

I had much higher revenue, but my profits were only marginally higher than working alone. 

That’s a story for another day though.  

Moral of the story. Don’t confuse revenue for profits, or profits for what you get to spend.  

There are costs and tax that have to come out of everything before you can buy those new Balenciagas. 

Mistake #2) They undercharge.

How to profitably price your freelance copywriter services

Let’s face it – most freelance copywriters start out by charging very, very cheap rates. 

That can be OK if you’re really just doing it once or twice to land your first gigs, but it’s a dangerous place to get stuck. 

If you spend any time on a freelancer marketplace or Facebook group, you’ll see a crowd of people battling each other for terrible jobs that pay peanuts. 

If you didn’t know any better, you might think that this is the norm and that you also need to charge fractions of a cent per word. 

When you start out playing at a very low level, it becomes tough to climb up to a healthy level. It might feel like a big deal to go from $25 per blog post to $100 per blog post…but in reality, you’re still not going to be making enough to earn a decent living. Even at the new rate, you’d have to write 30 (!!) posts to make $3,000. Good luck with that. 

It’s much, much better to start out by working backwards from a rate that’ll actually lead to a sustainable business. 

I call that rate the Minimum Acceptable Rate (MAR), and I put together a spreadsheet that’ll help you calculate yours. You can check out the full process to figuring out a fair freelance rate and earning what you’re worth here.  

Mistake #3) They don’t raise their rates often enough.

Raise your freelance rates regularly for a better income

Pricing is one of the most effective levers you can pull to improve your business and make more money.

But, for some reason, a lot of freelancers seem to get stuck on this bit. 

If you’re really serious about growing your freelance copywriting business, you should consistently raise your rates throughout your career. 

I advise doing so at least every 6 months and then every quarter.  .

Eventually, you’ll hit a plateau. At some point, you won’t find clients willing to pay that amount. 

When that happens, it’s easy to just drop back down a little bit and continue charging the rate your clients agreed to 

But the point is, you should let the market tell you what you’re worth by actively asking them to pay more until they say no.

Most freelancers stop well ahead of this level and just arbitrarily decide on what sounds reasonable. 

And that’s why their copywriter salary is often way below the national minimum wage.  

If you’re not comfortable asking for more money, get your shit together. You’re running a business and this is a business 101 move.  

Supply and demand. As you get better, demand for your services goes up. However, supply (the time you have to create stuff) stays the same. Thus, price should increase.  

If you really want to earn more, raise your rates. Break out of your comfort zone and push your price to the next level. 

Don’t be scared about losing clients. 

If you’re doing a good job, most of them will want to keep you on even at a higher (but still fair) fee.  

If they don’t want to pay the higher fee, good riddance. You’ll find clients who are and end up earning more for less work . 

If you don’t believe me, check out this email I got way back in 2015 when I first started raising my rates every 6 months.  

This is from a client who was paying me a fair rate, but I thought I was providing more value than I was being paid for.  

I didn’t get the rates I wanted, but I moved from $500 / month of project work to a $1500 / month retainer deal.  

How to increase your freelance copywriter income

To get the above response I sent a simple email like the below.  :

Subject: Quick note – rates are changing Feb 1st

Hey Steve! 
I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be making a change to my business on Feb 1st due to increased client load and demand. 
My new rate will be $X/month and it’ll include XYZ.
Let me know if there’s any issue there – I’d be happy to get on a call!
All the best,
Pete 

Like I said, simple.

When you’re first starting out, you should be raising your rates with every project. 

As your freelancing stabilizes, you can raise your rates consistently, for example every quarter. 

If you make small, steady increases in your rate, regularly, you’ll grow your business quickly.

Mistake #4) They don’t specialize

Specialist vs generalist freelance copywriters

Many freelance copywriters try to earn more by doing more. 

More services = more income, right?

In reality, that’s not the way to grow your business. 

If you’re offering a wide range of different services, you’ll end up:

  • Being known as a generalist, not a specialist.
  • Getting mediocre results for mediocre clients.
  • Spending a lot of time managing the different types of projects.

You’re much better off being known as a specialist, where you’ll be able to:

  • Work with clients who really know what they want and really want to work with you.
  • Charge more. Way, way more.
  • Get really good at running one type of project over and over. 

It’s OK to try a few different offers out when you’re first getting started. But once you’re serious about growing your freelance copywriting business, you should pick a niche, a specific service, and specialize.

What’s your dream copywriter salary?

Let me be absolutely crystal clear about this:

You do not need to be a freelance copywriter to be happy. 

You do not need to earn crazy money to have a great career and be happy. 

But, there’s also a very clear ceiling on your earnings as an employed copywriter. You are highly unlikely to break $100,000/year, even as a senior copywriter. You only start reaching the next level of income if you transition into a different role entirely, like a Chief Marketing Officer or a Creative Director.

And while you can certainly do that – you’re no longer a copywriter. 

So, if you’re absolutely committed to earning significantly more – you’ve got to consider a career as a freelance copywriter.

But – and this is a BIG “but” – just deciding to go out and start freelancing is not enough. In fact, it’s probably a big mistake.

You need to approach freelancing as a serious business with real systems.

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