Copywriting Q&A: So, How Much Do Copywriters Make?

How much does a copywriter make?
If we can, we get into certain lines of work to pursue our passions. But, of course, with those pesky costs for housing, food and other necessities, we also work to pay our bills. That said, it helps to know what you’re getting into, right? So let’s talk a little bit about what kind of money you can make as a copywriter. (That piqued your interest, eh? :) ) Read on…

Today’s question comes from Evan L. who asks, “I’m interested in getting into copywriting, but I kind of want to know what I’m getting into….What does a copywriter get paid?”

Well, you’ve probably heard me say (or seen me write) that copywriting is the very best way for a writer to earn a living. And it very much is—unfortunately, it’s not particularly lucrative to be a journalist, a novelist, an English professor or even a magazine writer. It’s an utter shame, but it’s true.

Copywriting is a career in which we can make very good money for being skilled at putting words together. How good? It’s absolutely possible to make six figures once you’ve gotten experience and contacts—and cultivated the ability to really dig in and make the work come to you.

That said though, exactly how much you make depends on a few different factors—for example, whether you work full-time, part-time, on-staff, freelance or as a contractor. Contractors usually make more per hour than the hourly equivalents of their on-staff counterparts since they have to pay for their own health insurance and (in the States) self-employment tax.

Freelancers (that is, work from home freelancers) are a bit harder to gauge since it depends a great deal on the writer’s willingness to network, drum up business and hustle for work. That said, unless they’re taking low-paying work to build up their portfolios, they’re making hourly equivalents of contractors.

Overall, the amount you make comes down to 1) how good you are at what you do, 2) how pleasant you are to work with, 3) whether you live in or near a relatively busy city, and 4) how much you’re willing to hustle to find a job or to find clients. If you’re willing to get trained, meet people and then get work, you will do well. (If you’re not willing to hustle, good luck finding success in any career though, right?)

Now, down to real details:

Because it can vary so much from city to city, I can’t really give you a good ballpark for how much you’ll make for a salary—but I can give you a tool to figure it out for yourself.

First, you can skip those “online calculators.” Even from the most reputable sources, they’re often grossly off-mark.

Second, check the listings for jobs in your city (and nearby cities) that match your level of experience (or the level of experience you’ll be at when you finish your training.) Some job listings won’t offer salary information, but many will. Just be aware that non-profits and universities tend to pay slightly less than average.

Third, check with recruiters. Once you’re ready to start looking for work, you should be getting registered with recruiters, so now’s a good time to research which creative recruiters are operating in your city. All you have to do is put in a phone call, send an email or even just connect with a few recruiters on LinkedIn and ask what the average salary range is for your level of experience.

If you want to figure out how much you should charge for contract or freelance hourly rates, take an average of the salaries you find, divide by 2080, (40 hours a week at 52 weeks a year) and then multiply by 1.5. Again, that extra .5 is to account for the extra things freelancers and contractors have to pay for that on-staff copywriters don’t.

Now, again, all of this is really kind of a ballpark. You’ll find clients and employers who are willing to pay more and, of course, those that are willing to pay less. Also, you may decide to take work for lower fees to build your portfolio and client list—but you’ll probably also soon find a rate that you’re not willing to work below.

I know that’s probably not the exact numerical answer you were hoping for, but it will help you come up with numbers that are specific to you, your experience level and your area. But again, I think you’ll be pleased with the numbers you come up with. I know that I’ve been. :)

But all of this, of course, only comes into play once you actually know how to write copy. Many people make the mistake of thinking that because they know how to write, they know how to write copy. (But just because I know how to drive doesn’t mean I know how to drive a Mack truck, right?) You need to get training—a real training that not only covers how to write copy, but how to get experience and build your portfolio, too. There aren’t a lot of copywriting trainings like that out there…which is why we created our own.

Your turn! Have you found any other unique ways to find salary information? Let us know in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. Halona Black says

    I go by how much I need to make to pay my personal bills as well as what I need to keep my business running (internet, email list, e-junkie, etc.). Then I add on more for extra stuff like occasionally eating out, savings, etc. I have found that it is a great way for newbies to look at the “how much should I charge” question. What one writer needs to live vs another can be drastically different — even if you live in the same city.

    • Nicki says

      Hi Halona,

      That’s a great way to help figure out what your hourly rate needs to be and how much work you need to do to hit your goals. Thanks for the tip!

      Nicki & the Filthy Rich Writer team

  2. Laurie Tam says

    Now, this is what I love about sites like this. Communities of like minded folks sharing information with one another is a great way to look out for each other. I recently got hired by three different agencies that pay me to write articles or blog postings.
    I wrote down what you said on how to determine my hourly rate as a freelancer/contractor. I am in the works with another one. :) Hopefully, all three or four would work out for me as well as work.
    I used to wonder on how much to charge but these days, will negotiate on the project fee.
    Keep pumping stuff out like this since it’s good.

    • Nicki says

      Hi Laurie,

      Great! I’d glad you found the info on how to determine your rate useful. (Compensation is definitely a topic that many people—not just copywriters—are a little uncomfortable with.)

      Good luck with getting those gigs—and thanks for commenting! :)
      Nicki

  3. Michael kloempken says

    Hi Nicki,

    I’ve considered a coypwriting career for awhile. I created a portfolio, applied to ad agencies and random places on Craigslist, all to no avail. I couldn’t land so much as a simple interview. How does one get started? Where should a beginner go? How long did it take to get yourself to where you are comfortable? Any advice would be much appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Michael

    • Nicki says

      Hi Michael,

      Well, the thing about your portfolio is it really represents you to potential clients and bosses before you meet them; it lets you demonstrate how well you write copy, how well you understand the elements that make for an effective ad and how well you work with designers. (In the case of your online portfolio, of course.) What’s often the case—and, of course, I can’t know for sure since I haven’t seen your work—is that clients or bosses don’t quite see the level of copywriting expertise that they’re looking for in the spec ads they see. Where did you learn to write copy? And did you work with a designer to put together your spec ads?

      If you haven’t gotten training, this is really your first step. Copywriting is a career requires knowledge of specific techniques and the skills to wield them (just like any other career, or course) and it requires training, just like any other career.

      There are some people who will tell you, “No, no, just break into it! You’ll learn on the job!” but it’s incredibly hard to break into copywriting without training. A creative director would much rather hire someone who already knows what he’s doing.

      You need a training that teaches you how all of the elements that go into good copy, how to wield that copy across different forms (emails, banner ads, direct mail, magazine ads, etc.), how the project process actually works and then, also, how to build your business, build your portfolio, and build your career. If you’re serious about copywriting, whether you choose our training program or another, training is the first place to start.

      I, unfortunately, learned through trial and error. I worked hard, dug in, made a lot of mistakes, wasted a lot of time and eventually built a successful career. (We created our training so that people don’t have to go that route anymore. :) )

      I was able to make money relatively quickly, but it wasn’t until I understood what I was doing that I made a comfortable (and more than comfortable) income. There absolutely is work to be had, plenty of it really, but you’ll be so much more successful if you have the training and systems to learn and then find opportunities.

      Does that make sense? If you have more questions, feel free to email me at contact (at) filthyrichwriter.com

      Thanks for commenting!
      Nicki

  4. Lucas says

    Hi Nicki,

    Thanks for writing such a great post! I loved it. I am in a similar position as Michael – trying to break into advertising copywriting (or potentially digital copywriting for websites/mobile apps etc.)

    I have a year of freelance experience writing for the Canadian version of Groupon.com (Teambuy.ca) but beyond that, not much else. I am exploring your suggest to pursue training, however I do have a question:

    Would you recommend an all out-degree? Right now I am looking at an Advertising Certificate (with courses on copywriting) from University of Toronto. I know it’s a vague question but, generally do you think these sorts of post-graduate certificates/diplomas are enough? Do agencies prefer a full degree?

    To me, it seems at the end of the day, education or not, the proof is in the pudding. I need to be writing great spec ads. But obviously training will help, and I am totally willing to do it. Would you recommend a program like this – only 4 months long? Or do you think that will be scoffed at?

    Sorry I know it’s an out of context question but any insight you could offer would be great thanks!

    -Lucas from Toronto

    • Nicki Krawczyk says

      Hi Lucas,

      This is a good question and the issue of training/education confuses a lot of people. If you definitely want to keep pursuing copywriting (as opposed to work as an account manager at an ad agency), I would very strongly counsel you not to go for a degree or certificate in “advertising”. As you note, there will only be a few courses in actual copywriting and getting (and paying for) and entire degree or certificate isn’t worth those few classes.

      When it comes to copywriting, employers (and that’s ad agencies, in-house agencies and other clients) don’t care about degrees; they care that you know how to write copy well and effectively. (The problem with that is that most people assume that because they can write well, they can write copy well and that’s not true.) The length of the training doesn’t matter—it’s what you learn from it and what you do with it that counts. If you have an extra $40k and don’t mind going back to school for a few years, you could go to ad school. Or if you want training that’s still thorough but more flexible, you could look into a program more like ours.

      Whatever you choose, make sure it’s very thorough and that, as part of the training, it also gives you tools to build your experience and build your portfolio. Those will be key to getting more work!

      Thanks for commenting!
      Nicki

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