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All is Fair in Rates & Wages – Speak Freely Friday

August 5, 2016

Blog On the World On Writing Speak Freely Fridays Natalie Mueller Comments Off on All is Fair in Rates & Wages – Speak Freely Friday

Fair Pay. It is a popular and passionate conversation among creatives and freelancers. More often than not we find ourselves wishing we could just say “Fuck you, pay me” and call it a day. Can you blame us? What other career forces its’ specialists and experts to constantly justify why they deserve to be compensated for their work? And why is income such a taboo topic? As a [now] forever freelancer, it has always baffled me how quiet other freelancers are about their rates and how quiet full-time creatives are about their salary requirements. Meanwhile, the big, quantity over quality recruiter firms are constantly bombarding us with “senior” freelance opportunities that pay rates so low an intern would reject them. When you are eager to work and no one is talking about what is fair or appropriate, it is easy to be taken advantage of by agencies, clients and recruiters.

Maybe if we were more open about discussing our experiences, preferences and requirements as professional creatives, we could protect ourselves and our brethren. Maybe we could even educate recruiters and encourage them to budget for and offer fair rates (Lookin’ at you “senior role for $15/hr”).

It was under that hypothesis that I built two surveys for my kickass network of Chicago copywriters. The first was for my fellow freelancers, the second for the fulltimers. The surveys were completely anonymous and solicited the following information:

  1. How would you describe your ‘experience level’ in years? — (multiple choice, indicated by ranges of years – e.g. 5-7 years)*
  2. Which industry experience level do you identify as? — (multiple choice, junior, mid, senior, intern, ACD etc)
  3. What is your current hourly rate / What is your current salary? — (open ended)*
  4. What is the lowest hourly rate or salary you would accept? — (open ended)
  5. Are there any specific benefits or features that would make you more willing to work for less than your desired rate/salary? — (open ended. e.g. extra PTO, offsite, creative freedom etc)
  6. In what city do you currently working/looking for work? — (This survey was distributed to mostly Chicagoland area copywriters)*

(* indicates required questions)

I also cross-checked the survey results with average copywriter rates/salaries in Chicago according to Glassdoor.

The results? Many of us are undervaluing ourselves, and, even with our undervalued rates, recruiters are still lowballing us. Hooray!

Here were my survey’s findings based on years of experience:

Average Freelance Copywriter Rates Based on Experience in Years:
1-3 years of experience: $30/hr average
3-5 years of experience: $60/hr average
5-7 years of experience: $72/hr average
7-10 years of experience: $80/hr average
10+ years of experience: $94/hr average

Average Copywriter Salaries Based on Experience in Years:
1-3 Years: $50,700/yr
3-5 years: $61,000/yr
5-7 years: $75,000/yr
7-10 years $94,500/yr
10+ years $140,000/yr

These are averages of what we ARE charging, not necessarily what we SHOULD be charging. Personally, the only figures I take great issue with are both the rate and salary for 1-3 years of experience. I find that $30/hr is a borderline acceptable rate for a first year copywriter, but too low for a third year copywriter — $35-55/hr for this ‘age range’ would be more aligned with my personal recommendation and the city average according to Glassdoor. The same goes for the salary, it is perfectly adequate for 1-2 years of experience, but I hope that by year three you have broken the $55k mark. I am curious how others’ feel about the above averages.

I chose to report results based on the years of experience vs. experience level because the latter turned out to be incredibly subjective. For example, there were plenty of fulltime employees with 1-3 years of experience who considered themselves mid-level, but there were freelancers in the 3-5 years range that were still self-identifying as junior. It should also be noted that each experience group had a few gross under-chargers bringing down the average for freelance rates especially.

Food for thought for both professional and salaried copywriters and the recruiters/clients who hire and pay them. I hope we can all learn something from this little write up, whether it is that you writers should charge more, feel confident in your rates or give yourself a much needed title-bump, or that you, recruiters, should budget smarter, fight for the talent or start a conversation with the companies you serve.

In summary, we are all very talented, valuable and worthy humans and should be compensated fairly for our skills…also, don’t be afraid to ask others in your community questions and don’t be afraid to answer those questions. Without curiosity and conversation, how are we supposed to prepare and protect ourselves?



Started to go through some of that salary/rate poll data and wanted to give a little update of people’s ‘years of experience’ vs. ‘perceived level’ because it was fascinating.

FOR FREELANCERS (an admittedly small sample size this year)

1-3 years of experience: 4 people reporting
3/4 of those identify as mids
1 identified as a CD and I wonder if that was a typo but if not good for you?

3-5 years experience: 3 reporting
2/3 identify as mid
1 identified as junior

5-7 years experience: 4 reporting
all identify as senior

7-10 years experience: 5 reporting
2 identify as senior
2 identify as ACD or CD
1 identified as a mid!

10+ years: 14 reporting!
13 identify as ACDs or CDs
1 identifies as senior

FOR FULL TIME (much better sample size than past poll):

1-3 years: 15 reporting
10 identify as Junior
5 as Mid

3-5 years: 18 reporting
8 mid
9 senior
(none identified as junior, good for you, get your title bumps!)

5-7 years: 17 reporting
4 mid
12 senior

7-10 years: 5 reporting
4 senior

10+ years: 13 reporting
5 senior
2 CD

And for your regularly scheduled pay breakdowns.


1-3 years of exp: 36.66/hr
3-5 years of exp: $50/hr
5-7 years: $80/hr (super small sample)
7-10 years: $71.2/hr
10+ yrs: $106.42/hr

Junior: $45/hr (only 1 in sample)
Mid: $43/hr (raise your rates bbs)
Senior: $79.16/hr
ACD: $100/hr
CD: $113.12/hr


1-3 years of exp: $47,678/yr
3-5 years of exp: $73,750/yr
5-7 years: $78,722/yr
7-10 years: $82,333/yr
10+ yrs: $112,769/yr

Junior: $46,388/yr
Mid: $59,383/yr
Senior: $84,850/yr
ACD: $117,330/yr
CD: $132,500/yr


Remember these numbers are averages and not medians and also are limited by the sample size and often wrecked by 1 or 2 major outliers — if the number looks low to you, you were probably in the sweet to high spot, if the numbers look high to you, you were probably among the lower rate/salary in your category.

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