I spend a lot of time on my blog and YouTube channel talking about how to become a freelance copywriter and how to start a copywriting business. But here’s the thing: maybe freelancing isn’t the way for you to achieve your copywriting dream. Perhaps getting a salaried position as an employed copywriter might be more your thing.
Confused? Hear me out by reading the blog post below. Or you can watch this video I did on the topic.
Reminder: I’m based in the U.S. (just outside of Boston). English is my first and only language. So the perspective I’m sharing is from this specific and somewhat narrow lens. If you’re in another country and/or English isn’t you’re primary language, I recommend finding marketers and copywriters in your area who write in your language since they’ll be better equipped to provide you with valuable insights on how to get started in copywriting (either as a freelancer or an employee).
First of all, what is a freelance copywriter?
Let’s break it down. A copywriter writes the words that sell a product, service, or cause. That’s a super simple definition, but it works. Think about the stuff you encounter daily, like the junk mail you get in your mailbox promoting services, emails from the brands you follow, or the commercials you hear and see on the radio and TV. Someone needs to write those words, and that person is usually a professional copywriter.
Other names for copywriters include marketing writer, content marketer, and advertising copywriter—it runs the gamut.
When you add the word “freelance” in front of the word “copywriter,” that simply means the copywriter is self-employed. They’re not beholden to any one company, brand, or cause. They write for numerous brands, companies, and causes.
Sounds cool, right? If you love writing, and the idea of writing every day in your jammies sounds great, why wouldn’t you want to become a freelance copywriter? Who wants to work for The Man anyway?
Not so fast.
Like everything in life, there are pros and cons to being a freelance copywriter and pros and cons to being an employed copywriter.
Let’s discuss why becoming a FREELANCE copywriter might not be your best path.
Reason #1: If you simply want someone to give you assignments so you can do the work and get paid, then being a freelance copywriter might not be your jam.
As a freelancer, you often hustle to get work, especially in the beginning. Even if you do it for a long time—I’ve been at this for 20+ years—you still need to network, remind people you’re around, and sometimes knock on doors. That’s not for everyone.
Reason #2: If you’re not good at budgeting money and dealing with expenses, being a freelance copywriter might not be your thing.
As a freelancer, you don’t simply do the work, get paid, and call it a day. Guess what? You’re responsible for all the taxes. Yes, you pay taxes when employed, but someone else takes them out of your paycheck.
When you freelance, you must put money aside for taxes and remember to pay quarterly estimates. You need to keep your books super tidy and together. You need to manage invoicing, too. Clients won’t pay you if you don’t send them an invoice. It’s YOUR job to get the money from them, not theirs.
Reason #3: If having to manage paying for things like health insurance makes you twitchy, you might be better off working as an employed copywriter rather than a freelancer.
Being self-employed also means covering expenses like health insurance, disability insurance, and retirement contributions. These are responsibilities that employed copywriters might not have to worry about. Health insurance alone can be a significant monthly expense—I pay close to $700 per month, and that’s just for the price of admission (i.e., the insurance card). That price doesn’t include the cost of office visits, co-pays, etc.
Reason #4: You need structure in your day-to-day life.
If you’re someone who needs a ton of structure in your day—and you prefer to have that structure mandated with something like “We expect you to be in the office at nine, with a one-hour lunch, and clock out at five,”—then freelancing might be challenging. Sure, you might eventually be able to figure out a structure that works, but it will take time—and a lot of experimenting. (Check out my post on “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Copywriter.”)
This doesn’t mean you can’t figure out a structure for your day, but that’s just it. You’ll be the one figuring it out.
Reason #5: You prefer being part of a team.
Perhaps you thrive in a team environment, enjoy going to an office, and value collaborating with colleagues. This camaraderie is more likely in an employment setting. As a freelance copywriter, you’ll primarily be working independently.
Reason #6: You like working for a business/brand with a single focus.
As a freelance copywriter, I’m a generalist. I cover various topics, from beauty education to background checks. Being an employed copywriter might be a better fit if you prefer diving deep into one subject or brand. Freelancers can focus on a niche, of course. But when you’re starting, it’s common to generalize since you’re likely casting a wide net for new clients.
Keep in mind there’s no shame in being an employed copywriter.
Luckily, many full-time gigs are remote or hybrid, so you could have the best of both worlds if working from home is attractive.
As for the better way to break into copywriting if you have zero experience, I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer. You might have better luck landing an entry-level marketing job and building your writing skillset while earning a paycheck. But some people with solid writing chops (even if they don’t have “direct” copywriting experience) successfully build freelance businesses.
If you have experience as a copywriter but prefer working for a company, plenty of copywriting gigs exist in the U.S. (I just searched LinkedIn on “copywriter” jobs in the U.S., and there are over 2000 listings.) Yes, they are competitive, and you’ll need a strong resume and great clips, which you’d need for freelancing, too. Networking can help in this endeavor by seeing who you know on LI who’s connected to the company or brand you’re applying to so you can get a leg up, like a direct introduction. But landing a paid position can be a great way to build confidence, clips, and a great career.
Speaking of money . . . let’s look at some realities. Copywriting jobs can range from the mid-40s to over six figures in the U.S. If you’re entry-level, you’ll be on the lower side. If you’re a senior-level copywriter, you might command 90K to over six figures. According to Salary.com, the average copywriter salary in the U.S. is $57,000 (as I write this in 2023), but many things can affect this, from where you’re located to your experience.
Freelancing numbers are all over the place, and it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of six figures. Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely out of the gate? Honestly? Probably not. There are always exceptions, but you must be realistic. I share my revenue numbers over the last 20 years in this blog post for a reality check. I haven’t cracked six figures, but I’m perfectly content and make a decent living for my needs. Again, I’m in the U.S.
By the way, I know some full-time content marketers who freelance on the side. That can be a great way to have the best of both worlds while preparing for the unexpected, like a layoff.
So again, before you trot too far down the road of “how to become a freelance copywriter,” ask yourself if you SHOULD become one.
How do you determine which path is right for you? It boils down to your individual preferences, work style, and career goals.
If you’re drawn to independence, enjoy a diverse range of projects, and are ready to tackle the responsibilities of running a business, freelance copywriting could be your calling.
On the other hand, if you thrive in a team setting, value stability, and prefer a more structured workday, then seeking employment as a copywriter might be the better choice.
Remember, this isn’t a one-way street. Many professionals transition from freelance to employed positions or vice versa, finding the hybrid approach that suits them best.
Got a Question for the Copy Bitch?
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