What’s the difference between freelance copywriting and in-house copywriting?
You’re excited to begin your copywriting journey. Your fingertips are fizzing to write. You can’t wait to land your first paying gig.
Back up a second.
I’m so glad you’re excited - but there’s something you should know.
There are TWO options when it comes to copywriting - whichever option you choose will determine what your career looks like.
Your pay. Your work/life balance. Your lifestyle.
What are these two options, you ask?
Freelance copywriting and in-house copywriting.
They might sound super similar but they’re actually entirely different. Like ‘chalk and cheese’ kind of different.
Let’s take a closer look at each.
What is in-house copywriting?
An in-house copywriter - like any copywriter - will craft up content (blogs, social media copy, newsletters - whatever you’re specialism is).
The only difference is how this job is set out.
An in-house copywriter writes for one company. That could be a direct brand or an agency (a business that sells its services - like copywriting - to many different brands).
This means one of two things.
You’ll either be writing for many different brands under one company’s roof
You’ll be writing for one company directly
The majority of in-house copywriting jobs will fall under option B - writing for whichever company you’re employed at directly.
In these cases, in-house copywriters will write in one tone of voice (this is basically how a brand chooses to communicate with its customers. A tone of voice can be funny, sarcastic, motivating, or even offensive. Take Innocent Smoothies - they have a distinct tone of voice - it’s refreshingly simple and sort of funny).
As an in-house copywriter, you’ll live and breathe this tone of voice. You’ll come to know it like the back of your hand. It will be like reciting the alphabet - and it will almost always stay the same.
For this reason, in-house copywriting is often seen as ‘easier’ and more consistent than freelance copywriting (which requires you to learn lots of different TOVs).
Salary and career progression for in-house copywriters
In-house copywriting is like any other job where you’re employed by a business.
You are employed by one single company, which means you get paid a regular (often monthly) salary. This salary is consistent and doesn’t go up or down, unless you’ve been promoted or received a bonus/commission.
In other words, your salary is secure - your employer will always pay you a set amount.
Career progression will often see you transitioning from a junior copywriter to a midweight copywriter to a senior copywriter. You may also have a chance to progress to a Creative Director or Head of Copy role.
What is freelance copywriting?
Unlike in-house copywriting, freelance copywriting means being your own boss. In other words, you are self-employed. Every ‘business’ you work with isn’t really your ‘boss’ anymore.
They are your ‘client,’ - they come to you for YOUR copywriting services.
As a freelance copywriter, you’ll often have multiple ‘clients.’
Work is often done in one of three set-ups:
You work per day. Similar to in-house copywriting, you’ll work a number of set hours (for example, from 9 to 5 pm). The only difference is that you’re not actually a part of the ‘team.’ You are a freelancer.
You work on an ad-hoc basis (i.e., you’ll get paid each time you write a piece of copy like a blog, an ad, or an article. You’ll get given a deadline for each of these ad-hoc tasks and will get paid once you’ve completed them).
You work on a project-by-project basis. In this setup, your client will give you a set amount of work that needs to be completed each month - a bit like a ‘package.’ In most cases, you’ll get paid a flat fee each month for this, which is also known as a retainer.
The important thing to remember is that in any one of these set-ups, you’ll usually sign a contract that clarifies how long you’ll be working with a client.
This can range from one month to six months - and can even be a ‘long-term’ working arrangement with no end date in sight (unless either you or your client ends the contract).
As you can see, freelance copywriting gives you a lot of options and a lot of flexibility. You can pretty much ‘scale’ your work and take on as little - or as much - as you want depending on which set-up you’re in (making it ideal as both a full-time career or part-time side hustle).
If you do work with multiple clients, you’ll need to craft up different TOVs and styles of writing for each company - all in line with their different brand personalities. This can be extremely rewarding and fun, giving you the chance to explore lots of different writing styles - but it can also be a lot harder compared to in-house copywriting.
Salary and career progression for freelance copywriters
We’ve already gone over a few of the different freelance copywriting work set-ups and what payment would look like in each.
But in terms of salary and how much you’ll actually get paid?
It differs from client to client - and will depend on your level of expertise and experience.
In essence, you get to set your own ‘copywriting rates.’ You get to pick and choose how much you get paid.
But if you don’t have much of a portfolio or experience, it’s going to be tricky to persuade ‘clients’ to pay you a higher price.
If you start off freelancing immediately, you’ll need to understand this and realise that you won’t be getting MEGA bucks at the start (but hey, if you do - congrats!)
You won’t be getting MEGA bucks with in-house copywriting at the start either, but you’ll likely start with a slightly more secure salary. One that doesn’t have the potential to go up and down - as it does in freelance copywriting.
If you’re in an ad-hoc freelance copywriting set-up or have clients with short-term contracts, you’ll need to get used to the reality of not having a ‘totally secure’ salary. Some months might be better than others, some might not.
You also need to be prepared to continuously look for new business - i.e., - find new clients.
If you do happen to find a client that pays you a set day rate and has signed a long-term contract, you won’t run into this problem.
Despite the lack of security and stability (which isn’t always a problem - like we’ve mentioned above), there are a few things that make freelance copywriting a whole lot more rewarding than in-house copywriting.
The perks of freelance copywriting
For starters, you can end up earning a LOT more with freelance copywriting than with in-house copywriting.
You’ll need to stick at it and really play the ‘freelance playing field’ well, but if you do it will massively pay off.
Typical day rates for freelance copywriters include:
£150 (for a junior/newbie copywriter)
£250-£300 (for a midweight copywriter)
£350+ (for a senior copywriter)
I also want to make it clear that senior doesn’t mean you need to be 30. It just means having at least 5 or 6 years of copywriting under your belt.
At the time of writing, I’m 22.
And I’m considered a senior copywriter - because I have five years of experience.
Sounds weird right?
I started copywriting at 17 - that’s why I’m able to be in this category at such a young age.
Obviously, if you go to uni and start copywriting at 23 - once you graduate - you’ll probably only get to the ‘senior’ level when you’re about 28 (which is totally okay too).
But guess what?
You don’t even need to be senior to earn a lot of money in freelance copywriting.
As long as you have some kind of a portfolio, your talent and ability to write amazingly well will determine how much you get paid.
If a brand or company comes across your blog and LOVES what they see, for example, they’ll be more than happy to pay a premium price for your copywriting services. Even if you’re only 18 and don’t have much ‘copywriting experience.’
This is why I always encourage aspiring copywriters - freelance or in-house - to start their own writing thing. Set up a blog. Become a LinkedIn influencer. Show off your writing skills to the world.
Another major bonus of freelance copywriting?
As well as being able to choose how much work you take on, you’ll also have the option of working completely remotely.
Not all freelance copywriting gigs or projects will be remote - some will be hybrid (a mixture of working at an office and at home) and some will require you to work from a set location.
But there will always be gigs that allow you to work remotely.
Know what means?
That means you can work from ANYWHERE you like. You can travel the world - while you write and make a living. You can even move to a different country, if that’s what you dream of doing.
Working remotely also means you get to work from the comfort of your own home.
No long bus ride or train journey in the morning. No getting up at 6 am. No annoying packed lunches. No stupid traffic.
You can do it all from home.
In your PJs even.
So, what route is best for you?
There is no ‘better’ option.
Both have their perks and both have their share of downsides.
It’s also important to remember that no matter what option you choose - it’s not set in stone.
If you feel like trying in-house at first, you can still totally transition to freelance copywriting after a few years.
Equally, if you try freelance copywriting and end up hating it - you can return to in-house copywriting.
At the start of your copywriting journey - when you have little to no experience and are still trying to figure everything out - making the leap to freelance can be a little daunting.
For this reason, it’s often a lot easier for newbies to start out in-house and then progress to freelance copywriting once they’ve grown their wings (and their confidence) a little.
But then again, you can start off totally freelance.
That’s what I did - but I did this while I was at university.
Meaning I still had support from my government loan to keep me afloat - which gave me a little more security and stability.
In a nutshell, my journey looked something like this:
Went to university
Started building up my portfolio from the ground-up
Started freelance copywriting
Quit university a year into my course (once I had the security of a long-term freelance copywriting contract)
Spent a year freelancing for one client and one client only on a fixed-term contract
Spread my wings and started taking on more clients
Your journey - and how that journey pans out - will partly depend on your situation. Whether you’re at high school or college or university or just recently graduated.
My advice to you?
If you’re in high school:
Knuckle down on your studies and do REALLY well. Choose subjects you actually enjoy - not what your parents or friends think is the best.
Start prepping for copywriting now. You’re never too young to start building up experience and bettering your writing.
Read lots of copywriting books (Dark Angels On Writing Writing Down The Bones, 100 Ways To Improve Your Writing), and take a few courses if you can (Creative Copywriting Academy - an amazing ‘academy’ that will help you sharpen up your copywriting skills and get an idea of what freelancing is all about. Alternatively, LinkedIn also has a few courses that you can do for free to improve your writing game).
You’ll also want to begin showcasing your writing online. That could mean starting your own blog or posting a few articles on Medium, or even writing for your school newspaper.
Set yourself up on LinkedIn and create an amazing profile that highlights your raw writing talent - and start writing LinkedIn posts. The fact that you are a student and putting you’re all in - at such an early stage - will get you noticed.
If you’re at college/sixth-form:
Do the same thing I’ve mentioned above, but start to take things up a notch. Start approaching a few brands or companies (particularly startups) online and ask them if you can write a free blog/article for them. Make it clear that they don’t have to pay you - you’ll have to prove yourself at the start. I recommend using sites like Workinstartups.com or emailing companies directly (and remember, use every opportunity to showcase how great of a writer you are - even in your emails).
Have a read of this article I wrote (it will go into much more detail on what else you can do to build up your copywriting experience from zero).
And if you’re wondering whether or not you need a degree - read this article. Spoiler alert: you don’t.
If you’re at university (or graduated)
I love people who take risks (well, calculated risks). I also think taking risks is the best way to kick your butt into gear sometimes.
Especially if you’re at university.
If you love your course and are determined to get a degree - go ahead. It definitely won’t hurt.
But be aware that you don’t need one to be a great copywriter or to land a great copywriting job. If you’re not loving uni or feel like you’re wasting your time and money, don’t be afraid to step out (especially if you’re only in your first year).
I am a testament to the fact. I quit uni and went on to write for big brands like Verizon and multi-million-pound agencies. My salary is more than comfortable - and it’s continuing to rise. But most of all, I’m happy
And PS - No copywriting job I have ever EVER applied for has ever asked for ‘proof’ of a degree. Just saying.
What matters in the copywriting world is your talent. Your ability to write well. And how much real-world experience you have.
Whatever choice you make - to stay or to quit uni - have a read of this article too.
Everything I’ve written in that article you can start putting into action right now - getting you one step closer to becoming a copywriter.
But no matter where you are right now in your life, start writing.
This is key.
Write as much as you can - and take it online.
Start blogging. Get on LinkedIn. Write for the local newspaper. Write a Wattpad book.
Just do it.