Survey Says: Freelancers Sacrifice Bigger Salaries to Work Alone

By Alyssa Gregory
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designer salaryAs a follow up to my recent post, How To Calculate Your Hourly Rate, I did some searching for salary surveys and here is a summary of what I found.

Coroflot’s 2008 Design Salary Survey

Coroflot is a job search site for designers and creative professionals. Their survey included more than 3,900 respondents in 60 countries and at all levels of their careers. The results of note:

  • Experience is rewarded with greater pay, regardless of expertise.
  • The Pacific Northwest saw a nearly 17% jump in salaries last year.
  • Those with staff jobs make more than freelancers, who make more than those in academia.
  • Web and graphic designers are most likely to work independently.

aigaCoroflot has been polling web professionals since 2001; full results from 2008 and past surveys are available on their site.

AIGA/Aquent Survey of Design Salaries 2008

AIGA, the professional organization for design, tallied more than 6,400 U.S.-based responses to their 2008 salary survey. This is what it said:

  • The median web designer’s salary is $65,000; an entry-level designer’s is $45,000.
  • Among web developers, those located in the Middle Atlantic region have the highest median salary.
  • 87% of employees at web development firms get paid time off.

AIGA has been conducting their salary survey since 2001 and past results are available online.

surveyHOW Magazine’s 2008 Design Salary Report

HOW Magazine polled just over 2,200 designers in the U.S. Here’s a look at the results:

  • Designers overall saw an average 8.1% increase in their take-home pay from 2006 to 2008 (there was a 6.2% increase from 2004-2006).
  • In-house salaries have caught up to design firm salaries with a gap less than $100.
  • Freelance designers reported a huge spike in salary, a 21% change from 2006 ($52,236).

HOW Magazine conducts the survey every two years. The full report is available for download online.

Even if freelancers and solo designers do make less than in-house designers, the trade off of freedom is worth it in my opinion. What’s yours?

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  • Tante Waileka

    Where did you get the idea that ‘work from home’ freelancers make LESS money than they would working in a client’s office??? My dear, you are so very wrong about that! I make BIG bucks and I ALWAYS work from home. I suppose it really depends on how much knowledge of one’s industry one has. I got an 18-month project with a major bank (not one of the ‘penny stock’ banks but a triple A rated one). I am working from home for 90/hour and working a LOT of paid overtime too. I have two laptops from the bank, very very tightly secured. All my direct reports also work from home. I am in Florida, my team is in South Dakota, Des Moines, Colorado Springs, Raleigh, Virginia Beach, etc. Maybe you are in the wrong business! (It is true that 10 years ago I made 200/hr, but hey, the economy sucks now. Still, what 60-year-old woman cannot live well and bank most of her money even at 90/hr? That’s another benefit, being older. Why? Because I lost my desire to spend money around 20 years ago, like most people my age. A benefit of being older.

  • Even if freelancers and solo designers do make less than in-house designers, the trade off of freedom is worth it in my opinion. What’s yours?

    I’ve only been working full-time freelance for 8 months and so far am doing better than I did in my previous job, so aside from earning more, the flexibility and freedom is the next biggest plus to this work arrangement.

  • Tante Waileka

    P.S. I have been an SGML Template designer, a web developer, a professional ‘real’ developer (Java, C++, C#), a DBA, and now I am a Director of QA and Testing (it pays better). But I still do web development as a sideline business. HOWEVER, given that I have managed teams all over the world (and I neglected to include my current offshore teams in India and the Philippines in my previous comment). So I no longer build the websites, my own small business team members in the Philippines build the sites. Why Philippines? One can hire a good web developer for less than US$700/month, and that’s a GREAT income there. Filipinos speak excellent English, must give a month’s notice in order to change jobs, love America, are 12 hours behind from EST, so they can build a site overnight, I can evaluate it, and send it for review to the client before I walk 4 feet to my bank computers to start my ‘regular work’. I would never build a website again when Whey, Rachel and Rabi can do such a better job of it. The only real contribution I do is spellcheck/grammar check, and client interfacing after my day job is done.

    Why beat your head against the wall? My employee Whey is the Pacific Rim’s No. 1 Usability Designer, and he costs me about 145/week. Can’t ask for more than that!

    Think outside the USA ‘box’, the world is a lot bigger than that.

  • The trade-off is definitely bigger. I design part time (actually less than part time, maybe about 8 hours total per week) and make $45k from that alone.

    Even if I worked full time and made $45k instead of say, $60k, the $15k for me at least is worth losing over having complete control. There’s nothing I can’t stand more (aside from the idea of having my penis chopped off) than being controlled by someone / some company.

    Several years ago, for about 8 months, I worked as a full time designer working at home for another company. Even though I was able to work at home on the house I wanted to, it still sucked and was a pain in the ass.

    My dad was always self employed, guess it rubbed off on me.

    Also, it wasn’t easy establishing a consistent way to make enough money. I wasted a lot of time trying different things and different projects (as a webmaster), then one day I stumbled across a realization that one of my pages ranked awesome for a design related keyword, decided to build a quick portfolio site since I had designed for a long time, advertised it on there, and bam, made $3k my first month.

    So for those of you who work for the man, don’t bullshit yourself into believing you wouldn’t be able to make it on your own. It’s doable.

  • Dal

    Dreamache, I think you’re bullshitting. There is nothing that a designer can do, no matter their talent, unless they are capitalizing on fame, that could make them worth 45k/year to an employer for 1.5 hours of work a day.

    If that wasn’t enough, your site doesn’t even work.

  • nachenko

    If you can’t earn more working solo than working for others, there’s something that needs to be fixed in your businees.

    Your boss, and the boss over your boss, and the yes men surrounding the CEO, all them live from the same thing: your work. That’s it, Marx for dummies. The wages of everyone that is over the first line of production is being picked from those workers’ bags.

    More people over you, more people taking some of your money.

    No people over you, no people taking your money.

    Freelancer is the way. Besides that, this is the only way you can work dressed with your Spiderman’s pyjama.

  • Cyberomin

    @ Tante Waileka, i am a freelance developer and designer with core in PHP and MySQL, i have been looking for an opportunity to get to fellows with like minds, you can hire me if you want people in that area, my email is

    *P.S i think freelance work give you so much power and convinience, you are your own boss. Thanks once again.

  • Bartka

    What is the definition of a freelancer? I own my own company. Its a registered LLC. I am the owner/designer/developer.

    Am I labeled a freelancer?

  • zoka

    here here

  • Why beat your head against the wall? My employee Whey is the Pacific Rim’s No. 1 Usability Designer, and he costs me about 145/week. Can’t ask for more than that!

    $145/week, and he’s the number one in the Philippines?

    I can assure you, at those rates, he isn’t. :) He’s only mid-level at best.

    The mid-level IT people from the Philippines earn at least USD1400/month. Anyone below that is “just a kid”.

  • I am working as a full-time freelance and so far am doing better than I did in my previous job in IT company.

  • Anonymous

    I am wondering. How do you find work to do at home. I just got laid off and I am thinking of starting my own business designing websites. I have done a few on the side for people that I know but would love to work from home. Any suggestions. I am tempted to buy the Sitepoint kit or book, but wonder if they really help.

  • Bob

    I do web development and technical writing as a full time employee. The company I work for also hires contractors to handle some of the overflow work. At their current rate, the contractors make in one week what I earn in a month. I don’t think I’ve ever met a contractor that earns less than a full time employee. I wonder how these “salary surveys” can get it so wrong.

  • n0other

    Tante Waileka, how about you STFU with non-relevant boasting and write something about the article, no one here gives a damn about what you’ve been or going to become, especially when you present it in such a “I know it all, suckers!” manner.

    And staying on topic, I’m taking side jobs for more than a year, not ready to take freelancing for full time yet. Money wise, my day job brings in 60 – 70% of my monthly budget, but if I took the time spent on tasks in my day job and freelance jobs to the equation, freelancing certainly pays more.

  • F.Danials

    Money isn’t everything! – Sure it is nice to have Millions upon Millions upon….but if you stuck in a desert, what were you do then?

    There would be nowhere to spend it!!!!

    Whether you have to much money or not enough, it always causes arguments/upsets. Isn’t it just better to be average?

    …after all, people with more money than sense, spend cash on nothing but crap. Take football placers for example! ;)

  • F.Danials

    I apologies for the typo’s in the above post. (It’s a shame you can’t edit ;))

  • n0other

    @F.Danials interesing that you see this article as a debate about problems related to having lots of money :-)

    Having money feels great actually, just ask those who been poor and made it.

  • F.Danials

    n0other, it’s even more interesting that you think I’m treating this article as a debate. All I was doing, was speaking out-aloud, in order to make a valid point!

    I’m sure it is excellent to have lots of money, but do you really have to have lot’s of to enjoy life?

    Sadly, the more money people have, the more greed is in the world.

    Although it may seem mad, but some (if not most) of the people who have lots of money, will on many occasions, achieve a lot less than those people who have little.

    Money doesn’t necessarily bring happiness!

  • LLC (Chicago)

    The trade off is unquestionably worth it if you care more about being creative and having freedom than money.

    I would say a great deal of ‘creatives’ are in it for the money. I’ve spent time in house at ad agencies and unless you are freelancing there at a top rate its not worth it. Even then it can only last so long before you start to crack. I’m sorry but $100,000 a year is not worth being unhappy. I want to believe that more and more people feel this way but I suspect that its slipping in the other direction.

    This year I’ll make half or less than what I made last year but I’ll spend more time traveling and putting time toward things that really matter like friends, art and hopefully volunteer work.

    Go ahead and schoff at that…and when your 45 and prematurely bitter beyond repair…look me up.