How to Price Your Freelance Projects

by . August 2nd, 2014

There’s no standard rate for Graphic Design, and understandably – this makes pricing a bit of a thorny subject in the industry.  With each project being unique it’s quite difficult to publish rates at all. I’ve never billed the same amount for two different projects.

Your experiences and your clients will be different from mine so, a lot of things will work differently in your situation.  But when it comes to identifying how I’m going to price the project, these are generally my go-to methods. Feel free to pitch into the discussion over on Facebook or Twitter – using the comments on the post or the hashtag #YTDPriceGuide.

Identify Your Deliverables

The first thing you need to determine before starting any project is the scope. You need to figure out how much work do you really need to do, and analyze what your client really wants and needs out of your project. In order to do this you and your client need to do quite the thorough design brief. You may need to read between the lines and try to explain things as simple as possible. Educating the client is also part of your job.

So when you’re talking to them, try to look out for:

  • What are your clients customers needs and wants?
  • What features do you need and how long will it take to create?
  • How much research does this project require?
  • What are the clients really looking for?
  • How long is their time frame and what’s their budget?
  • How much existing collateral do you already have to work with?

You and your client both have to set in the contract exactly how much work you’ll be doing for them. The minute something else gets added, both you and the client need to sit down and restructure your negotiations accordingly.

Sit down with the client and make sure you get an extremely thorough creative brief. Establishing your deliverable goods is the key to a terrific client experience.


Who you’re working for and when they need it determines your rate

If you’re doing graphic work for a bigger company, you should price higher because usually – as a designer – you’re an extension of their Marketing Department which is something the company should have a set budget for.  Or you’re being brought in by their current art director for your skills. Whatever it is, these corporations have a budget for you so don’t feel bad about billing them higher. However, a small town coffee shop is going to have different needs and a different price point and budget for their work. You yourself have to check out what are your clients limitations and whether or not you want to work around that.

Again, if the ‘small town coffee shops’ budget doesn’t meet your needs – it’s perfectly acceptable to decline a project.

Time is also a factor as well. A client who needs something THEN AND THERE can be billed at a higher rate then a client that you’ve mentally blocked out a schedule for. I tend to do this as a sort of ‘life disruption’ fee, because your client has effectively made their problem – your problem, to put it quite frankly. Usually an urgent deliverable good is a sign of a communication error down the stream and someone trying to save their own neck. This means at times, you may need to drop some of your personal time to get it done. If they don’t understand why you’re billing them extra – they don’t value your time.  This is also a red flag. Take note of this.


Time Based vs Value Based Billing

Now, okay. At this point in the article you may be wondering where the actual figures are. Before we get to that – there are a few other things you have to kind of set up at the start of the project.

There are quite a bit of hidden considerations with both aspects and we’ll try to go through the process and give you some tips about which method to choose for which client. You, as a freelancer can use either method depending on the situation. A lot of it has to to do with asking yourself:  “which would benefit me and my client the most?”

Time Based

These are projects that you take at either at an hourly, daily or weekly structure. This structure may benefit you if:

  • You know exactly how much time you need for the project and you have your creative process ironed out. The client is coming to you with the presumption that you know how to do the work they’re asking you to do and you’ve mastered your tools like a pro. They don’t pay for your learning curve so don’t bill them for it. That’s your responsibility as a professional.
  • You remember to charge for overhead expenses. You’re running a business and the place where you work needs some TLC too. Even if you’re a one-man studio and working out of your laptop in your PJs, someone still needs to foot the bill for your workspaces’ electricity and Adobe CC subscription. Don’t forget that. Along the way a lot of designers forget that their rate should include operating expenses.
  • You Itemize, itemize and itemize again. Transparency with the client is so important. Don’t give them bill shock. Be upfront about the time that you need for their revisions and iterations.
  • If your client is the finnicky type that needs options and a lot of revisions. Seriously. I’m pretty firm in my work flow about only presenting one option to the client — a topic, I will write about another day — but clients who want multiple iterations and options tend to not value the thought that goes into one option alone. So itemize and bill them for your additional concepts.

Value Based

Your client pays you in segments of your project or in trenches. You group things in phases such as: Research, Concept, Production, Iterations and Launch. This is also having a flat rate structure. This structure may benefit you if:

  • You prefer to be under your own clock. For some people owning the time that they have is such a huge factor for them. If you work weird hours or prefer to customize the approach based on the client and don’t have one set creative formula – this may be better for you.
  • You remember to have a kill fee. So, one benefit of having time based billing is that even if your client drops out midway you’re still assured some level of payment for their work rendered. It’s extremely important if you’re taking the value based approach to have a kill fee. The client pays you for the phases completed + a set kill fee to compensate whatever time was lost on the project.
  • You can get your clients to trust you to do your own thing. A lot of this has roots in professionalism and it helps immensely if you have some kind of portfolio or blog posts that explain your graphic design process in detail. Again, transparency is key. Have frequent check ins and presentations of what’s been going on in your project so far.
  • You remember there’s nothing wrong with re-negotiating terms if they have deliverables.


The Actual Numbers, Advice and Industry Benchmarks

After all these considerations, here are some benchmark guides to the current going rates of creative professionals. Price according to your situation.