The Rookie's Guide to Mastering Freelance Graphic Design Rates
You’ve spent countless hours polishing your graphic design skills and are finally feeling confident enough to seek out some freelance graphic design work to pad your portfolio and your bank account. After pounding the pavement and scouring the internet for a gig, you finally have a few promising prospects.
There’s just one problem, though: “What the heck am I going to charge for this?”
If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone in asking this. For many new designers, setting a freelance graphic design rate is alien territory. Lucky for you we enlisted a handful of experienced designers to help create this handy guide to freelance design pricing.
Where to start
The first step in determining the price of a freelance project is finding the range of prices charged for similar work. This sounds simple enough, but there are a few approaches you can take. First, if you’re lucky enough to have a good relationship with some more experienced freelance designers, ask around! You might think they’d be hesitant to offer up their pricing information, but there is an incentive for their help—underpriced projects from you puts negative pressure on their prices.
If you are lacking in design contacts, you may have to do it the hard way. Your best bet is to ask local ad agencies and print shops for a quote on a similar project to get a solid baseline for pricing and work from there, suggests Robert Richardson, of Richardson Graphics & Marketing. Of course, your expenses and overhead will be less than that of an agency, but this should help you to determine a price that isn’t too high or too low.
Richardson says that while popular online freelancing sites are an easy place to check, the pricing for projects found on these sites is not a reflection of the price of professional work.
“Stay away from online sites where you can bid on projects; they don't reflect real world pricing and often attract people who are scraping the bottom of the barrel,” Richardson says. He recommends sticking to established graphic design agencies for a more comparable price.
Hourly vs. per-project rates
Another important factor to consider in determining freelance graphic design rates is whether to charge by the hour or by the project. The answer to this is tricky to pin down—some designers prefer to work hourly while others swear by a per-project approach. Choosing which is best for you largely boils down to your experience, according to Paul Manwaring, owner of Internet Marketing Hustle.
“In my experience, it really does depend on the job,” Manwaring says. “You’ll only know from experience how to charge for certain jobs.”
"You'll only know from experience how to charge for certain jobs."
It’s also important to know that in most cases it isn’t entirely up to the designer to determine how a project is priced. Freelancers will have to work closely with clients to come up with terms that are agreeable to both parties. Often times, client budgets can become an overriding factor, according to Martin Orton, creative director for Martin Orton New Media.
“The majority of the time, per-project pricing is more appropriate as almost all of your clients will have a fixed budget for a design project,” Orton says.
Rick Sloboda, senior content strategist at Webcopyplus and proponent of project based pricing suggests a hybrid solution of outlining exactly what is expected for the project (for example, the initial project work plus two revisions) and then charging hourly for any additional work. Clearly outlining what is or isn’t included in your pricing helps keep the expectations of both parties in check.
“When we quote, any revisions are included in the fees,” Sloboda says. “Clients find this appealing and it helps us win contracts.”
Know your value
“Your time is worth a lot, don't let a client take advantage of you and don't ever feel like you are worth less because you freelance,” Richardson says.
It’s natural for inexperienced designers to feel less confident, but it’s important to not let your lack of confidence drag down the true value of your work. A ‘green’ freelance designer doesn’t have to charge top dollar, but an unreasonably low bid can hurt you.
“Pricing on a project should be tied to the value provided,” Sloboda says. “Clients who shop for design services based only on price make poor clients. They’ll nickel and dime you and expect free work.”
Not only can a low bid attract less-desirable clients, it can also take your services out of the running entirely as clients may become wary and think you’ll deliver shoddy work.
For free? Or not for free?
Should you ever work for free? This is a touchy subject for many designers. In a field that relies heavily on portfolios and other tangible projects to demonstrate your ability, there can be a bit of a catch-22 situation: I can’t get work because I don’t have a portfolio and I don’t have a portfolio because I can’t get work!
"Only work for free if the project will open new doors to desirable work & clients."
This frustrating situation leads to many designers down the path of volunteering their services in an effort to build their portfolio. It can be effective, but most established designers recommend free or volunteer work being done both sparingly and strategically.
“Keep your integrity intact,” Sloboda says. “Only work for free if the project will open new doors to desirable work and clients.”
Orton adds that new designers should only seek out volunteer work from reputable businesses or organizations they think will lend credibility to their portfolio. He also urges freelancers not to perform ‘spec work’ as it devalues the entire design industry.
Take it to the bank
There you have it! You should now have a much better handle on what to expect and how to navigate the world of freelance graphic design rates. But before you go any further, get a behind-the-scenes look at the industry from those who have gone before you: 9 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Freelance Graphic Designer.