You want to start off your career as a freelance graphic designer, but you are clueless about how to ‘price’ yourself up. First, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. We are all basically ‘selling’ ourselves. If you are good at graphic design, then you sell your skill in designing graphics. If you are impressive at selling or marketing, then you sell yourself as a professional marketer or sales. As professionals, knowing the proper way to price yourself is the key to success. It means that you value yourself, your skills, your professionalism, your experience, and the industry itself.
The Common Situation for Freelance Graphic Designer
Imagine this: You see two professional freelance graphic designers who can make at least $5000 a month. Both are similarly professionals – having the same skills, experience, and expertise. They both have similar work quality as well as portfolio. Yet, the first one handles many clients and many projects, spending more than 60 hours a week to manage the workload. The second one, on the other hand, has several clients and some projects, spending ‘only’ around 25 – 26 hours a week. Remember, both have similar earning. Which one would you like to be?
Naturally, everyone would be the second graphic designer – spending less hours and get as much earning as possible, right? If you can spend less hours and yet still paid as much as those who work more hours, then why not? The key is about the pricing. It’s how you see yourself as a valuable worker and produce high-quality work. You want to price yourself correctly – and properly. It means you value your skills and your time, but how would you do it right?
Graphic Designer and Hourly Rate
Most freelance graphic designers would start out charging an hourly rate – and it is pretty common. In fact, an hourly rate is one of the most common and popular ways to introduce your name (and your business) in the industry.
How does an hourly rate works? Well, a client may come to you, and you make an estimation of the needed hours to complete the project. Some may use a specific time tracking app or software that will literally track the computer’s activity while working on the project. Let’s say that you charge yourself $45 an hour, and you have this major project that requires around 10 hours of work to complete. Then you will get $450 for the work.
So, is the hourly rate good or bad for you? Here’s the thing: When you start out, it’s not a bad thing at all. After all, you are being compensated for the time you spend working on the project. If you have to work extra hours or the progress is slow (on the client’s side, naturally), then you will also get compensation for the extra time you have to spend. Again, it’s not a bad thing at all.
Naturally, when you grow and progress, it’s alright that you increase the rate. Let’s say that you start out charging $30 an hour. After a year, you start charging $45 an hour, and after two years, your rate has become $75 an hour. That’s completely fine. However, you may want to reconsider your option about the hourly rate after you already improve your own experience, skills, and expertise. At some point, you will realize that the hourly rate is limiting and restricting you.
Here is an example of a professional freelance graphic designer who realized that hourly rate is not the best option for him – after he has done several years in the business. So, after several years, he charged himself $60 an hour. One day, he got himself a client who wanted his skills. The client even provided the content, site map, and scope of work upfront. The designer predicted that the work would take him 3 hours, and he finished the project in 3 hours. The result was amazing. The client was happy and satisfied, and so did the designer. Later, though, the designer realized that the site he just created was worth a lot of money – and he was ‘only’ paid $180 for it. At that time, the designer just realized that he had to change his rate – and he needed to change the way he charged his services.
The common issue that most freelance graphic designer has to deal with is the fact that they realize everything just too late. They generally find out that clients don’t really care about the extent of time needed to complete the project – clients only care that the project is completed and it is completed well.
Project-Based Pricing – Reasons Why It Is Better
When you start to get the hang of your work as a freelance graphic designer, you will notice that you are able to work faster, and your results are getting better. This is another reason why it would be a bad idea to charge based on the hour. If you think of it carefully, a project now won’t get you much – it’s because of your improved ability to work faster. If you charge yourself based on the project, you have the advantage of spending less time, and yet you are able to earn more. Sounds like a great bargain, right? Moreover, the project-based price is basically about the project’s end result. You tie the price (of the project) to the end result – and it is the actual result that clients really care about.
Remember about the freelance graphic designer who thinks he charged his service too low? Well, he learned his lesson. After the ‘incident’ with the project, another client approached him. The client needed a website for her business, and the designer was happy to quote them an estimate. However, this time, he charged based on the project (the work scope included and the end result) instead of the time needed for the job. In the end, he earned around $5,000 from 5 hours of work. The client loved the result – she was very happy and satisfied. The designer, especially, was also happy.
This isn’t only about the money, but about knowing your self-worth and appreciating it. Shifting your freelancing focus from time focus to value delivered will change everything – not to mention your earning and income potential. You will realize that charging with a project-based foundation will increase the income – but in less time.
How to Set Your Price
In reality, there are no rules or formulas to manage everything. You should make it up – based on several criteria that will be described below.
Preference and Like
The first criteria you should ask yourself is whether you like the client or not. You see, clients are coming into YOUR life. They are going to be a part of your life, even temporary, because all of you will work together. If the clients like you and come back for more, it is possible that their involvement in your life would be longer.
So, you need to determine how much you like them. As you are well aware, there are different kinds of clients. Some are loaded, while some may not have an abundance of budgets in their pockets. Some clients maybe detail and ask (quite) a lot, while some are quite laid back and leave up everything to you – without being nagging in the end.
I have several freelance graphic designer friends who would consider their like level (for their clients) as a crucial factor to charge their service. A friend of mine charges low for laid-back artists simply because he likes the artwork – and the fact that the artists aren’t nagging or annoying. Another charge high for companies and corporate because he knows that they have the budgets – and he even charges higher for those who are demanding, annoying, and nagging. The reason because he has to put up with their wants, requirements, and demands, so it is only logical if he charges them higher.
As it was mentioned before, there is no exact formula on how you charge your service. However, you should know that your ‘personal feeling’ can also determine and affect how much you charge your clients, so think of it carefully. That’s the great thing about being a freelance graphic designer.
Your Expectation over Your Client
You probably think that you need to charge the same rate to all of your clients, but that’s not necessarily the case. Here’s an example so you can understand the case: Two clients approach you, and they have similar requirements. Client A has cool ideas and creative business – you really like it. Not to mention that he is easy-going and super nice to work with. However, he just starts out the business, and he only has $4,000 for the project. Client B is from a big company – an already established business. Aside from being helpful, friendly, and easy-going, he also has tons of great ideas and concepts. He has an $8,000 budget.
Once you have calculated the whole project (with the project-based calculation), you know that the value falls in around the $8,000 level. It means that Client B is more like it, but what about Client A? Don’t you have to charge the same? The problem is you really like Client A, a lot, and you know that you can actually do it for his budget (which is $4,000). However, if you charge A for that amount of money, then you should charge B with a similar amount. If you charge B with an $8,000 rate, then A won’t be able to afford it.
Moreover, if you go to Client B and inform him that you can actually do it for $4,000, you are actually undermining yourself – and your work’s value. It’s like underbidding the client’s expectation, and you unintentionally are sending messages that “My work isn’t premium in quality” or “You think wrong – I’m not really that good.” After all, if you are reviewing the previous section about judging your like-level concerning a client, then you should be able to make the right message.
Like a friend of mine who gets the satisfaction of completing a task – even he charges low – because he simply likes the artwork. You should do the same. Think about your professional value. Think about your personal preference and like. Think about your quality of work. It wouldn’t be illegal if you charge differently on those clients – based on the factors mentioned before.
It is also a good idea to know your clients’ budgets. There are several ways to do so:
- Always ask your clients. Have a discussion with them about the project, including their budgets. It is okay to ask, “Do you have the budgets for this? How much have you set aside?”
- After discussing with your clients, you can always say, “The project can cost between $5,000 and $15,000, but it depends on the project’s scope. Have you set a certain budget in mind – which you are okay spending for?”
Value to Provide for the Clients
As a professional freelance graphic designer, you should understand how much value you bring to your client. So, in the earlier section, we talk about project-based pricing. Now, we are talking about value-based price. The concept is about anchoring the price point against the project’s value – the one you provide for your client. The value can be described in certain numbers, but it can also come as intangible benefits.
Here’s the example: You are working together with a client, and the project is about a product launch. Whatever your service to them is (designing their book cover, writing their site’s sales copy, etc.), you are basically delivering value that they will earn when they manage their product launch and make sales. You want to focus on how you help them – to make (more) money. That’s when you anchor the price against the value.
The greatest benefit of value-based pricing is the fact that it doesn’t depend on the time-based operation. You can make an impact on an individual’s business – whether in a week or in an hour – while having significant value to it. You can get a handsome payment for it even working as a freelance graphic designer. Another friend of mine worked on a seemingly small change for a client’s website. He had to add (and tweak) a certain feature that can transform the business and change the site’s landing page for good. The client runs an online business, so much a transformation can make a huge deal.
My friend only spent around 20-25 minutes fixing the issue. He charged $500 for the service, and his client didn’t mind. They know that they couldn’t do it by themselves – and they know that the service brought up an extremely big value to their business. So, it’s basically a win-win solution.
This is the kind of thing that you should consider when you set up your pricing. How important is your service to your clients? How is the impact of your work? How will it transform your client’s business or operation?
The descriptions you have read before are only examples – they aren’t exact calculations or methods. Prices aren’t set on a stone, so there is nothing right or wrong about it. When you set up your price, it all depends on you. You may want to do some experiments. Try one thing, and change when it doesn’t work out well. Remember, as you grow and develop, your prices will come along too.
Upskill and Improved Skills
Upskill is crucial, especially in this digital era. Since the era of the internet and remote working, you can’t rely on your regular and average skills. Upskill is always a good idea – no matter how talented you are. For instance, you are good at realistic drawing. However, you are used to drawing it manually. It doesn’t hurt to upskill it to digital drawing. Take a course. Access the internet and various sources. Start investing in good and reliable gadgets and digital stuff. You may be able to expand your market.
Moreover, it doesn’t hurt to learn about new stuff, too, such as digital marketing or social market knowledge. Make use of your social media. You can even reach a wider market because of your new skills. In short, there is nothing wrong with doing upskill efforts. After all, if your improved skills can help you expand your market and boost your business, then why not?
Again, the article isn’t about focusing on an hourly rate – or why you shouldn’t do it. Not at all! As it was mentioned before, an hourly rate can be a good way to start your career in the graphic design business. It will be a worthy way to value yourself. However, as you progress and develop more, you may want to start thinking about project-based pricing instead of sticking to the hourly rate.
The decision is totally up to you – whether you want to stick to the hourly rate or choose the project-based method. After all, the price is about how you value yourself, your skills, and your service. Whatever your decision is, make sure you love working as a freelance graphic designer, and you aren’t feeling ‘used’ by your clients.