Pricing Your Work Right as a Designer

Pricing Your Work Right as a Designer

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Jacob Cass in Computer Arts Magazine, Issue 200
The article in Computer Arts Magazine, Issue 200. Photo by Luisedtr.

I was recently asked by Computer Arts magazine to answer a series of short questions on pricing yourself as a designer. You can find my answers in Issue 200 of Computer Arts or below.

How should designers determine an hourly wage?

There are a number of factors to keep in mind when figuring out what your worth such as what you think you’re worth, what you can get away with, your experience, the amount of work you currently have on, how badly you want an individual project and the terms of the project, as well how long you think each project will take. There are many other factors to consider, but this is a start. See here for more info on how much to charge for design work.

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What are the pros and cons of fixed pricing versus and hourly rate?

Pricing hourly has its benefits at times and you should always be flexible in which way you choose, however, I would personally recommend pricing per project as it demonstrates that you will give results, not just X number hours of work.

How can designers ensure they price competitively?

Ask your friends in the industry and also do some competitive researching. How do your competitors charge, and what do they charge? Once you know this valuable information, you will have better judgement on how to price your work, as well as how to position yourself. Learn how to negotiate budgets also.

Should designers take a lower wage for a cut of future project earnings or shares?

This should be judged on a project to project basis. Always be wary when taking on these types of partnerships as it really is a gamble. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. Be wary of people who offer this as it could be a scam and make sure you have everything in writing with a signature.

As someone who gets notified of a copyright infringement of my work every week (yes, every week!) I will tell you that it is a lot of effort to resolve these issues. You should be protective of your work, but don’t let it bog you down. I usually send a polite email at first and in most cases, they remove the work straight away with their tail between their legs. A few times I’ve threatened with a a DMCA take down notice but fortunately, I’ve never had to go further.

On this topic, be sure to read ‘how not to write a personal biography‘.

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At the very least you should read over anything you sign, at least once or twice. If you’re work and fees are getting high profile, then yes it may be worth getting an ‘eagle’.

Can a designer ever charge more than they originally quoted?

If a project is going out of the original scope, known as scope creep, then yes of course.

Have any other questions that you’d like my opinion on? What’s your opinion?

22 thoughts on “Pricing Your Work Right as a Designer”

  1. I like the comment on pay per hour vs. pay per project. I find sometimes projects can double in size of the original scope. Any suggestions on how to avoid this besides charging strictly pay per hour?

    • I usually have in the contract that it is an estimate only and that work not specified in the document will be charged accordingly. Fees are discussed before carrying out the work.

      • When it comes down to handling projects that may become larger than first mentioned, it is always good to make sure your contracts mention the cost if things change. In my proposal, I have a starred note *This is only a proposal. Whenever more pages are added, that is also mentioned: Any page after the agreed upon pages within this contract will be an additional $XX.XX. Your contracts should always cover your backside, especially when charging on per job basis!

  2. No matter how many there are out there, lists like this will always be great for new designers. It absolutely can seem a bit overwhelming at first.

    Adverse, I think what Jacob mentioned is the key. It should be in the contract that any significant scope changes will lead to the project being reevaluated with a new quote. It’ll protect you from having to waste money or an uneasy conversation with the client.

  3. Great article (as always),

    I do have a question for you:

    “What steps you do recommend, to someone order to become better at graphic who can’t at this moment get a degree/diploma, to follow i design?”

    A bit about me (and why the question):
    As someone who does not have a diploma/studies in the area of design/web design/branding (other than a lot of reading books, online material, self learning by trial and error, etc,), I find it somewhat hard to price my work correctly. True to be told, at my eyes, my work is far better and dedicated than most of the “diploma” professionals on my area, and I get good reviews of it, however I know I need a lot more to get to the point I want to be.

    Currently I work as a freelancer from home, things are not going bad, actually I get enought money to make my life comfortable enough, but I always want to get better, I want to be able to get to those good clients that need a good portfolio (currently my clients do not even give me work worth being put on it).

    Any tips for a young man that loves design but can’t (really can’t at the moment) get a degree?

    Sorry for a extensive comment (full of typos I guess).

    Thank you for your time and for your work on this blog, I’m a fan!

    António Pinto

    • Hi Antonio,

      I’d recommend doing what you have been doing, practicing & reading. The amount of information out there is beyond what you need so don’t hold back. Good luck!

  4. Its something I’ve always struggled with pricing a project correctly and being competitive. One thing I have found and its been mention in the comments by Jacob is the initial contract is an estimate and sometimes a client will want thing adding. I would suggest putting everything you plan to do in the contract so if things changes or need adding you can add it in as an extra.

    • One thing I’ve noticed when giving a competitive price to a project is the competition (at least in Portugal) usually try to “con” (might not the best term but that is how it feel) the client giving a low price for low service and than charging a lot of extras. I tend to warn my clients about that but usually they just go for the cheap price.

      • That is very true I had clients come to me who had a website build and then once the years hosting up been charge a ridicules amount to renew for a year. I tend to try and go by an hour rate and I think like you say its about being up front with people if they want it to be like Amazon website it will be a lot more than a 4 page brochure site. I tried to pigeon hole sites into size as to give an package option but even that quite difficult as not everyone wants the same thing. I guess there no perfect answer

        • Well, from my (very tiny) experience packages (as you have in your site) work fine as a guideline, people like to know upfront how much they will pay.

          Make sure you writte down EVERYTHING (I mean it) you will do and price the extra work from the begining (like you have for extra pages, I think its good).

          Another thing I’m experimenting right now (not sure how good idea it is) its to show on the “contract” a few sugestions like:
          + Mobile Version 120€
          + Newsletter Signup form 60€
          + Contact Form 80€ (althought I always put a contact form…)

          I’m hoping that sometimes they say: HEY I want that mobile version!!

          Dunno if its a good idea.

          • I do agree that everything should be written at the start of a project.

            Also like your ideas of suggestion, other options you could use depending on the site are:

            Twitter Facebook Backgrounds that match the site.
            Picture Gallery.

            I would make these suggestion on the type of project it is some may not require certain things and can be confusing if you add a range options for the site.

            Your advice been great much appreciated.

  5. Hi Jacob,

    good points. Thank for the article.
    I think there are two factors that are the most important and you mentioned them.
    1. Make the price as high “as you can” so you will still get enough projects to stay busy.
    If you get better and known and people desperately want to work with you, of course the price will be higher.
    2. Sometimes you might accept projects with a lower budget than you normally request, because the project is prestigious or whatever…

  6. This covers a lot of questions I had and some i would’ve never thought to ask. Your website has been a big help to since I’m really just starting out designing on a professional level. Thanks and keep it coming.

  7. Adverse, I think what Jacob mentioned is the key. It should be in the contract that any significant scope changes will lead to the project being reevaluated with a new quote. It’ll protect you from having to waste money or an uneasy conversation with the client.

  8. “What steps you do recommend, to someone order to become better at graphic who can’t at this moment get a degree/diploma, to follow i design?”

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