What should I charge people as a freelance designer?
September 28, 2011 12:20 AM   Subscribe

I am a first year graphic design student at ASU. I have two years experience as a graphic designer at small sign shops. I am beginning to get a lot of offers to work on projects (album artwork, logos, brochures, etc) from friends and friend of friends. I am struggling with figuring out what to charge per hour.

I have started charing $20/hour. Do you think this is under or over what I should charge? Should I consider just flat rates for certain things? A sample of some of my work is at swggrdesigns.wordpress.com
posted by stlboi to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think that's a very good price, and you should never charge flat rates. Flat rates just encourage people to not make up their mind about anything and keep adding to the scope of the project.
posted by tremspeed at 12:31 AM on September 28, 2011

20 dollars per hour is too little. 35 dollars per hour at a minimum. 35 dollars per hour is "minimum wage" as a self-employed contractor.

Though for graphic design work you want to bid the overall project, with payment upon completion of certain deliverables. for instance, 50 dollars once you have delivered the first round of sketches, 100 more dollars once you have delivered second sketches, then 150 for the final sketches, then another amount for the first comp, more for the second comp, then final payment when the final comp is handed over.

To prevent scope creep: After the final sketches are delivered, the idea is "locked in" and any changes after that point go back to the beginning of the design process and start over as a new project with a new fee structure. This must be explained up front and completely understood.

The other thing to do is to release only the final comp to your client for public use. All sketches and other materials may be "delivered" to the client, but the "rights of use" stay with you.

Also, This process gives your client the sense that have gotten more than a digital file, they have this tactical thing in a job jacket they can look at to remind themselves of why their logo, brochure or annual report is what it is, so the next time they need a designer they have tangible proof of a process that gave them more than a file on a CD-R. It really does help your clients feel like the amount they paid you was worth it.

posted by roboton666 at 12:51 AM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

35 dollars per hour is "minimum wage" as a self-employed contractor.

But not as a first-year student doing work for friends. This work will be the basis of stlboi's portfolio when s/he looks for real paid work in the future. I'd pay a student $20/hr but I'd only pay a pro $35/hr (depending on the work; there are a lot of designers out there & I'm not in a major market).
posted by headnsouth at 4:00 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to be a graphic designer, back when I was young and foolish. Now I hire and fire them, along with other creatives. I'm still foolish, but in a different way.

Here's the short lesson: the only correct rate to charge friends and family is "I'm really, really sorry... but I have no time."

If you need money, do work for strangers, and never for friends and family. When doing such work for strangers, yes, $35 is a reasonable base.

You'll thank me later. A lot.
posted by rokusan at 10:30 AM on September 28, 2011 [8 favorites]

As a datapoint, my 'friends and family' webdesign rate is $35/hr; my 'everyone else' rate is higher. But, it's negotiable, too; you're an independent contractor, and clients may talk and somebody might come back at you with a "but you charged Gary $x!", but that's part of the system, so it may be easier to start higher and work down to $20 in negotiations. $20 is a bit low, but not crazy-low, so if you're comfortable with $20, stick with it -- but it's by no means too high, you've got room to raise prices without being crazy that way either. As you get busier, make sure the price goes up; demand and scarcity are key components of capitalistic pricing, use it to your advantage.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:17 PM on September 28, 2011

It's my strong opinion that you should listen to rokusan. I've worked as a graphic designer off and on for 25 years, and had some nutty clients who wanted nutty things. Nobody, in my mind, is a worse customer than a friend or family member. You might think you're adding to your portfolio, but what you're really signing on for is a ton of alts - at best. At worst? You could end up hurting a relationship, or ruining one. You could also end up not getting paid.

If you're really in St. Louis, which I take from your handle, then $20 an hour is dirt cheap. I'm in KC, and I can't get good work for that price. $35 is closer. If you're making original illustrations or drawing original logos for people, that should cost more. People who want a discount because they're helping you build your portfolio are cheating you. Maybe they mean it kindly, but it's not a good deal for a designer.

I look at doing design work for loved ones the same as I would lending them money. In a way, that's what it is. If I do what I do for my brother and he doesn't pay me? He owes me money. That leads to hard feelings, and you get the picture.

Seriously, rokusan is righty right right.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 2:10 PM on September 28, 2011

Also agree with rokusan, don't freelance for money for family or friends. If you really like someone, do it for free, that way you can walk away once they get annoying.

You'd be surprised how easy it is for family not to pay you.
posted by dripdripdrop at 2:27 PM on September 28, 2011

rokusan is undoubtedly familiar with this site: Clients From Hell

You should be too.

As for the rate, there's a trick to this. Charge $100 an hour. Oh, there's no way, you say? Well, here's the trick. You work eight hours on a project, turns out nice, your client likes it. You invoice them for $200. That's obviously $25 an hour.

But either don't itemize your hours, or show them the hours and tell them you are heavily discounting the total. Most people like to see the hours, and most people love to see a discount.

There is a good reason you do this though. When they keep coming back to you for revisions, revisions that you would be happy to do, but after a while and many, many iterations later you want to strangle them... first you tell them, "Sure, I'll be happy to do more revisions. But I'll have to charge my full rate."

Stops that crap fast. People almost always pretend to be stupid about how much time something they want you to do will take. When they are confronted with real consequences, often those minor revisions go away. And if they don't? Full rate. And you told them your full rate up front.

The second reason you do this is that you won't get locked into a repeat client at a ridiculously low rate.

TL;DR $35/hr minimum. You'd be getting $15-20 as a new employee at a professional office.
posted by Xoebe at 3:18 PM on September 28, 2011

Thirding rokusan and seconding roboton.

When you look at your hourly rate, realize that taxes will eat half of it. Managing client expectations around work and payment are critical freelance skills. I would suggest following roboton's payment schedule and I would add that all of the details around schedules, payment and the exact nature of the work to be produced should be in writing. That way when your client comes back and claims they thought that the work you are doing would also include something they didn't specifically ask for, you can point to the work agreement.

Seriously, the hardest part of being a freelance is dealing with customers. Most of them will not understand what you do and most of them will not know what they want. Part of your job is to educate them (without making them feel stupid).
posted by doctor_negative at 3:28 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good ideas above. An important thing to understand about business: charge as much as you can get. This is determined by the quality of your work, the demand for it, and the type of clients you have. If that's $35/hr or $100/hr, whatever it is, charge it. You can ask senior designers to assess your work and suggest a rate, but really, whatever people are willing to pay you, that's what you can charge. This is a beauty of a free market.*

You can always make exceptions for friends, really cool projects, experience-building, non-profit stuff, etc. But for paying, commercial customers, charge as much as you can get.

*Yes, I know that idea breaks down when it comes to fine art, health care, and a bunch of other stuff. But there is a core idea here that still works pretty well.
posted by 4midori at 8:04 PM on September 28, 2011

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