How much to charge for a design project that isn't being used?
June 27, 2015 12:00 PM   Subscribe

I worked long and hard on a design project that ended up not being used after all. I'm being asked for an invoice for my work and I need a little help figuring it out...

So, I have a connection to someone who works for a big national radio program, and through this connection, I was asked to design a t-shirt for an upcoming tour. I'm an artist, focusing mainly on blockprinting right now. I've been making art my whole life but am quite new to the world of selling my art and being hired for projects.

Since mid-March, I have been emailing with a contact at this program, sending ideas back and forth, working up drafts for the shirt design, and eventually carving a big block and sending in a test print. After about six weeks (and a few "hey there, just checking in on this" messages from me), I just heard back that they won't be using my design after all, but would like me to send an invoice for the work I did on the project.

This is where I'm stuck. Would the best equation be # of hours worked x hourly rate + cost of materials?

If so, do you have advice on how to determine and hourly rate for this kind of work? The work involved sketching ideas, doing more detailed drawings of the designs, transferring the image to the rubber block and carving, and creating test prints.

I'm also learning my lesson about keeping tracking of hours worked. I estimate that I worked approximately 20-25 hours on this project.

We didn't discuss payment at all during the project, and there wasn't a contract signed or anything like that.

Thanks, guys!
posted by sucre to Grab Bag (8 answers total)
Labor could be done flat rate or hourly. If you go flat rate using the hours x hourly rate as a sanity check is good though.

For materials, it's standard to charge a slight overhead premium, as you also took time to buy or keep a stock on hand, need a place to store, and now need to dispose or repurpose them.

A good starting point could be # of hours worked x hourly rate + cost of materials x 1.xx where xx is your overhead percentage, say 15 or 20%.

Since you never negotiated payment prior, you're pretty powerless here. If you're planning on working with them or their contacts again, choose a price that is neither so high that they'll balk or not use you in the future, but not so low that you wouldn't do more work for that price.
posted by JauntyFedora at 12:32 PM on June 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is very common, charge your normal hourly rate (if it helps, I'm a graphic designer and I generally charge $75/hour for freelance work, which covers my equipment but I get client approval for things like printing costs I might incur or stock photos I buy—in your case, a high enough hourly rate might cover your materials or you might want to include those in the invoice as a one-time fee). I have had a few bad clients balk at paying for unused work when I first started, but those tend to be small businesses who don't know what they're doing. With almost a decade of experience doing this, I've learned that bigger clients won't blink at paying a bill like this. If they're asking you for an invoice at this point, and they're a large organization, do NOT undersell yourself. Sure, you might feel like it's a huge amount of money, but freelance work is expensive. You're billing more than you would get paid as an hourly employee because you pay for your own healthcare, higher taxes, equipment, workspace, advertising/promotional expenses and companies who hire freelancers understand this.

If you're looking for a good time tracker, I use OfficeTime on my Mac and love it. I charge the same rate regardless of what I'm doing, but you can track time with different rates depending on what you're doing. I also bill in 15 minute increments, and using this time tracker diligently for phone calls and emails really increased my profit. Little things add up—don't feel guilty for charging for your time. You have a craft, it's worth money.

You're in a strange situation because you didn't provide an estimate and get a sign off on it, but in your shoes I would still proceed without worrying I won't get paid.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:39 PM on June 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

I would try to give a good client an incentive to be experimental with me. If you let them know you're giving them a discount (25%) they may view it as a very nice gesture. Don't leave the person who chose to use you with egg on their face. Encourage them to take chances because it is, after all a creative field and you want to be their partner in that.
posted by cleroy at 1:11 PM on June 27, 2015

Will you be retaining the rights to your design, so that you could sell it or use it again, if you want? Or will they keep the master block, test print and related materials, just in case they may want to use the design in the future?
It's not just your hours and the materials, it's also your creativity that should be factored into your rate.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:45 PM on June 27, 2015

Response by poster: I believe that I will be retaining the rights to my design, in this case. The design is pretty specific and would really only be used for this specific tour, so it may not be something I can use again, but that's a great point.

Super thanks for all the responses so far.
posted by sucre at 2:11 PM on June 27, 2015

How much would you charge if you did have a contract? Charge that. And watch this.
posted by rhizome at 2:13 PM on June 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

When you send them the invoice, explicitly state what your proposal for the rights is. Otherwise you're begging for a mess wherein you assume they're yours and they assume they're theirs.

Beyond that, the "discount" they get for changing their minds is that you don't bill them for work you didn't actually do, which conveniently enough (seriously! you're lucky they're being so decent) is exactly what they've asked to be invoiced for. One way to conceptualize it if you're just struggling with hourly rates specifically might be to think, "A completed project would have cost $Z. That would have taken approximately X hours of collaboration and Y test-blocks. Making a test-block is worth Q." Then you can solve for how much each hour should cost (hourly rate=[Z-(Y*Q)]/X), and rerun the overall equation with that value and how many hours you actually worked and one test-block (total price=[hours worked]*[hourly rate]+Q). Hopefully that makes sense; sometimes I just find it somehow easier to work backwards.
posted by teremala at 3:07 PM on June 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oops, I forgot about the prints, but you could certainly add them in just like the test blocks.
posted by teremala at 3:10 PM on June 27, 2015

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