How much should I charge to design a Web site?
May 19, 2007 8:45 AM   Subscribe

How much should I charge per hour for Web design services when I'm not a Real Designer?

Two acquaintances have approached me about building Web sites for their small businesses. They are HTML-illiterate and design-impaired. One currently has a Web site up, and while it's functional, it's horribly designed and he knows it.

I worked in marketing for a few years, but as a project manager, not a designer. I did learn a lot about design, mostly through osmosis by hanging out with the uber-cool design team, and spare-time tinkering with Quark and Photoshop. Evidently I'm pretty decent, because they ended up assigning me the design and layout of several ads and invitations. I know Photoshop, Illustrator, GoLive, Dreamweaver, HTML, CSS, and a little ASP and JavaScript. I know I can create a lovely, if not overly complex, site for either of these people; something they'll be really happy about. I've done it before for free for a family member's business.

But I have no idea how much to charge, since I'm not a designer per se (my degrees are in Sociology and Urban Planning, of which they are both definitely aware). Both want to pay me hourly. I'd like to maintain good business relationships with them, so I don't want to overcharge them or seem pretentious. I'm not in this for the money, but i don't want to be taken advantage of either. I think they realize that a Real Designer would be quite expensive, so they want someone they know who's reliable and who can do the basic job.
posted by desjardins to Work & Money (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, "real designers" get paid between $50-75 per hour. So - if they are trying to save money - how about $25 hr?
posted by mildred-pitt at 9:02 AM on May 19, 2007

A freelancer would be $30+ per hour. Minimum wage is something like $6-7. I think $15-$18 would be a pretty fair middle ground depending on how involved it is. (More if it has interactivity, less if you're just sticking to a css template and dropping in images/text).
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:03 AM on May 19, 2007

I don't really know what a fair price is exactly, but I do have this advice: My roommate is in design school right now. According to him, at least, being a "Real Designer" isn't so much about the degree as much as your skills, experience, and portfolio. Design/art school is useful largely because it allows you to build a nice portfolio that will help you get a start in the field. So my point is don't sell yourself too short. You may not have a ton of Real Design degree, or a ton of experience, but if you're just good, that shouldn't matter too much.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 9:44 AM on May 19, 2007

There is no such thing as a real web designer - there is only good work and bad work.
posted by homodigitalis at 9:45 AM on May 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Like gauchodaspampas said: forget about degrees. Can you do the work? If you CAN'T do a good job, then any amount is too much. If you CAN, especially if you have done it for personal sites or whatever, then there is nothing wrong with charging the same as others who are starting out.

I had no formal training, but when I got asked to do websites (back at the beginning of the web!) I charged $35 an hour. I now charge $75, and it's still not my "real job."
posted by The Deej at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2007

I totally understand the desire to want to give friends a break, or do work for less where you feel less experienced or skilled. And I think there's absolutely a time and place for that. But I want to point out some of the problems with this approach.

One is that people sometimes hire less experienced workers thinking that they'll get a value. But often what you might get from an inexperienced or production-level designer after a dozen hours of work might not match what a design pro could produce in three or four hours. By keeping your rates much lower than a real design pro, you might be inadvertantly be leading your friends into a decision that might cost them a roughly similar amount of money but still not deliver them the results a pro could have. I've gotten myself into this situation where I was the marginally adequate designer and regretted it. I've also done projects where I had a pro do the basic identity work and then took over from there (figuring I'm reasonably capable at production-level stuff), and I've been much happier about the outcome.

Another problem is that if the project drags out for any reason (it takes longer than you thought, you start hitting your limits, aliens kidnap your friends and replace them with simulacra who are micromanaging fiends who keep changing their minds), you are now spending more time billing at a rate that's below what you might normally bill. This can build up some resentment and have a big impact on your relationship with your friends.

So sometimes the best decision is to simply bill whatever your going rate is for your time. It keeps the economics straight for both you and your friends.

If you are going to give your friends a break, do it as a gift because they're your friends, or because you'd just enjoy doing the work, not because of a worry about whether you match up to someone else's level.
posted by weston at 10:04 AM on May 19, 2007

I do freelance sometimes, and I'm definitely not a REAL designer/artist/anything. The people I work for are usually somehow intimidated by trying to do the professional thing, and so what I do is ask them to find what they consider a reasonable professional quote for their job (I keep a little spreadsheet of this, too, if they don't want to do it), and then I tell them that my normal rate is about 35%-65% of this, depending on what the job is. Then I say "However happy you are with my work is how much you should pay me." Sometimes I get more than the high end of what I quoted them!

I don't know if this would work with everyone, because my situation is kind of specific.
posted by rhoticity at 10:09 AM on May 19, 2007

If you are going to give your friends a break, do it as a gift because they're your friends, or because you'd just enjoy doing the work, not because of a worry about whether you match up to someone else's level.

Have to toally agree here, otherwise it's totally unclear who is doing who the favor. Your friends think they're hiring you and you think you're doing them a favor. When they start giving you a zillion little things to fix, you feel like it's pushing in to "not worth it" territory. I'd say charge low level but totally not "I'm doing you a favor" rates of $35-50 an hour. If you want to throw in some time that you spend reading the manuals or learnign to tools for free, that's your prerogative.
posted by jessamyn at 10:12 AM on May 19, 2007

$25/hr is too low. It means you will probably make $8 for every hour spent on this project.

If your design is pretty and the site works, why worry about being a "trained professional"? The two biggest challenges are getting compensated fairly for your time and managing expectations.

Figure out how much they have to spend, and then determine their requirements - bearing in mind that clients often don't know what the requirements are until the project is finished and they don't have what they think they wanted in the first place.

Try to figure out what you can do, and determine if it meets their basic needs. But make sure they know what the budget (and your skillset) will allow them to do, right at the very beginning.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:43 AM on May 19, 2007

I honestly dont think hourly is the best way to go about it. As you're not a 'real designer' it will probably take you a lot longer than someone with a lot of experience, no matter how talented (or not) you may be.

My designer charges me £150 (about $300) per design, which is a fair price, probably a little on the low side (thats why he's so fully booked all the time... damn him) if I were to do the design myself, it would probably take me about 10 hours staring at photoshop and what I'd come up with wouldnt be anywhere near as nice because he has that special unquantifyable designer thing that means whatever he does looks fantastic and never looks cheap, tacky or overdone.
If it took him 10 hours, he'd be getting $30 an hour which is pennies compared to his talent. I would guess he probably spends 5 hours total on the design - $60 an hour is a little more reasonable but if I was pretending to be a designer and charging the same hourly rate, they'd be better off getting the 'real thing'.

On average for a design and build of a simple html site I would usually pay $600-$1000 - maybe a little more if its very complex.

My suggestion would be to figure out how long you estimate it will take you (and double it - newbies always underestimate how long it will take), how much you think is a fair price for your service then divide the too - then you have an hourly rate

Just beecause you're not a 'qualified professional' doesnt mean you dont deserve a decent wage - we've not seen your work, you might be amazing, you might be crap its hard to really put a value on your work without seeing it first.
posted by missmagenta at 11:19 AM on May 19, 2007

It pays to be consistent. While the "how much is it worth to you" line is nice, but some people think anyone who can afford Frontpage is a web designer. Even if you haven't truly freelanced before, come up with a rate and tell them "my rate is x". It lends a professional credence to you, and the quality of your work. If you are doing this to get established as a freelance designer, consider keeping your rate on the low end, and focus on quality portfolio-level work. I started out charing $20/hr for small, 5-7 hour projects with people I knew. Some people told me it was too expensive. I didn't push them, but there are plenty of people who have valued the work put in by someone with know-how.
posted by potch at 11:22 AM on May 19, 2007

As others said, if you're good, bill the going rate. If you're not, don't do the work.

I'm not a very good web designer, although I can hack a reasonable site together, but people ask me to do their sites because they don't know anybody else to do it. I usually charge my regular rate for other work, although for large projects I'll do it for a flat fee, based on the number of hours I expect it to take and my normal hourly rate.

Of course, my hourly rate is ridiculously low to begin with, so you'll want to charge more than I'm getting paid. In the case of good friends who I'd normally do favors for, I'll do it for free.

I really need to find a pro to at least get things started.

On second thought, do what rhoticity said, if you're uncomfortable with setting your own rate. Friends will probably pay you an appropriate amount.
posted by wierdo at 11:30 AM on May 19, 2007

Anil Dash has some advice.
posted by dhartung at 9:54 PM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lots of disparate numbers here, but mildred-pitt has it. In the US, a professional designer with reasonable agency experience charges between $50 and $75 per hour, depending on the city's market. Flat rates are commonly charged for a given job (within scope), but they are typically based on an hourly rate in this range.

I live in the Dallas area, and work as a multimedia/web designer. When I take on freelance jobs, I charge about $75/hr for one-off jobs, and lower that to $50/hr if the client wants to put me on a longer contract and do a W2. Given the guaranteed work and difference in tax rate between a 1099 and a W2, that breaks roughly even, and I can then pass the savings on to my client. My rate is probably a bit higher than the norm in this region, because I do a lot of Flash with ActionScript. I have yet to have a client think it unreasonable, though.

Typically, I will create a flat fee for a job based on this rate and a planned project scope. Figure the number of hours you think it would take you to complete the work, add about 10% as a buffer, and get a signed statement of work to protect you from scope creep.

As somebody who has less experience, I would say to charge less, but don't sell yourself short. $25-30/hr would be great - around here, that's what the kids out of college get. A whole, whole slew of small business owners think they can pay you nothing for a website...or worse, get you to do it for free, and "let you put your name on it to drum up more business." I hate to be rude, but people just get the blank stare from me when they ask me to do their small business homepage for $150.00.

The other really good thing about being upfront about an hourly rate, and not getting into "favor" territory: they're a LOT more cautious about nitpicking details.
posted by kaseijin at 11:16 AM on May 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

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