How to price your work

While this post is specifically geared towards graphic designers, the knowledge provided here should be suitable for all freelance professions. Pricing and money is something that every young designer asks about. Seeing as I am the founder of a verynice design studio, a practice that, in theory, makes no money – you would think I would be the wrong guy to ask about this topic… BUT NEVER FEAR… I have answers for you.

First off: you are very valuable, and you should know that and be proud of your skills, but you are also not the center of the universe (yet) so you have to be honest with yourself. Let’s start with the bare minimum, what you need to survive. Think hard about your month-to-month life. What do you do? What do you buy? Do you eat out a lot?

John Smith is a graphic designer that specializes in packaging design. He likes to cook at home to save money, but has a tendency to jump in his car and drive along the PCH. The following are his monthly expenses:

  • Rent: $700
  • Utilities: $30
  • Food: $400
  • Gas: $80
  • Clothes: $30
  • Pet food: $40
  • Total: $1,280

In order to survive, John Smith must make at least $1,280 per month. John has decided that he would like to make double that per month in order to save up in case their is a dry-spell of projects. This means that he must make at least $2,560 to meet his needs.

What John did here is actually a very smart decision. It is wise to take your monthly expenses and double them to estimate a nice safety blanket. For some people, this may seem more optimistic than others, but it is always wise to prepare for dry-spells and economic disasters.

John is a pretty popular guy, and estimates that he will get about 3 projects per month to work on. This means, to meet his goal salary, John must make at least $853 on each project.

Since John is new to the industry and only has about 15 clients under his belt, and has no awards / limited recognition, he figures he cannot charge much for his work. Now John must figure out time so that he can provide an hourly rate.

Since John is interested in packaging design, he often has to work on logo design, layout, and structure. John estimates the following:

  • Logo Design: 5 hours
  • Layout: 2 hours
  • Structure: 3 hours
  • Revisions: 10 hours (do not forget to include time for revisions, clients can be very picky!!)
  • Total time: 20 hours

Based on John’s estimate that he needs to make approximately $853 on each project this month, his hourly rate becomes roughly $40 an hour.

Generally speaking, when you are starting out as a designer (i.e. still in undergraduate design school, or just starting your own career switch) an hourly rate of $20 – $40 an hour is very acceptable. If this was a full time job, that would equal a yearly salary of about $35,000 – $70,000. Of course freelance work can be very stochastic, and therefore shooting for a decently high salary such as this may or may not happen.

Though it is very hard to say for sure, as each individual’s rates can range greatly depending on fame, talent, etc., the following is an estimated hourly wage for freelance designers in different points of their career. (information based on colleagues and personal experience)

  • Student: $15-20 / hour
  • Fresh out of school: $20 – 25 / hour
  • Mid-level: $25-30 / hour
  • Senior: $30 – 35 / hour
  • Director: $45 – 50 / hour
  • Chief: $60 – 80 / hour
  • Celebrity: $100 + / hour

These ranges can differ greatly based on the client as well. This may seem like common sense, but if you are helping a local start-up, you will likely get paid less than if you are helping Disney.

A very important concept to consider is SPEED – a slow-as-a-turtle designer in no way deserves more money than a fast-as-a-rabbit designer. Adjust your rates accordingly, and remember to use your time efficiently – how would you like it if your plumber charged you double time for checking his facebook? Yeah don’t do that.

On a side note – you should never charge a non-profit, and you can expect a post in the future on why not. 😉



Filed under advice

5 responses to “How to price your work

  1. Your web site is seriously looking great. You can create. We want you to come work for us. We pay $25-45$ an hour.

    Paid to Write

  2. wow. I never thought about this in that way

  3. Wow – now that’s perspective! I think we often react in agreement or disagreement because of our emotions, but hearing another side, passionately presented, really makes us think!

  4. Aw, this was a really quality post. In theory I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

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