The Freelance Pricing Conundrum (Advice for freelancers and people looking to hire them)

I've just had a great initial branding meeting with a client. We processed through their vision, mission and who they want their brand to be. We've talked about some potential concepts for their logo/brand and how that might play out for their overall brand identity. 

But there's an elephant in the room.

It's always there, every time. Usually it comes out in a nervous inquiry, something like "So, how much would something like this cost me?"

And what ensues is something like an awkward dance. I have one price in my head that I want to quote, and the client has another price in their head that they are hoping I don't quote above, and we are both hoping that maybe, just maybe, those prices will be the same. Let me take a second to let you in on a little bit of my process as a designer before I get to this point, the moment of the ever-anxiety-inducing price quote.

Some may think that designers (and other independents/freelancers) just pull a random number out of their butts at the time of the quote, trying to read the potential client for how much they can squeeze out of them for the project, but that is usually not the case. I will admit that early on in my freelancing journey, before I knew anything about pricing and had little experience quoting/estimating prices, I may or may not have pulled some prices out of my figurative butt, and I do not doubt that others have done the same.

However, for most freelancers, there is a long process behind determining a price to quote a potential client. Some factors that go into this process include but are not limited to:

  • Estimated number of hours the project will take
  • A fair hourly rate for the amount and quality of work delivered
  • How much this project will increase the client's profits (how much it's worth to them)
  • The normal (if that event exists) rate/price for similar projects of similar quality

There are certainly more factors but these tend to be the largest ones. So, if you are  a potential client looking to hire a designer or some other kind of freelancer, understand that there is probably a lot that goes into that person quoting you that specific price. Before you make a comment about their price, think about how many hours they will probably be spending to make you something that you love, the quality of the work that they can give you, and the benefits that you and your company will get from hiring a quality freelancer.

So here is my advice to those of you looking to hire a freelancer and are concerned about their prices:

  1. Don't make comments if you think their prices are high. It is both unprofessional and unkind. When you do that you are essentially saying "I don't think you are worth spending that amount of money."
  2. If their prices are outside of your budget, be honest with them. They may have some flexibility to make the price work for you if they are motivated to work WITH you. Which brings me to my last point:
  3. Respect what they do. Freelancers are some seriously hard-working people. If they feel respected and appreciated by you as a client, you will get their best work and they will usually bend over backwards to make you happy.

I acknowledge that the pricing conundrum is a two-way street between freelancers and clients, so here is my advice to those of you who are freelancers trying to figure out how to price your work:

  1. Don't undersell yourself. It is easy to low-ball prices to make sure you secure the sale. While there is some value in doing this when you're starting out and need projects, you are going to end up working for almost nothing and this will not be sustainable for you.
  2. Be intentional. While it may be tempting to throw out a random price on the spot after you feel out your client, it is always better to have prices that are thought out. That way you know exactly how much flexibility you have with your price and you have the peace of mind knowing that you are quoting a fair and reasonable price.
  3. Don't be afraid to say no. A client might have a budget that is just too low for you to be working on. You deserve to be paid for what you do, and you can't sustain yourself on projects like that. Be honest with them and don't be afraid to say no, you can't take on that project.
  4. Lastly, be willing to compromise with your client. Your client may legitimately not have much money right now to pay you what they'd like to. Maybe instead of doing three rounds of drafts you do two, and that way it's less time for you and you can come down on your price. Understanding and empathy always goes a long way, and it is so valuable for you in this business.

You may have read through this post looking for specific answers on how you should price your projects or what you should expect to pay for a freelancer. Unfortunately, you can't really find that anywhere. There is so much variety in how people choose to price things and what people are willing to pay for them that it's impossible to write a specific how-to on pricing.

But if you are honest and intentional with your pricing, that elephant in the room will get smaller and smaller, and eventually you will forget it's even there.

P.S. For freelancers: a CreativeLive class that helped me immensely in processing through my pricing is Becoming a Successful Freelancer by Arianna Orland. I recommend it for anyone thinking about starting freelance work or for freelancers who are looking to have more success in what they're doing.