Professional Design Practice :: Lesson 2 :: Freelance Fee Structures and How to Quote :: Updated
Through working with a variety of clients, my best advice for contracting your services is do not jump in the water before you know how deep it is! By this I mean it is absolutely imperative before even agreeing to work on a piece that you know the entirety of the project. I have learned the hard way to never respond in the affirmative until you ask the right questions.
Creating lasting client relationships, one quote at a time
Let’s begin with the simple part which, if you haven’t already, you’ll need to have in place: Your working rates, both hourly/daily and project rates. All freelance designers need to establish their rates and be prepared to provide them when prompted. We’ll get onto pricing entire jobs below but for now we’ll tackle rates, which you’ll need to have in place before you can quote for jobs anyway.
Your rates are what you charge clients for your time and services. Hourly and daily rates are the most common; both used and asked after. Some individuals choose to charge their clients by the half hour but in general and for the purposes of this blog I’ll stick to the two rates mentioned above.
When deciding what and how you are going to charge people, there are several factors to consider.
Understand your skill level in the current marketplace
A fledging junior will charge differently from a middleweight designer, who will charge differently from a freelance creative director. This all comes down to experience. You’ll get better the more experienced a designer you become, and will have to adjust your fees throughout your career to reflect this.
Assuming for now you’re at a junior level, you’ll need to choose rates which aren’t quite as high as those charged by middleweights, but good enough for someone who cares about what they do and considers him or herself a fledging professional. In Great Britain, between £12–15 per hour and £80–100 per day are reasonable rates for a junior graphic designer. Each country will have its own averages. Do your research and place yourself where you feel you belong within the appropriate range of rates.
What are my skills?
Don’t count any of them out.
If you happen to count certain specialised skills then you may want to think about a range of rates for the different services you offer. In addition to solid typography and layout skills and a decent knowledge of printing processes, (which should all be mandatory), perhaps you’re also a bit of a Flash wizard, Aftereffects Jedi or Processing ninja. Competences in these areas, because so baffling to the majority of people, tend to mean that clients will pay a higher fee for them. Given this, to keep a set of rates for standard graphic design services and another for more specialised abilities is a good idea.
There are large and small businesses, rich and poor, and everything in between. A good client list should consist of both small businesses and organisations, where shortfalls in budgets are compensated for by a hefty dose of creative freedom afforded the designer, and larger, more established clients, where typically the work is more corporate in look and feel and designers will have more to rail against, but who usually have more money to spend than their smaller high street brethren.
Bearing this in mind, whilst stopping short of advocating rampant, opportunistic greed I see nothing wrong with keeping your working rates supple to allow for the different types of businesses/organisations who might approach you and ask you to quote for a job. It would seem instinctively wrong to quote a local charity the same fee as you would a blue-chip high street bank for the same job. Given this, it is good to keep a range of fees at your disposal, with a top and a bottom end, to allow for the different types of businesses who may engage your services.
Pricing Jobs. Here’s where the Fun Begins…
With a clear and considered decision made on what rates you are going to charge people, you will be able to quote for jobs with a degree of precision. The same rules regarding striking a balance apply here, and the rates you will have established should form your first consideration when quoting for jobs.
There are several factors to reflect on here, some, most or all of which you should build in to quotes you submit wherever appropriate. The more factors you examine and deem relevant to each particular job the more you’ll protect yourself against unforseen eventualities and maximise your profits. It’s also worth noting here to get as much information about the impending job as possible from the client before returning with an estimate. The more information you have at your disposal the better your judgement will be, and the more accurate your quote.
What is the timeline for the project?
One of the most basic questions you’ll need to consider and estimate on is how much time the job is going to take up. To give this your best estimate, you’ll need to think about how quickly you can complete the actual task, minus client meetings, traveling times, back-and-forth decisions etc. Start to think about how fast you work, how easily the creative process comes to you and how proficient you are with the software packages you use. If the client is looking for something to be done in a few days this may rule out the project all together, depending on your schedule and then the rest of the parameters are a moot point.
What is the budget?
Remember your time and money is just as precious as your clients. As your client will be looking for you to be upfront with your costs, it is also important that they be upfront with theirs. Depending on the scope of the project their budget may give you a better idea of how they would prefer to handle payment and be a deciding factor in your billing in whether or not you choose to work for an hourly or project rate.
“Would you be able to send me a brief of the project?”
Sometimes a client will come to you with a vague idea of what it is they are looking for—actually more than some of the time, a lot of the time. It is best if the client submit to you in writing (preferably by email-so you have a time and date attached to the document) their request. This will also help you in understanding the project details. Within this should include the message for the project, the specs, and general creative direction. The timeline and budget should also be acknowledged here.
Who is the direct point of contact?
The person who asks you to provide design services may not be the person you will be dealing with directly on the piece. Find out the names and contact information of all of those who will be involved in the decision making process and what their role is during the design phases. When you get to know all parties up front, design surprises (and by this I mean major design changes) will be less likely later on. Remember, bigger projects usually equal more people involved.
Where and how will the piece be used?
While you should be able to deduce this information from the client brief, it is valuable to know the true scope of the project for not only the sake of the design work involved, but also with regard to the budget. Does the budget provide for the necessary funding to complete the project like purchasing imagery, fonts, and other items that could have specific usage or copyright entanglements?
As a professional in the industry you will be expected to be knowledgeable on not only your work but also the financial aspect of design. Be prepared to answer questions on similar projects, and remember to offer the client suggestions of other design services you would be able to offer to further enhance their product. Maybe they are only looking for a logo, but as the designer you would be best apt to design the whole identity package. Steer clients away from piecing together their own business cards and letterhead as these elements all represent their brand and a unified appeal will only benefit its cohesiveness and strength.
After those five questions (and then some) have been answered, you should be prepared to draft up a quote for your client. The two most common methods of charging are either a total project estimate or an hourly rate which should also provide estimated total hours to complete the piece. While no one can provide you with a one-size-fits-all method of charging, acknowledge your personal experience level, the depth of what you will be providing, and a thorough understanding of your client. Keep in mind the quote is not the same as the contract. The quote is set forth to provide an initial agreement between both parties with the allowance for further negotiations until both you can your client have come to a mutual agreement.
In addition to your client’s timeline you should also establish your own project timeline that allow for revisions and sufficient production time with regard to whether or not your piece will need to go through a printer or other third party. Within your initial quote discuss a proposed deposit (generally non-refundable) and the subsequent payment schedule. You should be wary of starting any project without a deposit and defined payment plan.
In summary, never let a client pressure you to provide them with an immediate quote. You have not even agreed to work on the project yet! Look out for other red flags, like clients that want to push off discussing payment until a later date, or one whose expectations do not align with what you can deliver. Be honest and build lasting relationships. In fact, the more you educate clients on design and design services the better off your relationship will be in the future.