So you’ve decided you want to go freelance. Congratulations! Choosing the freelance life is a huge decision and I’m sure you didn’t take it lightly. Of course, autonomy and independence comes at a certain price; and that price, you must need to work out right now.
Working out your freelance rates can be challenging and definitely quite daunting at the beginning. Many freelancers exit the world of corporate employment after developing a certain network of contacts and a certain type of experience, and it can be quite difficult even for them. That’s why we at Creativepool are here to help.
A quick guide to freelance rates: pro tips and common mistakes
But since my very first attempts to round up my retail salary with some freelance work didn’t work out too well, I decided to get in touch with someone who was a trifle more successful than me. To inaugurate this new series of Workshop articles on freelance rates, I have decided to get in touch with two amazing professionals in the Creativepool community: freelance designer James Round and freelance illustrator and graphic designer James Birks.
Having both been recognised in our Annual awards one way or another, these guys certainly know their stuff. Let’s hear it from the two Jameses below.
James Round is an amazing designer and illustrator with an extremely colourful style. Check out his profile here!
Day, hour or project-based?
When trying to understand how much to charge as a freelancer, the first thing you should ideally work out is what kind of work you are primarily going to be doing. Are you a copywriter that can be paid by word? A designer that can work by the hour? Or do you primarily work with large projects and big clients?
The answer may vary quite a bit, and even within all of these cases, there may be some considerable variations depending on what suits you best. James Round, for instance, charges his clients per working day. It is an interesting approach and an extremely flexible one at that, too. But even with such a clear guideline, his rates will vary depending on the kind of project he needs to tackle. Illustrations will be based on the client’s budget, while charities and other organisations working to improve the world receive a reduced rate, which, in my humble opinion, is a beautiful thing to even think of.
On the other hand, James Birks prefers to charge by the hour for smaller projects, and for the entire project if the time commitment is quite consistent. Quite possibly a smart move, considering that time expectancies for larger projects can be harder to predict.
Whichever one you choose, it can help to be extremely clear with your client up front. Round sends a deck with a breakdown of costs and an expected timeline, while Birks calculates the exact hours needed to complete the work and tries to have a net figure under which he would not go.
In all cases, the most important thing is to feel confident with your own quotes. Are you a freelancer who would work better in strict hour-based slots, or would you rather be paid for an entire project and manage your own time from there?
Cillian Murphy, as illustrated by James Birks. Check out his amazing profile here!
But how do you actually calculate your daily rate? Freelancer Club provides an interesting formula to work out graphic design day rates, which could actually be applied to any freelance job:
YOUR DESIRED ANNUAL SALARY + 30% / 220
In other words, if your desired annual salary is £30,000, you can add 30% to calculate holiday pay, sick days and additional expenses (such as insurance, etc. – remember that freelancers don’t have all the juicy benefits that employees have) and divide that by 220, the number of work days in a year.
With 9,000 being 30% of 30,000, the final result would be £177/day. If that sounds too low to make a decent living out of your work, raise it until you feel happy and confident with what you are doing!
How to nail your freelance rates
Now you will hopefully have a clearer idea on the way in which you would like to charge for your services. But how do you actually work out the actual rates? How do you know how much to charge depending on the work itself, or your experience?
This is where the Internet comes in your aid. When James Round started freelancing, he had already worked at agencies, which gave him some kind of an idea on how to price his own services; but he also did tons of research to find something he could be comfortable with, both in terms of experience and for the kind of work he wanted to do. According to Birks, you could also network with other freelancers or freelance agencies and talk with them too. Don’t be afraid to be engaged in the industry!
On the other hand, Birks also recommends to think about the kind of value that you are bringing. Try to understand how your work is going to be used, what kind of value it has for the client and why. You could also consider the size of your client. “This isn’t as simple as ‘the bigger you are, the more I’ll charge you,’” Birks says. “But a piece of work that will be used nationally by a corporate client has intrinsically more value (to the client) than it would to a one-person start-up.”
Think about how your work is going to be used, what kind of value it has for the client and why.
Then, of course, comes the time to actually communicate those rates to your clients. Especially when you are starting out, it can feel daunting to shoot for the moon and send a very large quote for a big project. But don’t be afraid to communicate your rates with confidence. Both Round and Birks agree that, if you do so, your client will understand the value of your work and they may appreciate your business partnership even more.
And do remember that nothing is set into stone, anyway. As your experience progresses and you become more confident, there is nothing wrong in adjusting your rates. James Round did so after his first year of freelancing and he could only benefit from that choice.
This beautiful data visualisation made James Round win a Bronze in Annual 2020.
Top tips to work out your freelance rates
To summarise the section above, here’s some quick tips on how to work out your freelance rates:
- Do some research to understand the market;
- Talk to other freelancers and engage with the industry;
- Communicate your rates with confidence;
- Work out the kind of value that you are bringing;
- Consider the use of your work;
- Don’t be afraid to adjust your rates after some time;
- And if nobody questions your rates… Maybe it’s time to increase them!
Common mistakes when coming up with freelance rates
Unfortunately freelance rates aren’t always an exact science, and there are many aspects that you can just get wrong. What are some common mistakes when working out your freelance rates?
The first and perhaps most important of all is not valuing your work enough. James Round himself has been on that train before. “I’ve had experiences where I’ve convinced myself that something would take less time than it actually would, in order to be able to offer a lower project fee. The outcome of this is one of two things; either you’ll end up doing some of the work for free, or you’ll have to charge more than you quoted.”
You should always be open and honest, both with the client and with yourself. Be up front and explain each part of the process. This will help the client understand all the associated costs. “And if you do have to go beyond the quoted costs, which sometimes happens, communicate this as early as possible and be clear about the reasons why.”
Have confidence in your work, and understand that, for the client, it’s money well spent
Another common mistake is to underestimate the time commitment required to successfully finish a project. James Birks used to not consider admin fees in his early days, meaning there would be a lot of email exchanges and client management that was taking up a lot of his time – for free. James now includes a project management fee in his quotes, which easily takes care of that issue.
Whatever you choose, you want to make sure that your rates reflect the kind of work that you can do. Research can help you with that – but over time, you will grow more and more confident about your own skills and capabilities.
One of the many, marvellous graphic illustrations on James Birks' profile.
Why does it matter to get your freelance rates right?
Sure, you could do what a lot of creatives do in the early stages of their careers. You could work for free or with a reduced rate for a range of clients, hoping to build a reputation which will then enable you to increase your rates. But though this may be helpful if you really want to build up some experience, it can only bring you to do a lot of unpaid work.
According to James Round, you should always place the correct value on the work you do. Don’t feel nervous about the quotes and be confident in your own work. As mentioned above, your clients will understand and value your approach. And if they don’t, well… perhaps they were not worth a business partnership to begin with.
It is also important to ensure you can afford a balanced life, according to James Birks. You obviously need to work out the right rates to survive in the first place, but you also need time for yourself. If you end up overworking, you will find yourself going through creative burnout quite soon and you may develop a creative block. And that won’t help at all – not you, not your clients, not your work.
It's important you can afford a balanced life. You need time for yourself.
“Don’t just survive (okay, maybe in the early days), make sure you can afford to have a balanced life, take time out to develop yourself and new skills. Creative burnout is most definitely a thing and I find personally that, if I’m too busy, my creativity drops and I then become less motivated/excited with what I’m doing. I try to keep a good balance, because that is what’s best for me and my clients,” Birks adds.
“You’re providing a valuable service and specific expertise; it’s important to place the correct value on the work you do. When starting out I used to feel nervous about sending quotes out for larger projects, because the fee seemed like a lot of money. But have confidence in your work, and understand that for the client, it’s money well spent,” Round concludes.