What to charge for freelance work

Published Jan. 27, 2021 by Andy L. in Freelance 101

What to charge for freelance work

Freelancing comes with a lot of variables. Those often include time, evolving skills, communication barriers, and attention to detail.

Pricing your work both competitively and fair is the best way to find repeat work and have happy clients. Avoiding a race to the bottom on price almost always yields better success as a freelance professional than charging at a fair level.

This article is a guide/opinion on how to charge for your work and why.

Prefer quality over quantity

My road towards becoming a professional freelancer

I started out like many freelancers taking pretty much any project I could get. Price wasn't an issue for me at first because I just needed enough to get by. Living in your parent's basement has its perks!

Until having several clients under my belt did I realize the value of preferring quality of work over quantity of clients. People who hire freelancers to pick up the slack in their own work often devalue the freelancer's role and skillset. I ran into this when designing websites for clients. They pretty much used me to push pixels and when revisions came around I practically redesigned the entire website once again.

This constant stream of little power or control started to get to me so I took a step back and decided to fire a few of the clients I felt really weren't worth my time. I was throwing away a lot of money by doing this but I felt completely empowered as a result of it. To rid the burden of crappy clients is a wonderful feeling I invite you to explore if you are dealing with similar situations.

By firing my least quality clients I then naturally maintained my higher quality ones. Those clients help me understand what it means to charge fairly for my work. My skills, knowledge, and experience are valuable and so are yours. Find clients that value those things. If they do not then they are not ideal clients to partner with.

You can go into freelancing charging next to nothing. Doing that basically means you will let your clients call the shots. That route is also a race to the bottom where you compete with people of Fivver designing $5 logos. That's not a good way to earn a living if you ask me.

Having no power in what should be a balanced relationship isn't healthy or worth your time.

Charge for value not deliverables

Pricing your work should stem from value, not deliverables. I personally charge per project for short term projects and retainer or hourly for longer commitments.

When thinking about a project keep in mind the following:

  • Proposed deadline provided by the client
  • All parties involved and how you will communicate
  • If any travel, expenses, or meetings are required (charge for all of these)
  • The scope of work and work itself
  • How and who to deliver your work to
  • Is the project ongoing or short term?

Every project I charge for I consider the bullet points above. I didn't know to charge for most of these starting out. As a freelancer of a few years, I can tell you that you learn the hard way in some cases by not charging for some things.

Propose fewer deliverables instead of lowering the price

If a client comes to you with deliverables in mind you will probably come back to them with an estimate on timeline and cost. If the cost is frowned upon don't immediately lower it. Instead, remove some deliverables that you and your client can agree upon. If they can't agree with your suggestions then it's okay to turn down the project. Be stern with your approach. This is a two-way partnership after all.

Should I charge per project, hourly, or retainer?

It depends on the work. If your work is niched and often the same from client to client that might make sense to be a per-project charge. If the project is on-going and/or doesn't have a deadline in the near future, hourly or a retainer fee might make more sense.

Charging per project requires you to think long and hard about what is required of you. Be sure to ask about how you and your client will communicate, who you will work with if any expenses are required by you, and so on. Factor all of these into your estimate before agreeing to kick off any work.

Charging hourly/retainer is appealing on many accounts but if you're a fast worker or you get work done ahead of time you're essentially not earning more as a result. A client who charges hourly will often ask for an estimate on total hours as it is. You might benefit from thinking about how you would price per project even if it is an hourly agreement. From that final total can you derive an hourly rate that makes sense.

Consider your personal expenses

When pricing a project you need to think about personal expenses as well as the project cost. Your time, energy, electricity, taxes, utilities, and more quickly come into the equation.

I work out of my home office so I often consider what I pay for my mortgage, utilities, taxes, and more when pricing a project. Clients often forget this concept when seeking the work of a freelancer so you'll need to remind them all the time. Don't feel guilty about charging for this stuff either. It's your livelihood we're talking about here.

Know when to walk away

Some clients or projects just aren't worth the trouble. As you pitch more work to prospects you'll start to see red flags with clients. Whether it's how they communicate or their reaction to a price you can learn a lot about people without knowing them from before. If something feels off it's perfectly fine to walk away. You want quality work. If you find it that often means you can charge a premium because those who hire you see the value in your knowledge and services.

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