How to charge as a freelance graphic designer?
March 24, 2022
Are you a freelance graphic designer wondering how to charge for your work? Firstly, you should know the average rates for graphic designers in your location. And also the variables that affect earnings in the industry. Secondly, there are other things to consider, like your experience, time of a project, and whether you charge hourly or per project. This article covers all these topics. Continue reading to find some helpful tips on charging as a freelance graphic designer.
Table of Contents:
Freelancing – characteristics of the work model
The term “freelancer” dates back to the 19th century and referred to a medieval mercenary who would fight for a nation or person who would pay them the most. The term “lance” refers to a long weapon that the knights on horseback used to throw opponents off their horses. Over time, the word continued to mean “free” or “independent” but the term left the battlefield and started to be applied in politics and finally in all professions.
Freelancers are often referred to as independent contractors for specific services. It is one of the most straightforward and transparent forms of entrepreneurship: a freelancer provides a particular service, and the buyer pays him a fixed salary directly. However, a freelancer may in some aspects be worse off than a full-time employee, and there is some financial risk involved in doing so.
There are now more freelancers than ever before – a 2020 study by Upwork showed that there are 59 million Americans performing freelance work, which is 36% of the U.S. workforce. From 2019 the number increased by 2 million. And the new edition of this study published in December 2021 confirmed that in 2021 the number of freelancers remained constant at 36% of the U.S. workforce.
There are 59 million Americans performing freelance work, which is 36% of the U.S. workforce
Pros of freelancing
- high flexibility and independence;
- the ability to choose jobs and clients;
- possibility to choose the place and hours of work;
- total control over your earning potential;
- great variety in the type of work;
- high margins due to the lack of intermediaries.
Cons of freelancing
- lower work safety and stability;
- lack of paid leave and no additional financial benefits;
- with certain types of contract, the need to independently ensure health care and plan for the financial and retirement future;
- responsibility for all of your income;
- continuous communication directly with customers;
- the need to set rates for the service each time.
Freelance graphic designer – specificity of work
The combination of creative thinking and technical skills represented by graphic designers, can also make freelancing quite a good choice for them. In this work model, they can develop their creative freedom anywhere – as a regular collaborator of a company or agency, providing services to multiple clients or working independently from home.
Unfortunately, freelancer graphic designers also need to deal with non-design tasks. They are responsible for every aspect of their business, from marketing and customer relations to accounting and invoicing. Freelancer must be active in looking for new opportunities and even competing with others. Because although graphic designing is an exciting career, it is also highly competitive. But at the same time, there is also a growing need for creative professionals across most industries. So the available work types are sufficiently diverse to suit a person’s skill set.
In this profession, financial flexibility is as important as creative flexibility. As freelancers, graphic designers can adapt their working hours to their lifestyle as long as they can stay productive and control the workload.
While freelance graphic designers are free to choose when, where and with whom to work, they are also solely responsible for their financial liquidity
6 things to consider when charging for work
1. Graphic’s knowledge, experience and portfolio
Designers likely don’t have an impressive portfolio to show to clients if designers start their careers. On the other hand, the customer is often more likely to risk a novice if the price is right. Many new freelancers realize that they need to build their client list, so they offer smaller prices for a similar quality of work.
And while an experienced designer tends to work faster, skills of a novice designer may well match a particular brand’s style. The truth is that an experienced designer is often an individualist who brings a unique style that doesn’t fit everywhere.
2. Scope of work
- research on a given industry, market and recipients;
- brainstorming ideas;
- identification of the appropriate typeface, color palette and other materials;
- generating different concepts;
- reviews and approvals;
- creating the final design.
3. Project time
It’s an invaluable skill to estimate needed time per project, and as a freelancer, you should be mainly in control of your time. Start by analyzing similar projects to the one you are currently working on. Project lead times can vary significantly from client to client. When a project is on a tight schedule, include a rush bonus in a quotation. As a graphic designer to estimate the time correctly, you must ask the client tot::
- clearly state what is expected (in the creative brief);
- provide any material (photos, etc. with appropriate resolution) in advance;
- ensure the smooth maintenance of the review and approval process.
4. Type of graphic design
While many design skills can be transferred to various designs, designers generally have preferences and strengths for their specific work. Some types of graphic design include:
- Layout – a simple text and graphic layout that usually does not require the creation of new design elements. This type of design is usually suitable for newer designers and those with less experience.
- Website design – create graphics for digital marketing channels, all the way to designing an entire website. Quality can vary significantly within this category, so a substantial designer’s portfolio can make a difference.
- Print design – designing publications that will be printed on paper (newsletters, billboards, postcards, etc.), as well as other goods (mugs, T-shirts, pens, bags, notebooks, etc.). This type of project requires an experienced designer with the specific requirements of the print project.
- Branding – creating or refining a graphic representation of the brand and building elements from scratch. Branding projects require highly professional graphic designers because they have a considerable impact on the brand of a given company.
It’s not an exhaustive list, but it will give you an idea of the different projects requiring different knowledge and skills.
5. Size of the project
Some projects are clear and straightforward, such as photo processing or making a business card, and some are more complex ones, such as creating a website, book covers or a poster, or even building a company’s brand with a complete visual setting. Any freelance graphic artist can be an expert in one or two types of work and average in others. Another designer may have skills and experience in all kinds of projects. It all has an impact when discussing rates with your customer.
Nowadays, most graphic projects are done electronically, so you can work remotely from anywhere as a freelancer. Thanks to instant communication, freelancers are quickly available to clients worldwide. In addition, they can promote themselves and present their work on the internet.
As a result, choosing a qualified graphic designer that suits your needs becomes much more accessible. At the same time, the location may affect the level of rates: higher rates can undoubtedly be expected when working in a larger city and implementing projects for large companies.
Freelance graphic designer salary in the U.S.
When setting the hourly rates, you should consider the average rates on the market. They will depend on various factors, including the location. Below we are presenting the examples of hourly wages linking to tools where you can check them for your location.
Average hourly wages in New York:
- Junior graphic designer: USD 28–30/hour
- Mid graphic designer: USD 35–45/hour
- Senior graphic designer: USD 45-60/hour
Average hourly wages generally in the U.S.:
- Mid graphic designer: USD 25–35/hour
- Expert graphic designer: USD 35–75 +/hour
Hourly pricing versus project-based pricing
Practice shows that when you are a graphic designer beginner, it is better to bill at an hourly rate. At this stage a freelancer learns how long it takes to complete each project. Get paid for specific time spent working, no matter how many rounds of feedback and corrections the client delivers.
The client, in turn, wants to know how much to save to pay for the project, so you need to be able to estimate when it will be completed. It is in the interest of both parties to agree on an hourly rate at the initial stage of work. It is worth clarifying what is included in the hourly rate, which may be the basic package, and you must charge a bonus for additional activities. As long as the contract is not officially signed and the project is closed, it’s possible to negotiate rates. It is not a requirement to apply the same rates for all types of work.
However, suppose you’re working on higher-value projects, such as designing a whole brand identity for a new company, or completely redesigning a website. In that case, you may want to consider a project-based salary. It’s a good idea to ask the client what the project budget is and let them know what kind of service they can expect for the price.
You should always be aware that your project, although it may only take you a few hours, can be of great value to the company you provided it for and generate them hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. Your salary should reflect this value.
Project-based pricing vs value-based pricing
There are more risks involved in using this method than an hourly valuation. You link the project price to the result when you bill on a project basis. The end result is what the customer cares about the most. First, however, you need to get some data that will allow you correctly price the project, e.g .:
- What is the schedule for this project?
- Is the customer asking for fast delivery?
- How many revision cycles does the customer have?
- What if they are not satisfied with the design after making these corrections?
- What if they are late in giving their opinion?
- When are you being paid, and for how much?
These are just some of the conditions that should be considered when signing a contract. If the customer does not respect them, you can charge a late fee, as long as you have specified it in the contract.
Therefore, it is worth taking care of preparing a detailed agreement that defines all possible factors, pitfalls and threats. The advantage of charging for a design is that both the designer and client know exactly what to expect.
This term has become quite popular in the freelance industry. In value-based pricing, the idea is to base your price point on the value you provide to the customer. Sometimes this value can be specified in specific numbers; other, the benefits may be intangible. That’s why it is a good idea to emphasize the value provided to the customer already on the stage of signing the contract.
When a website or branding design is done for a customer, their online presence and brand perception are improved, potentially increasing sales and business revenue. The good thing about value-based pricing is that you don’t take time into account. You can make a change in someone’s business in an hour, and it will bring significant value in the long term.
So, what to remember when negotiating the rate?
1. You are the owner of your business
As a freelancer, you own a business which means you have to operate as a business. You don’t have an employer to pay for expenses such as software subscriptions, payroll taxes, or social contributions. To have a profitable business, you need to factor in all of these expenses.
2. Your work time goes beyond the graphic project
Billable hours are not only about creating a project. It is also time spent researching your competitors and your target audience, sketching possible ideas, making presentations to share your work with the client, and time spent meeting clients to discuss the work and provide feedback. Identify these factors at the beginning of the relationship.
3. Raise your rates
The more projects you have on your account, the greater your experience and knowledge and your investments in hardware and software. Therefore, you offer a higher and higher quality with each new project.
And although it is difficult to raise rates for regular customers, it is up to you to negotiate new conditions. Perhaps higher and higher rates will meet customer resistance, but your progress gives you the right to do so.
4. Respect your work
Many freelancers chase projects, focusing on getting the job done and making quick money. However, it’s better to have a client who respects your work than to devote yourself to a lucrative project with a client who mistreats you. While this is not always the case, it has been found that many customers who buy “cheap” design work are more difficult to work with.
For many, however, factors such as ease and speed of communication and the final result than a rich portfolio are also important; they will spend a few dollars more on a professional, friendly designer who treats them as the only customer they have.
Extra tip: Analyze your work time with time-tracking tools
As a freelancer, you should control your time to assess your capacity and thus – organize your work better. Therefore, you should be using proper tools, which will provide excellent support for your work.
One of them is TimesheetKiller – a tool designed for freelancers dealing with many projects and clients. This application automatically monitors the time you spend on every task and divides it for specific clients and projects. It tracks your activity in documents, programs and websites you use for work. It is completely secure as all the data is stored only on your computer.
By analyzing the reports generated by the app, you can accurately determine how long it takes to complete individual tasks. You can also see what types of projects or clients require more work. Such knowledge is an excellent basis for setting prices for your services.
More and more companies discover that visual branding is an essential part that drives their market visibility and thus – profits. Thus, the importance of the profession of graphic designer is growing. At the same time, because of the massive transition to remote work, there has never been a better time for freelancers.
As a freelance graphic designer, you should be aware of this and demand remuneration in line with the market needs and your work value. So remember about all factors affecting this value and be sure to use our tips in your future negotiations. Good luck!