The following article is part of my free email course 7 Things You Should Do Before Going Freelance.
Are you sitting comfortably?
I'm going to start this lesson by telling you a story...
About six months into my freelancing career, a friend of a friend got in touch about a possible project, and to ask how much I charged.
I emailed right back to say that my day rate was £300, and a few days later sat down for an interview with him and his design director.
After looking through my work and chatting for half an hour, it seemed like the job was in the bag.
But we hadn’t talked about money yet.
I felt my body tensing up as the conversation shifted tack…
The director was an upfront kind of guy, and asked me straight out if I would reduce my rate to £250/day.
Almost immediately I said yes, because I didn’t know what else to say. (And because I was afraid they would give the work to someone else if I said no, if I’m honest).
I did get the job in the end, but because it was a two week project, that one short word ended up costing me £500 in lost earnings.
The important of knowing how much you’re worth
Think about this story from the perspective of the design director.
Why wouldn’t he try to negotiate my rate down?
He has nothing to lose — so it would be almost foolish not to.
The onus was on me to have an answer prepared. But I didn’t, and it cost me.
If you’ve always had a full-time job, the chances are that you’ve not had much experience putting a price on your own services either.
This is perfectly understandable. Apart from when changing jobs or at a yearly review, there aren’t many situations where your salary is up for negotiation.
Have you guess what today’s lesson is about yet? :)
How to roughly calculate your freelance rate
The following method is most applicable for freelancing at studios, who will expect you to charge them by the day for your time. Calculating your rate when working directly with clients is a little harder, so I’ll discuss it at the end of this lesson.
To get a rough idea of what your freelance day rate should be, put your current salary into this pay converter, and then double the number it gives you for “Daily”.
Let’s take my old salary of £32,000 as an example. Assuming that I was working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, this converts to £123 per day.
Doubling £123 gives us £246 per day as a baseline rate, which is pretty close to the £250 day rate that I charged when I started freelancing 3 years ago.
If this seems like a lot, consider that as a freelancer you’re going to be spending significantly less time doing your “job” than at present.
You’ll probably end up allocating 30% or so of your time to admin, accounting, communicating with clients, finding new work, and all the other stuff that comes with running a business. (And there is the likelihood of slow periods during holidays, or time off sick due to illness).
When you factor in other costs like health care, accounting fees, office furniture and equipment, you can see how doubling your current daily wage makes for a good yardstick.
Whatever you do, do NOT take the often-touted advice of dividing the salary you want by 2,000 (which is the number of working hours in a year).
Let’s see what happens when we apply this to my old salary.
£32,000/2000 = £16 hour, or £128 per day.
Can you see why this doesn’t work? It’s almost half of the day rate that I started freelancing at!
All this said however, remember that there is no magic number or single ‘market rate’ when it comes to what you should charge.
If you’re great at what you do, and you can create value for the studio or the client you work with, then freelancing will give you to charge what you are truly worth, rather than earning an ‘average’ salary.
Other ways to figure out your day rate
The various job boards for the design world might seem like a good place to research day rates, but the problem is that exact figures aren’t often included. (Try this search for ‘freelance’ on Authentic Jobs and you’ll see what I mean).
But for those of you in the UK, here are some typical day rates to use as a rough guide:
- £100–£200/day = Junior designer
- £200–£250/day = Mid-weight designer
- £250–£350/day = Senior designer
There are a few caveats to mention here:
(1) If you’re working in-house at a company rather than at a studio, you might not earn this much.
(2) Developers seems to earn slightly more than designers in my experience. Likewise if you have additional skills beyond what is typically expected for your role.
(3) Rates vary by location, e.g. day rates in places like London are higher than elsewhere in the country.
Another option is to speak to recruitment agencies in your area, and pick their brains about what you could charge. (If your portfolio is in a suitable state, it’s also a good chance to practice presenting your work to someone). Bear in mind that they will add a percentage on top of your fee — which is why studios will always try to hire direct when possible.
When to be flexible about your rate
Whilst it was definitely a mistake for me to reduce my rate on a 2 week project, your freelance rate should not be set in stone.
If you’re offered a longer contract, let’s say 4 weeks or more, it can be worth reducing your day rate. (As you’re getting a long stretch of guaranteed work and won’t need to be scouting for jobs in the meantime).
What to charge your clients
Pricing your work for clients is probably the hardest part of freelancing to get your head around, and not a topic I can do justice in a single email.
(My upcoming "Freelance Designer’s Survival Guide" will cover pricing your work in much more detail).
Let me say this though…
The biggest mistake that you can make as a freelancer is to undervalue yourself.
Once you’ve given a client a discount, or reduced your day rate for a studio, it becomes much much harder (but not impossible) to get back to your normal price.
So as a closing thought, I want you to consider how you would pitch your services to a potential client as an investment, rather than an expense.
(Because ultimately, design is about adding value to the world, not making things looks nice.)
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