Estimating the pricing of work can be a difficult thing to pull off, for pros or students alike. There’s no magic formula for pricing work but here’s what I have learned from doing freelance/contract work for over 20 years.

Figure Out Time

For most design jobs, the best way to go is to figure out how much time the work will take from start to finish, including any consultation time. Will it take six hours of design and four hours of meetings and back-and-forth? Are you coding a website? The concept phase could take 10 hours, coding could take 20 hours, and consultation/back-and-forth could take five hours. Estimate high. It will always take more time than you think. Break the time into tasks to make it easier to estimate. Some tasks include:

  • Concept development
  • Visual research
  • Consultation with client/meetings
  • Revsions
  • Coding
  • Working with vendors
  • Comping final outcomes

Estimate high. It will always take more time than you think.

Set an Hourly Rate

How much do you want to get paid per hour? I can be different based on your experience level and the quality of your work. For undergraduate students, the fee is often between $30 and $50 per hour. I charge between $75-150 per hour. This number can shift based on the client and the type of work. If you are creating a logo that will be used all over the world for a multinational company, you can charge more. If your client is used to paying a lot more, you can charge more. If your client will likely be very difficult to work with, charge more.

Run the Numbers

Once you set the hourly rate, see if that mix is right for you based on the number of hours you think it will take to complete the work. If the final number looks too high for the client, you can lower the hourly rate. If it looks too low, raise the hourly rate. Also, reality-check your numbers. I never design a website unless the cost is $2,000 or more. Most websites are $4,000. If my formula spits out a number under $2,000, I did something wrong. I find this formula helps put things into perspective.

Be honest with yourself on if your time is worth it. If the client balks and wants you to work for $10 per hour or so, they are essentially asking you to get paid the equivalent of fast food work or working a starting job at Kings Island. Design is hard work. It takes time. You deserve to get paid for your knowledge and skills.

The Estimate

Give the client a flat cost. Don’t tell them your hourly, this can scare clients, though you can say something like “will cost $xxx based on xx hours of work — they can figure it out if they want to. State that the flat cost is +/- 10%. That way if it takes you less time, then you will charge them less. If it takes more time, then you can charge up to 10% more, but no more than that. Make sure that you get a signed or approved agreement before you start.

State in your estimate how many revisions are built into that price. In Communication Design, these typically include:

  • 1 round of sketches with 3 concepts (Round 1)
  • client feedback
  • 1 refined concept that comes from the first 3 (Round 2)
  • client feedback
  • 1 finalized concept (Round 3)
  • client feedback
  • Final comp, produced, ready for press

You can adjust this as you like, but be careful that you build in time. I’ve had to eat lots of cost on jobs before and it’s no fun, but it was my fault for pricing incorrectly.

Wisdom is Out There

There are a lot of wise designers out there who are happy to help. Ask around and come to your own billing conclusions. Jessica Hische wrote a post at Fast Company titled How Much Should You Charge for Design Work? that is worth a few minutes of your time. As always, feel free to ask your instructors here at Miami—we have all done the job and know what it’s like to price out work!

Dennis Cheatham

Associate Professor, Communication Design

Miami University

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