Unethical, low-browed pricing antics designed to take the client like a sideshow vendor at a circus is not the image we want to portray. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Before a person officially begins their freelancing career, there are several fundamental questions that need to be answered. At the very least, every designer/illustrator/developer needs to sit down and figure out how much they should charge.
Cameron Foote, author of the incredibly valuable Business Side of Creativity, devotes a chapter to calculating the exact hourly rate based on your expenses and projected growth. This is an excellent way to get a starting figure, but for me, it was always more of a “gut-thing.” When I started, it was $40/hour. For an entry-level freelancer struggling to get some clients and projects under his belt, it was a good starting point, but I have since upped my price appropriately.
But there is trend among freelancers that just annoys the shit out of me … specifically, routinely gutting clients for all they’ve got. When a novice asks, “What should I charge for this project?” a veteran should not say, “As much as you can get.” What kind of guidance is this? Unethical, low-browed pricing antics designed to take the client like a sideshow vendor at a circus is not the image we want to portray. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
While Mr. Foote goes on about finding your ideal hourly rate, he makes one incredibly important point: he advises on charging the same amount across the board. Print design or web development, Fortune 500 or mom-and-pop, a steady rate will earn client respect and increase the chance of referrals.
Imagine you charge one client $2500 for a small website at a rate of $100/hour. The client is happy with your work and feels he got a straight deal; a week later, he tells a business buddy about you, and the new guy asks you for a proposal for a similar project. Smelling an easy kill, you quote $3125—the same time at a rate of $125. Not only will you never here from the new guy again, you’ll most likely lose your old client and any future referrals they may have brought you. Clients talk and shady freelancers are quickly blacklisted.
It’s very dismaying to see industry peers passing down such poor advice. After witnessing Billy Bussey’s tragically unprofessional talk at FlashForward in San Francisco, I have been making it a point to preach the ethical route.
My philosophy toward clients and prospects is simple—if you don’t like the price, don’t buy. I have irrevocably found that the stingiest clients are always the ones slowest to pay, and this no-nonsense policy discourages window shoppers and hagglers.
It’s tempting to mark up your prices for a new client. Believe me, I’ve gone down that path, and at the end of the day, a few extra dollars is not worth a discouraged client looking for a different vendor. On the other hand, it’s just as tempting to quote a new client a discounted price, which is equally detrimental long-term. Figure a price that is fair to all parties, and stick with it. (If you find the need to raise your rates, do it across the board and warn clients well in advance. But that’s another day’s topic.)