8 mistakes freelance designers make when pricing their work

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March 15, 2021
5 minute read

Setting rates is one of the most challenging processes a new freelancer has to navigate. It’s hard to even know where to start. Should you charge hourly or by project? What’s a good starting rate for a beginner? No matter you have dice it up, there’s so much to consider.

Because of that, there are several mistakes new freelancers can make when setting their initial rates—mistakes that make it hard to earn a good living, project your income, and even harder to grow your freelance business.

To help you avoid those pitfalls, we highlight some of the most common mistakes beginner freelance designers make, along with how to avoid them yourself.

Mistake #1: Undervaluing your work

Whether you’re unsure how to value your work as a beginner or struggling from impostor syndrome, undervaluing your work is number one on this list for a reason: it’s an all-too-common mistake. There’s no place for impostor syndrome when you’re setting rates because your work generates real value for clients. You, the creator, deserve to be compensated for the value—and no one else is going to go to bat for what you deserve unless you do.

Mistake #2: Pulling rates out of a hat

Project details and scope, timelines, and other pricing factors will vary, so it makes sense for your rates to vary, too, from one project to the next.

That doesn’t mean you should be haphazardly pulling rates out of a hat. Your pricing should follow a clear strategy that outlines how various project and client specifics impact your rate. Define how much rush work costs, for example, and whether you’ll offer discounts for packaged work.

Mistake #3: Letting clients dictate your rates

There are a lot of good methods for coming up with freelance rates—asking your clients what they want to pay isn’t one of them. Letting clients dictate what you charge is one of the biggest mistakes a freelancer can make.

Instead, develop a minimum acceptable rate you’re willing to work for. Make this rate visible and explicit when setting your contract with a client. There’s something to be said for negotiating and being willing to work within a client’s budget, but you should also be willing to walk away if it’s not a fit.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to consider your expenses

While your expenses shouldn’t dictate your rates, you do need to make sure to factor them in. Freelancers are responsible for expenses that in-house designers aren’t. At a bare minimum, your design pricing needs to cover those expenses, with additional room to actually pay yourself for the work. Expenses might include any software you use, computer storage or hosting, health insurance, Wi-Fi, and more.

Mistake #5: Not talking to other freelance designers about rates

Despite the taboo around discussing pricing and income, it’s absolutely vital for freelancers. It’s hard to get a sense of whether you’re charging the right amount if you have no idea what your colleagues are charging. You need to understand the market and the rates it can tolerate. You need to know whether you’re charging in the high, low, or middle range for your niche.

Mistake #6: Charging all clients the same rate

Some clients may work on tight turnarounds that incur an additional rush fee, for example. High-profile clients may warrant a lower rate in exchange for intangible compensation like building your own brand authority.

Every client is different, every project is different—so why would you charge them the same rate? A lot of factors should go into your freelance rates and they often vary from client to client. Your rates should, too.

Mistake #7: Exclusively using time-based rates for creative work

Hourly rates are the freelance industry relic that just won’t go away.

Simply put, creative work is valuable, and that value has almost no relation to the time it takes to product creative work. Plus, the time you spend directly working on a client’s project doesn’t reflect all the other time you’ve spent building up your skills and expertise.

Whether you’re charging an hourly rate, a day rate, or another time-based cost, you’re potentially disincentivizing yourself from working efficiently and putting a hard limit on your earning potential.

Instead, consider charging for your work based on the value that work offers clients, with project rates.

Mistake #8: Failing to raise your rates

Regardless of how you price or where your rates fall on the scale of your niche, maintaining the same rates year after year is a huge mistake. It caps your income and—thanks to inflation—can mean you actually end up making less money each year. With every project you complete and new client you work with, your skills and expertise as a designer grow. You bring more value to the next project, and your rates need to reflect that.

Whether you create a regimented schedule for rate increases (every year or every 6 months, for example) or wait for clues that it’s time, you need to raise your rates on a regular basis.

Wrapping up

As a new freelance designer, it’s often easy to make mistakes when pricing their work—leading to fewer customers and less income. While setting rates is never foolproof, understanding the common mistakes above will put you in a much better position to price your work in a way that enables you to grow and make a good living without breaking the bank for clients.