Think before you ask the question "How much should I charge? The answer is in the specific questions you need to ask yourself about a project.
The question of pricing often comes up in online-forums, or in face-to-face discussions between designers, as if there is one cut-and-dried answer to all design project-pricing issues. It’s unrealistic to expect that there is one definitive answer to the question of what to charge for any given project.
Many elements play into the equation resulting in a final cost estimate for a potential client, including some of the following:
• What is your experience in the field of graphic design or with a specific type of project?
• What is the amount you are currently charging as a hourly/project rate for similar projects?
• What do you feel the final project will be worth?
• What are the exact project specifications the particular client has provided?
• What is the estimated amount of time such a project will take for completion?
• What are the methods to be used to execute the project?
• What do you need to charge to cover your overhead cost and expenses on such a job?
• How badly do you want the project?
• What prices will the local geographic market will bear?
• What are competitive rates in your local area for similar work?
• How much is the client is willing to pay? (It doesn’t hurt to ask if they have a budget)
• What are you providing the client in the way of rights to use the design for future purposes?
• Is the client a for-profit or nonprofit entity, and do you price such work differently?
• And many, many more considerations…
There is just no simple generic answer. In my own case, even after over 25 years of experience in the profession, pricing is still a constantly evolving process. At times I’ve used some of the following books as guides in establishing pricing structures. I say "guides" because no one book – or online resource – is going to be the "gospel" when it comes to establishing pricing. Again, the many considerations listed above, and a variety of other elements, will come into play in establishing a price for your project.
The following is a list of published resources containing project pricing information or suggestions:
• AIGA Professional Practices in Graphic Design
• Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers, by Tad Crawford and Eva Doman Bruck (with a CD of business form templates)
• Digital Design Business Practices: For Graphic Designers and Their Clients, by Liane Sebastian
• Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines
• Graphic Designer’s Guide to Pricing, Estimating & Budgeting, by Theo Stephan Williams
• The Business of Graphic Design, by Ed Gold
• The Business Side of Creativity, by Cameron Foote
• The Creative Business Guide to Running a Graphic Design Business, by Cameron Foote
• The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Clients: How to Make Clients Happy and do Great Work, Ellen Shapiro
All provide valuable information, and some formulas, to be used in establishing your pricing structure and presenting yourself as a professional designer. Web presences such as CreativeBusiness.com, CreativePro.com, CreativePublic.com, CreativeLatitude.com, HOWDesign.com, the About.com Graphic Design site and many other Internet resources also offer articles and columns on the issue of establishing pricing.
Don’t be afraid to ask your design peers, in your local community or online, for input about general pricing formulas – but don’t expect others to price your job for you. There certainly is no harm in asking around for price ranges for various types of design efforts. However, the answers they give may not be exactly what you need to determine your own specific rates. Still, the responses you obtain from others in the professional will be helpful research in determining the value of your own time and work, especially when combined with information gathered from other published and online sources.
While participating in a panel discussion at the 2003 HOW Design Conference an individual from the audience asked for my mantra as a designer and I told the crowd "Work less; charge more." I do think one of the biggest mistakes designers make is not charging enough for their efforts. The only thing worse than a potential client who does not value the efforts of a professional graphic designer is a designer who doesn’t appreciate the value of their own time and work. How many times have designers walked away from a meeting with a potential client thinking something like "Damn, the client was too quick to accept my estimate; I should have asked for more?"
Over the years, each time I have raised my rates I have gotten more, not less, work. Part of that is the perception – whether true or not – that is something in more costly it must be better. That perception has fueled the "designer" fashion, fragrance and similar industries for many years. Graphic designers can use the same tactics to their advantage – rather than accepting situations such as "winning" low bids of $29 to execute a logo through an online resource. It is much better to take the "high road" in pricing, rather than considering the "low-ballers" and "design mills" as competition. If price is a potential client’s only concern, in regards to their project, I would surmise they are not the client you really want. I’m very upfront in relaying exactly that fact to possible clients.
In presenting my estimate I don’t sheepishly ask the client if a certain amount is going to be OK with them. I tell the client "the project, as you have outlined, is going to cost "X" amount." If the client responds with "Oh, that’s much more than I have budgeted for this project," I don’t give up and abandon the situation feeling dejected. My comeback is "Well, what did you budget for this project?" Often this will lead to some negotiation to a project fee that satisfies us both and I’m still above dollar the amount I need to make the project worth my time and effort. Of course, there are still those times when the client readily accepts my initial estimate and then I leave mumbling to myself "Damn, the client was too quick to accept my estimate, I should have asked for more!" The first time I told a client "Your design project is going to cost $5000" and they didn’t even flinch, I nearly "wet" myself.
Designers also need to immediately revisit the estimated costs if the project requirements are dramatically different when the approved elements are received from the client. Often the actual finalized specifications of a project may differ a great deal from what may have been originally discussed as a hypothetical design assignment. My own project agreement states; "Project may be re-estimated if, upon receipt of all project elements, the designer determines the scope of the project has been altered dramatically from the originally agreed upon concept." The designer should not be expected to stick to an original estimate if the client has made major changes to the project.
I often see Internet forum posts, or get emails, asking the question "How much should I charge for a logo?" There simply is no single answer to such a query. One of my common responses is that I would much rather make $3000 on one project than produce 20 logo designs at $150 a piece to make the same amount of money. The time spent on client communication and the administration of my business makes a rate of $150 for one logo unrealistic for me. At those fees I might as well pay the clients for the "honor" of doing their logos. It is true that not all designers can charge $3000 for a logo as they start their careers. A designer needs to take the elements listed above (and more) into consideration before conveying an intelligent estimate to a potential client for such work.
Keep good records of your time and expenses throughout a design job. Take some time to evaluate projects upon completion to determine if you are charging what you need to be to make a living in this profession. It may be necessary to adjust your fees for future jobs to be earning what you wish.
The major point I wish to convey is that all designers need to work smarter in independently determining what their talent, skill and expertise are worth and charge the client accordingly – without question or apology. Being smart in determining what you should charge for your work will hopefully allow you to "work less, charge more" in the future.