Freelance Graphic Design Rates: Tips For Pricing Yourself

freelance graphic designer invoicing

Establishing the right freelance graphic design rates is a very important process that you need to take seriously. However, it’s something that many designers struggle with. For many creative people, turning your talents and passions into a fruitful business often comes second to the process of creating. In this industry, few people are ever taught how to pursue creative careers. In fact, they are often shooed away from creative industries because these aren’t “real jobs” that “pay well”. You’ve heard these comments before—we all have. I’d even consider this pushback an initiation of sorts into the industry, so welcome!

If you are fearful that graphic design could never turn into a practical career, we’re here to tell you it can and will. Unlike other fields, there might not be an immediate clear path carved out for you, but if you’re still hell-bent on pursuing a career in the graphic design field (which you should), you are one of the lucky ones; now more than ever, there is a high demand for creative professionals across all industries and the types of work available are varied enough to fit any skill set. 

Graphic design is a competitive and exciting career. Unlike other fields, graphic designers have more freedom to decide what their career path will be. Want the stability and structured layout of a 9-to-5 job? So many corporations are looking for in-house graphic designers. Hate the idea of a 9-to-5 job? Modern technology makes it possible to be your own boss and cultivate a career as a freelance designer.

There are potential pitfalls and difficulties associated with freelancing, of course, but none as difficult as making the decision on what rates to charge clients. How you approach projects, develop relationships with clients and ultimately earn a decent living are all connected to your approach to pricing.

Graphic design, like any freelancing gig, has its unique quirks. Client expectations can fluctuate wildly, as can the quality of the work. Some clients will gladly fork over $600 for work that took an hour of your time, while others will try to haggle with you over how much time the project should take. There is also the fear of pricing yourself out of the market. In other words, you don’t want to be so expensive that only clients with large budgets can afford to work with you. Simply put, there will be a lean season and those smaller clients will be necessary.

So, aspiring freelancer, how do you get this pricing thing right? How do you balance being compensated for your time with being compensated for the value of your work? Here’s how:

Know Your Worth (So Clients Know Your Worth)

In the beginning, it can be hard to determine what to charge. If you are just starting out you probably don’t have an impressive portfolio to show to clients as proof of your bona fides. And honestly, clients can be wary of first-timers. For this reason, many new freelancers undercut themselves in the beginning stages. They need to attract clients and people are more likely to take a gamble on a newbie if the price is right.

In fact, some entrepreneurs even seek out new freelancers for this very reason. They know that they need to build their clientele list so they expect them to offer more satisfying prices for a similar quality of work as more expensive freelancers.

A good way to get an idea of how much to charge for your services is to compare yourself to other people. Seriously. Pit your experience and expertise up against freelancers in your area and see what they are charging.

This information will give you a good idea on what your starting rate should be and how you can inflate your prices accordingly as you gain more experience and build your client base.

But also keep in mind that your education investment and the type of software you’re using should also impact your rates. Don’t let clients pay you less because they know how quickly you were able to create a profound design for their brand. Instead, they’re paying you for your ability to effectively design what they’re looking for. It took Paula Scher five minutes to design the Citibank logo, which has now become known as the “1.5 million-dollar napkin” story. It’s not the time it takes, but the impact it makes to the client.

Tips for Setting Your Own Prices

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with where to start with pricing yourself as a freelancer, here is a little bit more information on what the average hourly rates are in various countries based on a freelancer’s experience level.

New York Freelance Rates (from Creative Circle):

  • Junior: $28-$30/hour
  • Mid: $35-$45/hour
  • Senior: $45-$60+/hour

Australia Freelance Rates (from iknowho):

  • Junior: $25-$35/hour
  • Mid: $35-$55/hour
  • Senior: $55-$90+/hour

UK Freelance Rates (from Major Players):

  • Junior: £150-£200 (day rate)
  • Mid: £200-£275 (day rate)
  • Senior: £275-£400 (day rate)

There are a number of other tools out there to help you with pricing. Indeed, Glassdoor and Payscale are two sites that help you compare average salaries according to job description and location. There are even sites designed specifically for designers, such as Bonsai. Their rate calculator (which you can try out here) allows you to select your specific skill set, years of experience and location to see the range of what others are charging. If you want to double-check those numbers, you can also try out this rate calculator.

Don’t think you are limited to a certain rate, either. Over time, you will know what pricing you can get away with for the quality of work you offer to clients. But keep this in mind: as you continue to become an expert in your field, you may have to start defending your expertise to prospective clients. Such high hourly rates may be met with some pushback, but this is what your progression as a freelancer has prepared you for—backing up your expertise and proving to clients why it’s in their best interests to pay for quality and not try to cut corners with a cheaper, less experienced designer.

The Importance of Getting it Right

It should go without saying that the purpose of working is, at the end of the day, to make enough money to pay your bills and live a comfortable (if not fabulous) life. As a freelancer, you have more financial concerns than people who work a regular job.

While you are free to choose when, where and with whom you work, you are also solely responsible for your taxes, retirement and healthcare costs. That means that when you are deciding how much you need to earn to live comfortably, you must add all of these expenses to your bottom line.

A cursory look at freelance graphic design rates will show you a wide variety of prices. Some designers will happily design book covers for less than fifty dollars while others charge thousands for the same work. This reflects not only the differences in the designer’s approach to pricing but also the difference in their economic realities and business strategy.

For some people, several small clients who come back regularly are the root of their business. Larger, more expensive projects are harder to come by and can be more sporadic in nature. Others focus on larger clients who want more high-value projects.

Also, keep in mind that certain kinds of jobs are considered more valuable than others. That is to say that not all design is paid equally. So, be realistic about the type of design you are doing and charge accordingly. If you take on multiple types of design work, failing to consider this factor can result in a serious loss of potential income. And, as a freelancer, it’s important not to leave money on the table if you can avoid it.

The objective should be to have a good quality of life and a decent work-life balance. It can be tempting to become a workaholic, picking up whatever gig is available and working long hours, especially if you enjoy your work. But a smarter approach will allow you time to enjoy a social life, take a few classes to enhance your skills and be more creative in other ways.

Getting your graphic design pricing correct is the difference between enjoying your career and being shackled to it. If you seem to always be working and living paycheck to paycheck, it’s time to re-examine your pricing strategy.

Hourly vs. Project-Based Pay

As mentioned before, there is nothing wrong with setting graphic design hourly rates for some types of work. If you are finding your clients through some of the established freelance markets like Upwork, you will notice that more designers have an hourly rate quote. Some designers charge as little as fifteen dollars an hour and others charge hundreds. The average is around USD forty-five dollars an hour for graphic designers. Consider this hourly rate as labor costs for a plumbing job. This is what the client is paying you for the time you spend working. Don’t be afraid to be explicit about what is included in that base rate. Think of it as a basic package. For additional items, you will be charging a premium. 

Your graphic design hourly rates are negotiable. You aren’t locked into them until you officially sign the contract and you don’t have to use the same rates for every job. Graphic design hourly rates are a useful tool when working through online platforms or when you are simply moonlighting while you complete your training. However, most freelancers will tell you it’s better to charge per project rather than by the hour.

Here, using graphic design hourly rates as a base for your calculations may not be useful in calculating a quote. When charging for the project you must put yourself in the client’s shoes. They are looking for a product that will be valuable to them in the long run. For them, this is an investment.

Whether you are designing a logo or an interface for an app, the use and value that they will get out of it will far exceed the amount of money they will spend to have you design it. A website that took you only a few hours to build can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for them annually.

Your graphic design pricing should reflect that value.

In this case, your knowledge of graphic design pricing is essential. There are plenty of clients who will try to get the most out of you for pennies on the dollar. One way to mitigate this problem is to ask them in the beginning what the budget for the project is. Then you can tell them what kind of service they can expect for that price. If they are looking for extra services it will cost a little more. Freelancers don’t have the benefit of an agency to negotiate for them so you must equip yourself to get paid fairly for the value of the work you do.

Another element in graphic design pricing is experience. Are you an expert? Are you an expert at some types of work and a complete amateur when it comes to others? People will pay for expertise. Your graphic design rates should increase as you become more experienced (for some more information on value-based pricing, check out this YouTube clip). Again, since you aren’t limited in the types of jobs you take, you may find that you have multiple sets of graphic design rates.

Staying Relevant

This may seem like an odd place to mention acquiring new skills, but it is a deciding factor when determining your graphic design pricing. Take advantage of our fast-paced graphic design course and online resources to learn new skills or advance the ones you already have. With the right combination of skills and creativity, even a person with no graphic design background can begin a graphic design career.

As a freelancer, you are only as good as your portfolio and your willingness to learn and expand your skillset.

This will keep your work fresh and relevant. As a result, freelance graphic design rates don’t have to be significantly lower than those charged by design firms. Clients care more about results than qualifications and they are happy to pay top dollar for top quality work, regardless of who completes it.

Common Mistakes

Graphic design rates can vary widely, often according to the geographic location of the designer. When you enter the freelance market your competition is global and that pressure can cause some unforced errors when it comes to freelance graphic design pricing. The most common one is charging too little in order to stay competitive.

Let’s face it, freelance graphic design rates from designers in India or the Philippines are not the same as those in the UK or Australia. While they are all bidding on the same jobs, you don’t have to low-ball yourself to stay competitive. Factors like ease of communication, time zone differences, quality and experience all matter to the client. Most will happily cough up a few more dollars for a professional, friendly designer who treats them like they are the only client they have. Don’t feel bad about asking for more money. You have to eat too!

Your freelance graphic design rates should also take into consideration your tax burden and the need for savings. One way to do this quickly is to calculate how much you should be paid in hand for the project.

Add ten percent for savings and between fifteen and twenty percent for taxes. Often, freelancers forget one or the other when making quotes or setting rates and wonder why they struggle financially when they work regularly.

Another mistake freelancers make is not talking to other freelancers. You don’t have to show your tax returns, but it’s completely acceptable to ask others about how they set their freelance graphic design rates or how much they charge for a particular project. Just like in the corporate world, the more we know about how we are being paid, the better able we are to make decisions about our careers. Freelance graphic design pricing isn’t an exact science and there isn’t an established pecking order, but being armed with an idea of who is charging what will help you map out a plan for your career.

On that note, it’s also important that you look for good clients. Who are these good clients? The ones that value your work and treat you well. Many freelancers chase projects, focusing on getting the work done and earning the payday. Getting paid is essential, but it’s better to have a great client who you work with regularly and who respects your work rather than dedicating yourself to a larger project with a client that raises red flags. This can be done by making sure your freelance graphic design rates are reasonable enough to attract the right kind of client.

While this is not always the case, it has been noted that many clients who are shopping for “cheap” design work tend to be harder to work with. A client who has to invest money in a project is looking for a better relationship with the designer.

And finally, pay attention to your numbers!

Countless graphic designers have struggled as they build careers because they were only keeping track of how much money they were making and not paying attention to other analytics. For example, where do most of your clients come from? Where are they located geographically? When do you have your highest influx of inquiries? How many bids for projects do you win? How many projects do you bid for? What’s your busiest time of year?

All of these points of data will help you to avoid problems and can clue you into some changes you may need to make to your strategy. Pricing mistakes aren’t the only ones that can cost you. A poor strategy can leave lots of money on the table in unclaimed opportunities.

This is a great time to be a graphic designer. More and more companies are discovering that design and branding are an essential part of the engine that drives sales.

The internet has connected us all, allowing both designers and potential clients to find each other in ways that would have been impossible thirty years ago. In this frenzied digital age, where workers are increasingly afraid of being automated out of their jobs, the human creative element remains an irreplaceable resource. Graphic designers are in the perfect position to take advantage of that reality.

As we see the role of designers expanding and new roles developing, we can expect continued growth for designers. It has also never been a better time for freelancers. The gig economy is not without its perils, but freelancers are organizing, networking and creating a new landscape for the future of work.

Freelancers demanding to be paid what their work is worth not only helps other freelancers, but also people working as part of corporate entities. The more people are empowered to take responsibility for their own financial future, the more equitable the markets of the future will be.

Want more insights on working as a freelance designer? #ShilloMAN graduate Matt Pealing shares his advice about freelancing based on his experience working on a wide range of design projects—from brand identities to illustration. 

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Anthony Wood
March 21, 2020

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