How to Charge for Design Work

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“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. “ — Jeff Fisher

“So how much do you charge?”

Most freelancers experience a mild panic attack when clients ask them for a quote.

It’s a mixed emotion – one part elation that the client likes their work enough to ask for a quote mixed with one part desperation about what should be the right price.

So how much should you quote? Before we get into the pricing strategies, lets take a little detour to understand why it causes so much heartache.

Why Are You Afraid of Pricing?

Much of the pain surrounding pricing can be done away with, if you understand the why’s and the how’s of pricing your services. I asked a few freelancers why they struggled so much about deciding what to charge for their services.  Here’s a summary of their responses.

I don’t want to (or can’t afford to) lose this client.

They are afraid of quoting too high (it may be out of their budget) or too low (they’ll think you’re cheap and not good enough).

I don’t want to come across as a snob.

They want the client to like them. They are afraid that if they quote higher, the client will think they’re pompous.

There’s no way I can charge that much, even if XYZ does.

They are not confident about their skills. They’re afraid they’re not good enough to ask for a better rate.

It’s sleazy.

They think it is sleazy to quote higher. They don’t want anyone to think they’re out to fleece the client!

But, at the same time, I don’t want to starve.

Right?! Who doesn’t want to have more money in the bank?

Notice the common thread in all of these? It’s fear.

They were afraid. They were afraid they’re not good enough. They were afraid to ask for more. They wanted the client to automatically know the value of their work, but they were not willing to put in the effort to ask for what they’re worth.

Before going ahead, it may be good to reflect on why you are uncertain about charging for your services.

Is fear holding you back? Or is it merely that you’re still searching for the elusive sweet spot?

Well, it’s time to take the leap and begin charging what you’re worth.

How to Determine The Best Price Points For Your Services

1. Discover The Client’s Budget and Returns.

Step one is finding out the client’s budget upfront, at least a ballpark figure, so you can take a quick call whether the project is worth your time. If the client has a clear budget, that’s great. You know straight away whether to make the effort to pitch to them because preparing an estimate and quote can chew up a few hours.

If the client is unwilling to quote a specific budget or even a range, instead of badgering them for a number, you can request them to fill out a discovery worksheet and include queries pertaining to their goals.

Try to get specific numbers that you can convert to a tangible dollar value.

Ryan Castillo gives an interesting example of how companies pay for solutions, not hours and how pricing is never black and white.

It’s really about value – the value the customer attaches to your work.

For example, if you create websites or write web copy for clients, goals could be to increase leads by X%, revenue growth by Y% or subscribers by Z%.

Things become much easier for you once you have an idea of how much you can add to a client’s revenue. You can either ask for a fraction of the increased revenues, or use it as leverage to quote a higher rate.

2. Figure Out Your Minimum.

Spend some time to chalk out what the client really needs, how demanding the client is and how well your skill set matches the requirements.

Then make a rough map of the features required, and estimate the effort it would take you.

You could simply multiply this by your hourly rate (here’s a good calculator to work out your minimum hourly rate) and present a quote, but that would be a big mistake.

Consider this as a baseline minimum. You will always have additional costs – any extra software, products or services you may need to purchase, any extra hours you need to put in due to scope creep or spill over work.

Typically add in an extra 10 percent to your baseline minimum to factor for the unforeseen circumstances that always come up.

3. Freeze on The Billing Method And TimeFrame.

There are various ways to bill clients – a flat project fee, an hourly rate or incrementally.

Many freelancers default to an hourly rate and get stuck at that level for years.

Other times, they find that fixed priced projects result in many unbilled hours of work. It’s important to recognize that not all projects or clients should be billed in the same manner. Here’s a short rundown of which type of pricing is best suited to each type of project.

Hourly Rates

This works well for projects that are not well defined or where it is difficult to determine discrete tasks that should be billed.


  • Works well for clients since they don’t have to pay large amount upfront. They pay only for deliverables.
  • Works well for freelancers since they get paid for only the work delivered.


  • Clients may balk because it’s difficult for them to know the total, upfront cost.
  • Has limited earning potential since you can only work so many hours in a day.

Fixed Price Project

A fixed price contract works well for projects that are small and each deliverable can be easily defined. This does not adapt well to larger, more fluid projects.


  • Features and deliverables are clearly defined up front. No last minute extensions.
  • Client knows from the start what the project will cost. No nasty surprises.
  • No scope creep and last minute additions for the freelancer to implement.


  • Falls apart if you didn’t estimate the effort and schedule in enough detail, or the client decides they want new features.
  • Requires significant initial effort to map out the details of the tasks and deliverables, that is usually not billable.

Fixed Cycles

This is a good alternative for large projects that may not have full details available up front, but rather evolve over time. Here, along with the big picture of the project, you work out small delivery milestones and bill each delivery milestone, much like an Agile project.


  • Less risky. Since delivery is in small manageable chunks, clients can monitor progress and validate the deliverables after each cycle, while freelancers can get early, regular feedback rather than at the end of the project.
  • Payments are distributed over time, at the start of each cycle. Client can discontinue at any cycle if they do not like the work, the quality or even the attitude of the freelancer. Freelancer still gets paid for the work already done.


  • As of now, few clients, or freelancers, are comfortable working in such agile cycles.

4. Write Up a Proposal

Only now that you have the three basic elements in place, should you get to work on your pricing.

Take into account not just your minimum rates and hours, but also the value that you bring the client in terms of revenue, leads or whatever their goal is.

There’s no direct formula to this. You are going to have to make a decision based on the parameters you mapped out earlier.

If you’re still having trouble deciding, read this debate on hourly versus fixed project pricing, and an interesting way of responding to general requests for quotes.

The biggest mistake many freelancers do at this stage is to shoot off their cost estimates in an email (like you see in this link).

Instead, learning to frame your proposal right (note I said proposal, not rates), can make all the difference.

Write out a proposal that highlights the client’s problem (and if possible, highlight what it’s costing them) and how you propose to solve those problems. Then, and only then, write out how much you’d charge for fixing those problems.

Writing a winning proposal is an art in itself.

You can learn more about it in this Bidsketch post.

The key is to highlight the problem that you are solving and the value proposition you bring to the table. This helps frame your value proposition in a positive light to the client.


No matter what you read anywhere else on the web, it’s not actually about coming up with the best rates.

One size does not fit all.

Do not rely on one single method or formula to price your projects.

Instead, use the guidelines above to work out the value you can create for your client and showcase how you can fix their problems. That will make it easier for you to charge what you’re worth and yet have clients who are happy to pull out their wallets for you.

PS: Here are a few other great resources on pricing:

Frequently Asked Questions about Charging for Design Work

How do I determine the right price for my design work?

Determining the right price for your design work can be a complex process. It involves understanding the market rate, the complexity of the project, your experience, and the client’s budget. Start by researching what other designers with similar experience and skills are charging. Consider the time and resources you’ll need to complete the project. Don’t undervalue your work, but also be realistic about what clients are willing to pay.

Should I charge hourly or per project?

This depends on the nature of the project and your working style. Charging per project can be beneficial for larger, more complex projects where the scope is clear. On the other hand, hourly rates can be more suitable for smaller tasks or projects where the scope might change.

How can I negotiate my rates with clients?

Negotiating rates requires clear communication and confidence in the value you bring. Be transparent about your pricing structure and the reasons behind it. If a client is hesitant, demonstrate the value they’ll receive from your work.

What should I include in my design contract?

A design contract should clearly outline the scope of the project, the agreed-upon price, payment terms, deadlines, and any other relevant details. This protects both you and the client and ensures everyone is on the same page.

How can I handle clients who don’t want to pay my rates?

It’s important to stand your ground and not undervalue your work. If a client doesn’t want to pay your rates, they may not be the right client for you. It’s better to focus on finding clients who value your work and are willing to pay for it.

How often should I review and adjust my rates?

It’s a good practice to review your rates at least once a year. Consider factors like inflation, increased cost of living, and any new skills or experience you’ve gained.

Should I offer discounts to my clients?

Offering discounts can be a good strategy to attract new clients or reward loyal ones. However, be careful not to undervalue your work. Make sure any discounts are sustainable for your business.

How can I justify my rates to clients?

Justifying your rates involves demonstrating the value you bring. This could be through showcasing your portfolio, explaining your process, or discussing the results you’ve achieved for other clients.

What should I do if a client refuses to pay?

If a client refuses to pay, refer to the terms of your contract. You may need to consider legal action. To prevent this situation, always ensure you have a signed contract before starting work.

How can I increase my rates without losing clients?

Increasing your rates is a natural part of business growth. Communicate this to your clients well in advance and explain the reasons behind the increase. Most clients will understand, especially if they’re happy with your work.

Richa JainRicha Jain
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Once upon a time, Richa was a savvy techie & manager, in the semiconductor software industry. After her miraculous escape and recovery, she now works from her garden, creating websites, writing about technology, business & entrepreneurship; and helping others escape the cubicle lifestyle.

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