Hands down, pricing your services as a freelancer is tough. So tough that no one has really mastered it. There isn’t really a secret formula to pricing your services just right, no magical tricks that will help you land awesome clients, and no one way to price your services so that you can guarantee that you will be rolling in the dough.
There is this idea in the freelancing industry that freelancers shouldn’t really discuss how much they charge, which doesn’t help you, as a new freelancer, learn how to do it yourself. I’m not sure why pricing is so hush-hush in the freelancing industry, other than freelancers considering it a “business secret,” which I can understand.
This is tough though for a starting freelancer or even a student who wants to freelance while in school. Where can freelancers who are struggling to price their services get some help in setting their fees and making sure they are appropriate?
It’s easy just to tell a starting freelancer to “figure it out” on their own, or send them different articles that talk about pricing, while none of them really give solid information or actionable steps on how to come up with their fees. But why does it have to be this way?
Let me attempt to bust this secretive bubble. Sure, I am probably going to break a few of the unwritten rules of freelance pricing, but with everything I do involving my freelancing (including writing about freelancing and helping students start freelancing), I am focused on helping other freelancers succeed, because when freelancers can succeed individually, we all can succeed as a group.
Every single freelancer’s situation is different
Let me be perfectly clear: there is no “one size fits all” solution or one “magical” number when it comes to figuring out your pricing. Sounds like I am reverting back to that hush-hush situation I described above, but I’m not. The glory and success with freelancing in general and the reason why it tends to be so attractive to many people is because it is a viable option of employment that caters to so many different types of people at different points in their lives and their careers.
For example, a freelancer living in New York City who is married with three kids and the only breadwinner in their household has different priorities and responsibilities to someone who is single, with no kids, and who lives in a very rural part of Europe. There are just too many factors differing from one freelancer to the next that it is impossible to generalize and make sweeping statements that group thousands of freelancers together when it comes to pricing.
So the methods and tips I discuss below should be taken into consideration based on your unique situation specifics: family responsibilities, current bills, experience, where you live, education level, types of clients, etc. Also, the tips below are listed in the order I feel are the most productive, however, they may not be same for you so they can be done out-of-order. I do, however, suggest that you should use most if not all of the methods below to help come up with your pricing.
Look at current job ads
One of the first places I looked when figuring out my pricing is current job ads for work that I wanted to do as a freelancer. I looked through the local job ads and found those that I met all the requirements for. I then filtered through these to find those with salary ranges. If all of the job ads were very similar, wanting the same level of education, experience, location and so on, then I took the ranges and started averaging them.
This gave me an idea of what my employed counterparts were currently making doing exactly what I wanted to do in my freelancing with my education and experience level. While this didn’t fit everything in my life (specifically my current bills), it did help me figure out a salary range given my specific location.
I figured that I would be working 1,920 hours a year (40 hours a week times 48 weeks; 52 less two weeks for vacation and two weeks for sick/personal days). I then divided the average salary by the hours calculation to get an average hourly rate.
This helped me figure out a good starting point but left out some bits of information, such as business expenses (overhead) and things like health insurance that are often taken care of by an employer.
Chat with other freelancers in your field
If you have some close freelancer-friends in the field, who do similar work to yours in their freelancing, then you could possibly chat with them to find out their average hourly rate (or at least an idea of what their rate is). Most freelancers are willing to causally chat with you about their hourly rates or fees in general if you have a long-standing relationship with them. I don’t recommend, however, going to any freelancer and asking outright “what is your hourly rate;” that would not boost well for you and will make you look bad.
Just like looking at current job ads leaves a few details missing from the equation, so will the average of any hourly rates you are able to get from your freelancer friends. Everyone’s situation is different so the fact that you have a freelancer friend in California and you are located in Georgia may mean that their rates are set for their location, and your location may be different.
Use freelancing rate calculators and apps
Another option for many freelancers are the already-existing freelancing rate calculators and apps that say they can help you figure out what your hourly rate could be. Why didn’t I mention this in the beginning and we could all be on our way to figuring out our rates? These often do not take into consideration certain factors such as experience and current clients.
Freelancing rate calculators such as FreelanceSwitch’s rate calculator and the app MyPrice are great starting places in coming up with an hourly rate. They are great starting places because they take into account things that either may not apply to you or don’t take into consideration specific details about your situation; they are often not a complete solution.
For instance, a student freelancer working from home may not have a lot of business expenses and personal expenses, but may be producing the same level quality as a junior (designer, writer, developer, etc) working for an agency. This student freelancer will be at a disadvantage using these calculators because their final hourly rate will be significantly lower than someone who has more expenses in their life.
Look at freelance industry reports to see average hourly rates of others
There are organizations and individuals that spend significant amounts of time surveying freelancers of all types about their freelancing life, most of which includes their rates, of which they package it up and publish for other freelancers.
Some of the most notable ones are those done through FreelanceSwitch and International Freelancer’s Academy, although they are not the only ones. Taking a look through the pages of such surveys can give you insights into the current hourly rates that freelancers in your field are charging based on their experience and other specifics. This can help you figure out if the hourly rates you obtained in the above mentioned tips are within reason.
Give your hourly rate a test drive
Once you have been through several of the methods above to get several different hourly rates, take the average and proceed to your test drive.
From my experience, there is no better way to find out if your hourly rate is accurate than to give it a test drive. Once you feel you have come up with a solid, honest, and accurate hourly rate based on all the factors in your life such as family responsibilities, business overhead, personal expenses, experience, and education, then it is time to give it a test drive with a few clients.
The best piece of advice in regards to figuring out whether your hourly rate is good for the marketplace (and if you need to raise your rate) is “If you don’t have a few quality clients turning you down based on price, then you aren’t charging enough.” It took me years to finally understand what they mean by that.
While there are some clients out there that really want to pay next to nothing (not quality clients), there are high-quality clients that you want to work with. If you find yourself overly busy with work and/or your estimates are not being turned down every now and then, then chances are you could possibly be charging too low and should consider raising your rates. The opposite is true as well: if you can’t land any projects because of your rates, then you are probably charging way too much (or you are looking in the wrong places for clients).
You are your best judge
Just remember, in the end you are the best judge of your hourly rate. Go with your gut. Feel that it is too low? Then increase it a little bit and see where that takes you. Feel that it is too high? Then lower it and see where it takes you. Only you will know, with experience and time, if your hourly rate works for your situation and your specific needs as a freelancer.
After you have an “hourly” rate, decide if you should charge per hour or per project
One last, but very important note, about pricing your services. Just because you now have a solid hourly rate to take for a test drive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should charge by the hour. Most freelancers are now switching to project-based pricing, where they take into account how long it takes them to do a project along with other specifics such as client needs, materials cost, and taxes then present the client with a flat figure for a specific project.
If this is appealing to you, then you should use your hourly rate and the time you feel is required to complete the project to figure out for yourself if it is even worth taking on. Chances are your project rate for projects will be more than if you were to take just your hourly rate and multiply by how long it will take you to do it, just because of other things involved such as the project’s worth, client expectations, etc.
But, I was expecting you to give me some numbers!
Most freelancers who ask me about pricing often want me to give them numbers, but in all honesty, as much as I want to give you numbers to work with, those numbers are superficial. Everyone’s situation is different. If I told you my hourly rate, it would mean nothing for you because your life is completely different from mine, as is the life of every single freelancer out there.
The best way is to take averages of what others in similar situations are charging. While it isn’t a silver bullet or a magical answer, it is the most solid, honest, objective, and actionable advice that I can give as an experienced freelancer in helping any and every starting freelancer to come up with their hourly rate.
Have you used any of the above methods to arrive at your hourly or project rate?
Image Credit: epSos.de
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.