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How do you know if an hourly charge is reasonable for a Web design?


Question: How do you know if an hourly charge is reasonable for a Web design?

Pricing is a very difficult thing for most Web designers, especially newcomers. Even I have had trouble coming up with prices for projects I did (and didn't) want to do. The toughest was a project where I didn't want to say no to the client, but I didn't want to do the job either. So I quoted a rate that seemed very high to me, and he agreed without even blinking. Then I was stuck doing the job, but at least I was well paid.


What is Reasonable from a Designer's Perspective

Most designers would agree that getting paid what you're worth is a reasonable expectation. The problem is determining what you are worth. I recommend that beginners read my article "How to Decide on a Fair Hourly Rate for Web Design Work." It is a formula for determinging an hourly rate that will pay your bills and expenses and still leave something left over.

The problem with this article is that the first thing it asks you to decide on is your "annual salary". If you're just starting out it's hard to say what is a reasonable starting salary because the amount varies by region and even by person. If you live in the United States, you can look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see the average salaries for Web designers in your area. Then, if you're just starting out, you should place your annual salary at 10-20% below the average.

Some factors that can help increase or decrease your worth include:

  • How long you've been doing the work. If you've been designing Web pages for less than a year, you shouldn't ask for an above average salary. This is true even if all the other factors below imply that you can.
  • How well you do the work. This is a bit subjective, but if your designs look like the most popular pages on the Web right now, then you're probably building pages that will sell.
  • How fast you work. If one designer can do a job in 10 hours that you can do in 5 hours, then you should be able to charge twice the hourly rate as her. But this comes back to the previous factor - you need to be able to do the work well as well as quickly.
  • What you know. The more things that you can legitimately claim to be able to do the more you can charge. But you need to be able to do it, not just "learn on the job".
  • Who you know. In general, you'll be able to charge your friends slightly more than a complete stranger (although you might feel some guilt pangs if you do). The same is true of referals from other clients. If they know you or your work, they'll be willing to pay more (unless you do shoddy work).
  • How well you sell yourself. Most designers who make a lot of money do so because they know how to market themselves and their business.

What is Reasonable from a Client's Perspective

Most clients will tell you that they want the work done as cheaply as possible, preferably free. In fact, you haven't truly become a freelancer until you've heard the words "I can get my neighbor's kid to do this for me for $10 total" or to that effect. When you hear that statement you have to be strong and suggest, politely, that they then go hire the kid. Working for free or nearly free doesn't have to be a bad idea, but clients like that will just make your life miserable. Better to cut them loose and find a client that is willing to pay your reasonable rates.

So, while a client will usually say they want to pay the least amount possible, when it comes down to brass tacks, most of them want the best site they can get for the money. So rather than justifying your hourly rate you should be marketing it. Explain to the client what they get for that $45 per hour. Show them that $100 per hour is getting them more than just a plain website, they're getting an entire Web application.

It's your job to make the hourly rate that you need to charge to cover your expenses and pay your salary reasonable in the eyes of your client. If they flinch from your price, don't just shrug and move on, ask them what the issue is. Some possible adjustments or explanations you can make include:

  • Give them an estimate as to the time it will take for the project. Sometimes an hourly rate seems high when they think about it as an annual salary. $100 per hour equates to an annual salary of around $200,000. Most small businesses don't even pay their CEO that much. But if you point out that you'll only be working for them for around 60 hours, $6000 doesn't seem so bad.
  • Break down what goes into the hourly rate. No, I'm not telling you to tell them how much your rent is each month. Instead, explain how much you charge for things like: HTML programming, JavaScript development, image creation and manipulation, server-side scripting, and so on. Once they see what you'll be doing for them they might see the rate as more reasonable.
  • Offer to reduce services to lower the cost. If you show them what the breakdown is and they still don't want to pay, offer to build a trimmed down site for them. Explain that you can build just the HTML and CSS and then add on other services as they decide they want them. To be fully transparent, you should explain that this can end up costing more in the long run if they decide to go with the full site you'd originally bid on, as building a site without JavaScript and then adding in JavaScript can take longer than doing it all at once.

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