How Do Graphic Designers Charge – After making a TikTok post about how much I charge for my branding projects, I got a lot of questions about pricing and it got me thinking about how many designers struggle with that, I sure do!
Values can be very difficult because they come with so many negative emotions that make it difficult to talk openly about them. I come from a white middle class family (aka very privileged) and growing up my family was always open about money. Personally, I like to talk about money, but I understand that not everyone feels that way. I believe that the more we talk about money and the more transparent we are about how much we make in our design businesses, the better it is for the design community as a whole.
How Do Graphic Designers Charge
A recent AIGA article entitled ‘It’s Time for Graphic Design to Embrace the Radical Potential of Salary Transparency’ discusses the importance of transparency in the design community when it comes to salaries in the graphics industry. They conducted an anonymous survey of nearly 3,000 submissions from people who shared their years of experience, company size, race, gender and income. If you combine the entries you can see that there is a very wide selection.
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Looking at how much a designer with the same job title and experience level as you makes can be useful to see where you stand, but if you are a freelance designer you should pay more than what an interior designer does.
When you freelance you have to pay for your computer, Adobe registration, insurance, CRM tools, web hosting, the list goes on and the costs add up quickly! When you first start freelancing, you can use internal revenue as a marker, but there are many other factors to consider when pricing a design project.
A good place to start when considering how much to pay as a freelancer is determining the stage of your current design career. For this article, let’s divide the stages into 3.
Whether you’re a fresh graduate or a self-taught designer, if you have less than a year of real-world design experience, you’ll be considered a beginner. The main focus of your efforts should be on gaining experience, building your portfolio and networking with other designers. You can even mark the interior of a house in a studio or business.
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If you went to school for design, you’ve learned a lot, but you may have graduated and realized you still have a lot to learn! It is important to further your education through online courses, the more you focus on your design style, specialty and niche, the better you will be able to find online courses specific to your needs.
When it comes to pricing, you can start by charging by the hour and then move into individual project offers as you gain more experience. (Don’t worry, I’ll cover how to do these below!)
Once you start gaining real-world experience and building your portfolio, you may be ready to work for yourself. You can start from scratch, work late nights trying to get these projects done, or jump into the freelance world with both feet.
Your main focus should be on getting specific about the types of clients you want to work with. Set up your business processes so that repetitive tasks can be automated and create a marketing plan that brings you relevant potential customers.
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As a freelancer, you’ll have enough experience to pay a flat fee per project, and you can even start exploring value-based pricing (don’t worry, I’ll cover more about value-based pricing below!)
Once you’ve been in the freelance game for a while, you’ve worked with enough clients to spot red flags a mile away, you’ve got a niche portfolio, the evidence to back it up, and your design process is streamlined enough to hand off to another designer to handle.
Your main focus is to put your business on autopilot, create additional income streams and eliminate tasks you no longer want to do (hello bookkeeper!).
When you step into this role, you are no longer a designer for hire, but a creative professional. Clients come to you for your creative vision and problem-solving skills, so you can charge for projects based on the value you bring to the client rather than a flat fee.
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To find out how much you should pay, you need to consider your basic income. This is the hourly or project rate you must charge to be profitable in your business.
This is where the rewards from in-house designers come in handy. If you’re not sure what the right take-home amount should be for your experience and job title, check what other designers are doing for reference.
Once you’ve decided on your take-home or “salary”, you need to factor in your monthly expenses (computer, Adobe subscription, insurance, monthly software subscription, website hosting, studio rental, etc.). Grab a pen and paper and pull out a calculator to double check the numbers!
Depending on what stage you are in your design career (beginner, freelancer, design professional) will determine whether you charge per hour or per project. Let’s look at how to pronounce both.
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First you need to calculate the number of hours you want to work per week (x 4 per month). When paying by the hour, you must also take into account non-billable hours, e.g. marketing, emailing back and forth with clients, administrative work, etc. This means that if you work full time yourself, you will not be paid for 40 hours a week. From personal experience, I can say that if I put in 20 hours of client work a week, that’s 80 hours a month. To calculate your hourly rate, you divide your monthly income from the top by the hours you want to be billed each month.
Low prices work best if you offer the same range and deliveries to customers over and over again, this makes it easier to refine the process and understand how many customers you want to work with per month. For example, if you’re a web designer, you can’t take on more than one or two clients a month without feeling overwhelmed and giving up in time. To calculate the price for each project, divide the monthly income from the top by the number of clients you plan to work with each month.
As you begin to gain more experience, become a seasoned freelancer, and move into a Design Professional role, you can start looking at value-based pricing. Instead of basing the value of the project on a list of deliverables, focus on the value of the client’s goals they want to achieve.
This is where value-based pricing can be difficult for many designers. How do you define the importance of a goal? Short answer: by asking lots of questions.
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Before you provide the customer with any value, you should have a face-to-face meeting or video call. A client usually comes to a discovery session with an idea of how much they’re willing to spend on a project, and it’s your job to calculate the cost by having an open conversation with the client.
By asking more questions, two things will begin to happen. First, the client will begin to see you as a creative professional and understand the value you bring to the table. Second, you can diagnose the client’s problem so you can provide them with a solution (price!).
Instead of focusing on the scope or spectrum of project deliverables, you need to be a problem solver. Because every customer problem is different, start by understanding the customer’s problem. Determining the client’s pain points and goals gives you an understanding of what they hope to achieve and allows you to identify the problem rather than the client diagnosing themselves and telling you what they want.
Solution: They need a brand identity that will elevate their online presence so they can start building trust and brand recognition.
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Solution: They need a branded and user-friendly website to be able to attract more customers to their business and allow customers to order services online.
After diagnosing the problem and understanding the goal they hope to achieve, you can begin to assess the value of the project. Each client will have a unique problem and therefore the cost of the solution will also be different.
Depending on the degree of success in the client’s problem (see question 7 above), the end goal will be tangible or intangible. Intangible targets can be a sign that informs the customer, this is difficult to measure. A practical goal might be a sales page that allows a client to launch a course that earns $60k.
After using value-based pricing for two years, I’m looking at between 5-10% of measurable customer goals. Let’s say you’re creating a sales page for a coach and their goal is $60,000 at launch.
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