It’s one of the most common questions people ask when starting their own business: How much should I charge? Deciding on a price for your work can sometimes be a never-ending struggle. Particularly for those just starting out. Yes, there are a lot of other people in your field out there who have been doing this for longer. But the pie is very big and there is a place for you. By making the following three shifts in your thinking, you will soon be on your way to making the income you not only want, but also deserve.
Shift #1: Worth vs. Work
The first thing to address is that your worth isn’t tied to the hours you work. When you sit down to work on pricing a project for a client, it’s easy for your math brain to kick in and start dealing in numbers. Most likely, though, those figures are based on the assumption, “What can this client afford?” rather than, “What is this project worth?” Start using the following questions to reframe this stage of the client conversation, and produce a price that is based on your worth, not your work:
How will this business benefit from my web design?
How much will their business increase because of my design?
How much time am I saving them?
What positive outcomes will they receive because of the work I do?
Remember, your potential client is hiring you for your skills, expertise, and knowledge. Even if you are just starting out, possessing those three things means that - nine times out of ten - you know more than they do about your field.
So, charge according to your worth.
Shift # 2: Benefits vs. Features
A benefit is a result or outcome of a feature. For example, I can sell a website because it’s professional and beautiful. Those are features. But the benefits the site lends to the business are retaining customers, increasing conversion rates, and raising profits.
I can tell a prospective client about all the great features that their new website will boast. But quite frankly, they don’t care. All they want to know is “Will I get found on Google? Is my site going to work properly? And can I make more than my competitors?”
Features tell. Benefits sell. Price accordingly.
Shift #3: Do the math
Hourly rates: Getting caught in the never- ending cycle of “What should I charge?” only ends up with head-banging and hair-pulling. One simple way to settle on a rate is to go the hourly route. Freelancers just setting out and those who want to be able to clearly organize their projects by length of time might find this strategy to be particularly helpful. Here is a step-by-step guide, complete with sample calculations, you can use to find the number that is right for you:
Set your net income goal. What is the amount you need to deposit in your bank account each year to live comfortably? (Example: $90,000/year.)
Calculate your total annual business expenses. This includes overhead costs (like Internet, office equipment, travel, etc.), taxes, and other expenditures like pension contributions and insurance deductions. (Example: estimate of $35,000 and $90,000 salary, amounting to $125,000/year.)
Factor in your profit margin. As you never know when the number you calculated in the previous step might unexpectedly rise, a profit margin builds a buffer into your budget. Plus, it lets you start amassing some savings so you can have a little money to invest in marketing and equipment, for example. Here, we’ll opt for a 15% profit margin. (Example: $125,000 x 1.15 = $143,750/year.)
Determine your total billable hours. As in, how many creative hours do you realistically foresee yourself working over the coming year? First, remember that while the year is 365 days, you probably (hopefully?) are not working every one of them. Taking federal holidays (10), vacation days (15), sick days (8), and travel (5) into account, you’re down 304 hours (assuming an 8-hour workday). Next, think about your days and weeks. A large chunk of your time might be spent on administrative tasks, marketing efforts like managing your website and social posts, and answering emails. And, of course, as establishing a reputation for your brand can take time, preemptively taking ‘lag’ time into account is important, as well. So let’s say you count about 5 creative hours per day (half of your work day), for 4 days a week. (Example: 20 hours/week x 52 weeks/year = 1040 hours. 1040 hours - 304 hours = 736 hours.)
Finalize your (minimum) hourly rate. To hit your projected total business expenses - the number from number three, with the profit margin incorporated! - simply divide this figure by your total billable hours from number four. (Example: $143,750/year / 736 hours = $195.3125. Round up to $200, and you have your minimum hourly rate!)
Project rates: There is yet another way to arrive at your pricing, known as project-based rates. This method is popular amongst more experienced freelancers who notice that they are becoming more efficient at their work and producing the same - if not better quality - web design at faster and faster speeds. Or, perhaps they add in new advanced skill sets through professional development courses and seminars, or grow their client bases and their time becomes higher in demand. All of these reasons signal that a web design freelancer could make the transition to project-based pricing, charging for the service they deliver rather than the time spent. How do you decide what the ‘right’ rate is, though, for each kind of package you offer?
Complete steps one through three from above. Those numbers should remain the same (Example: As a reminder, we arrived at a total annual business expense of $143,750/year, which includes a 15% profit margin.)
Create a menu of services and packages you offer. Construct these prices on a combination of market research, analyzing the final cost of similar projects from your hourly rate days, and also straight up asking your client what their budget is for the project at hand. Then, of course, square these prices with how many of each project it’s reasonably feasible for you to receive and complete. (Example: 20 basic websites at $2000/each; 15 intermediate websites at $3500/each; and 12 advanced websites at $4500/each.)
Build confidence by knowing your numbers.
These steps will help you figure out your worth, so you can confidently name your price when you deliver a proposal to future clients. As time goes on and your skills, efficiency, and industry reputation continue to develop, you can - and should - continually update your prices to reflect that growth. Keeping careful track of your creative hours, and division of labor across billable and non-billable work hours, as well as analyzing how long similar projects have taken you at different points in your career, will help you make a thorough assessment of your going rates and adjust accordingly. Don’t forget - you are allowed to give yourself a ‘raise’ for a job well done!