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But, when you’re building a career as a web designer or web developer, that also means it’s entirely up to you to decide how much to charge for your services.
While this might come naturally to some lucky folks, for many people the business side of creative work can be intimidating. I mean, how much CAN you ask? And what formula should you use to determine your freelance web developer or web designer rate?
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: How to Calculate Your Rate
- Chapter 2: Living and Business Expenses
- Chapter 3: Don’t Be Afraid of Trial and Error
- Chapter 4: Rate Models—Flat or Adjustable? Per Hour or Per Project?
- Chapter 5: When You Outgrow Your Rates, Change Them!
Chapter 1: How to Calculate Your Freelance Web Designer or Freelance Web Developer Rate
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of freelance rate calculation, a good place to start is with our own Skillcrush method.
- Start off by researching hourly rates—look at design communities, developer forums, freelance sites and job boards, and other freelancers who do similar work to get a sense of rates.
- Use the Bonsai Freelance Rate Explorer—this web tool allows you to gauge where the freelance web developer or web designer rate you have in mind compares to others around you. Then take your proposed rate, multiply it by the number of hours you plan to work in a week and the number weeks you plan to work in a year, and you’ll land on your estimated annual income.
Still, while those are the basics, the process of hitting a perfect rate is a little more nuanced than that. In order to get a better idea of the deeper ins and outs of establishing a freelance rate for web design or web developer work, I went straight to the source and asked two freelance web professionals. Here’s what they had to say.
Chapter 2: Factor in Living and Business Expenses When You Calculate Your Freelance Web Developer or Web Designer Rates
One of the first things to do when establishing a fee for freelance work is to take stock of your living and business expenses and determine how much income you’ll need to stay ahead financially.
Nela Dunato has worked as a freelance web designer since 2013, and she says that before she made the jump to freelance work she spent several years tracking expenses like taxes, healthcare, and equipment costs (and how much of her salary went toward them), giving her a good idea of what kind of expenditures to predict moving forward. This allowed her to calculate how much income she would need to cover the basics, as well as how much she would need for some fun and savings.
But what if you haven’t spent the last few years keeping meticulous track of your income and expenses? No problem—simply change your ways starting today. If you’re currently a full-time employee at a company or agency, take this opportunity to get organized, bust open Excel, and start creating a baseline you can use to establish a fee that meets your needs.
It’s also helpful to remember that becoming a freelancer doesn’t have to start off as an all-or-nothing proposition—you can take freelance jobs to test the fee waters while still working in a field or job you’re hoping to transition out of.
Lisa Webster, a freelance web designer and Senior Graphic Designer at financial services company MX, says during her early forays into freelance work she tried to match the hourly rate she made at her beginning design jobs (and the same approach can be used for web development).
However, Webster adds that in those early days she always maintained regular design employment (both part-time and full-time) in order to keep a steady, predictable income flow while she found her way with freelance work.
Chapter 3: Be Patient With Yourself—It Takes Time, Trial, and Error to Reach an Optimal Freelance Web Developer or Web Designer Rate
So how long should it take to find your own way, and how do you know when you’ve gotten there? Dunato says that—after a process of trial and error—she arrived at her first optimal fee after about two years of freelance work experience.
“I charged per-project rates and logged my working hours so I knew what my hourly rate was on each project,” Dunato says. “At the end of the project I’d compare my actual hourly rate with my desired hourly rate, and if it ended up lower I knew that I’d need to charge more on the next project of similar scope.”
Dunato says she continued to adjust her prices slowly as she gained more real-world experience until she finally hit pricing that was in line with the amount of work she was putting into design projects.
Webster says getting where she wanted to be fee-wise was a multi-year process for her as well. It was something she knew she’d accomplished when she started successfully charging fees similar to what an agency had been charging their clients for her hourly work.
Webster credits the design portfolio she was able to build while working for agencies as her path to reaching the freelance fee she wanted—by taking her experience into the freelance sphere, she started landing bigger and better clients and was able to bring her agency rate with her.
A Note About Freelance Web Developer Rates
But what if you’re a web developer and not a designer? No problem—the approach remains generally the same. All of the above calculation advice, tips for factoring in incidental expenses, and strategies for adjusting your approach as your business grows can also be applied to web development.
The main differences are in where to look for comps and how to present your work to potential clients.
And instead of creating a dazzling design portfolio to land more clients and up your rates, you’ll be tweaking your approach to be developer portfolio-specific (and again, posting your work on forums like Github).
Chapter 4: Flat or Adjustable? Per Hour or Per Project? Decide Which Rate Models Work Best For You
Two important things to consider when calculating your freelance web developer or web designer work rate is whether your fee should stay flat or be adjustable based on job-specifics, and whether you should charge for billable hours or base your pricing on each overall project. It turns out, it really depends on your own work style and client base.
Dunato charges per-project and bases her price on the amount of work involved. “I’ll charge more if the job includes strategy, consulting, or managing other people,” Dunato says. As for choosing to charge per-project versus billable hours, Dunato says it’s less risky for the client.
“My productivity fluctuates,” Dunato says. “Sometimes I’m very inspired and I get things done super quick, and sometimes it takes me more time to complete a project. This has nothing to do with the client, so they shouldn’t pay me more or less based on that.”
On the other hand, Webster maintains a relatively consistent rate and charges per hour (though she does modify her standard rate and offers a higher “rush rate” in cases where potential clients want projects done in a shorter time than she initially quotes them). Regarding her decision to use billable hours rather than charge per project, Webster says the hourly approach makes more sense for her since they are so many unexpected turns in a design project.
“I’ve worked with too many entrepreneurs who keep adding changes that affect the entire design,” Webster says. “This can result in hours of extra work that wouldn’t have been anticipated if you charged them per project.” Webster says that charging per hour protects her from having to either eat the cost of all those extra hours.
Chapter 5: When You Outgrow Your Rates, Don’t Be Afraid to Change Them
While it can take a few years to reach a rate that really fits you, there will inevitably be a time when you outgrow that first optimal rate. But what’s the best way to recognize if it’s time to make a rate change? For Webster, it’s about the quality you can produce and convey through your portfolio.
“People will judge you based on your skills and what you can deliver rather than by reading through a resume of your experiences,” Webster says. She adds that two years ago she raised her rate based solely on a portfolio update that included new higher quality designs and projects than what she’d produced previously—it’s important to remember that a design career will always be an evolution of skills, and your rates should reflect that growth.
Additionally, Webster says to always keep on eye on the amount of work you’re doing and if the current rates you’re charging justify the effort you’re putting in. “The more work I get, the less I’m willing to work for a lower rate,” Webster says. “So if you ever find yourself being swamped with too much work, that’s a good sign to raise your rate.”
To close, while there’s no magic formula or perfect road map to establishing your own freelance design rates, there are some basic guidelines to follow to pin down a rate that fits your unique needs and skill level. By using the market as a comparison point, monitoring your living and business expenses, allowing yourself time to optimize your rate, and picking a fee model that fits your work style, and you’ll be well on your way to establishing your own perfect freelance rate.
Meanwhile, be sure to download our free and easy to follow price setting guide from the form below.
And if you’re ready to start learning the skills it takes to embark on your own career as a freelance web developer or web designer, look no further than our Skillcrush Web Developer, Front End Developer, and Web Designer Blueprints—online courses designed to be completed in 30 days by spending just an hour a day on materials.
Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.