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Resourceful Designer podcast: Offering tips, tricks and advice for starting and growing your graphic or web design business.

I want to start with a story. A business coach client hired me for a design project about a dozen years ago. He had just finished writing his second book and wanted me to design and format it for him for publication. The project also included an accompanying bookmark and a small website related to the book.

I had given him a quote for the project, which he readily accepted, and we got underway.

Once the project was completed and paid for, this business coach told me how impressed he was working with me. He said everything went so smoothly that he would have paid three times the amount for the great work I provided him.

Now I brushed this statement off as hyperbole from a grateful client. I mean, how many times have you received excellent service somewhere and thought, “I got more than I paid for?”

But then he said he wasn’t exaggerating and proceeded to explain why he thought that way. And what he said next changed the way I looked at pricing my projects from that day forward.

How do you determine your pricing?

I’ll get to what that business coach told me in a moment.

One of the most challenging tasks freelance designers or design business owners have is determining what to charge for their services. I mean, how much does a website or a logo cost? It’s as arbitrary as asking how long is a piece of string?

It never fails. Whatever number you come up with for a design project, you will always wonder if it’s too little or too much. Let me put your mind at ease on one of those fronts. “Too much.” is never the correct answer to that question. And I’ll explain why in a bit.

Coming up with applicable fees is difficult because many factors are to consider.

  • Your level of experience will influence what you charge.
  • The quality of the work you do is also a factor.
  • The type of clients you work with can significantly affect your pricing.
  • Where you live, city, state or province, country all play a part in your pricing structure.
  • Even culture may play into it.

With everything to consider, no wonder pricing is such a debated topic among designers. One designer may think $2000 is a lot for a website, while another won’t consider a web project for less than $10,000. I’m saying that there are no right or wrong answers regarding how much you should charge for your design services. You charge what you think you’re worth.

But that’s what I want to talk about, what you’re worth. Because there’s a good chance, you’re undervaluing that number.

Let me ask you a question. How much do you think it would cost if you had to pay someone else to do your job?

If you think it would cost more than what you charge, then there’s your answer. You’re not charging enough. However, you might think that it would cost a very similar or maybe even a lower amount to what you charge your clients. And that may be true. It’s hard to tell.

But let me rephrase my question. How much do you think it would cost if you had to pay individual people to do everything you do for your clients? Now it gets more complicated.

Let’s take a website project, for example. We tend to group all our services into one easy-to-explain package called a “website design” and slap a price on it. But what exactly goes into a website design? Let’s break it down. Of course, everyone will have their way of working on a website, so this is just a simplified example.

For a website project,

  • You’ll probably start things off with some form of discovery meeting to determine what the client needs and the problem the website will solve.
  • With what’s entailed determined, you and the client need to settle on a proposal and sign a contract.
  • Once that’s out of the way, you’ll do some research. You’ll look into what others in the industry are doing, especially your client’s competition. You may research adjacent sectors as well. You may search for new and innovative ways to meet your client’s needs.
  • Next, you may start wire-framing or thought mapping out the website with all this info in hand, figuring out the best structure and hierarchy to use.
  • Then you’ll start with the design: Colour palette, font choices, styles, image aesthetics and all the other visual elements that go into a website.
  • Maybe you’ll need animations or videos. After all, the client wants the website to POP, don’t they?
  • Next, there’s development. The nitty-gritty of connecting all the pieces together, so you have a functioning website. This may involve more research as you look into plugins and third-party solutions to help with your build. Sales funnels, eCommerce platforms, email lists, calendar scheduling tools are just a few things you may have to incorporate into the build.
  • Then, the client wants the website to be found, so you’ll do your best at implementing SEO strategies to help with find-ability.
  • Finally, you’ll send your last invoice and get paid for the project once the website is complete.

Whoa, good job. You worked your butt off, and everything worked out great. The client got the site they wanted and paid the fee you quoted for this website project.

But back to my question. How much do you think it would cost if you had to pay individual people to do everything you just did?

Let’s see; you would have had to hire a salesperson for the initial contact, proposal and contract signing.

Next, you’d need a researcher for the discovery and other investigating you did.

Then there are the UX and UI Designers you would have to hire. One to design the feel of the website, how it flows and how easy it is to navigate. The other to develop the aesthetics of the site. How natural and attractive it is.

After that, you’ll need a developer to put everything together. Someone who knows how to take what came out of the UX and UI Designers’ minds and put it into action.

Along the way, you’ll need an SEO person to make sure all the “T” s are crossed and “I” s dotted to give the website the best chance to be discovered by those searching the web.

And then, you would need a bookkeeper or accounts person to handle the invoicing and payment processing.

And on top of all of these people, you would also need a project manager to oversee them all and keep things on track.

Wow, that’s a good group of people. Eight if my math is correct.

So how much do you think it would cost if you had to hire eight individual people to work on this job instead of you doing it yourself?

Chances are it would cost way more than what you charged your client for their website project. And hold on, I haven’t even considered the profit for your design business. After all, you took on this project to make money, didn’t you? So after paying all these people, there needs to be some leftover for you to make a profit.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

When your client hired you to design a website, they, in effect, hired all these people. You acted as a project manager, a researcher, a UX and a UI designer, a developer, and an SEO person. Plus, you took on the roles of sales and account person. So why should your client get such a good deal just because all of these people encompass one body, yours?

The answer is they shouldn’t.

And that’s the big mistake so many freelancers and design business owners make. When determining their prices, they fail to consider every specialty they are bringing to the table.

Think of yourself as a team of individuals, each with their unique skills, and you can see why you should be charging much more for your services.

And that’s what that business coach client told me all those years ago.

For his first book, he had hired a page layout person to format the pages of his book. He also hired a graphic designer to design the cover for the book and the bookmark. And he hired a web designer to create the website.

Each of these people did their part and got paid separately. And the total for the three of them came up to almost three times what I charged him to do everything myself. So when he saw my quote, he knew he was getting a steal of a deal.

He told me that by lumping everything I do under one umbrella of “it’s all part of designing.” I was doing myself a disservice. I was undervaluing all the individual skills I brought to the table. Only when I started thinking about what, or perhaps who is required for each part of a design project, will I start realizing how much value I bring and start charging accordingly. Because every small part of a project you do, there’s an individual out there that specializes in doing that one thing. And they’re billing for it.

From that day forward, I started charging more for what I do.

Before I go, I’d like to ask you to do something for me. Think of the last design project you did for a client and how much you charged them. Now take out a pad and pencil and break down that price into the individual roles you performed to complete their project. How much did each “person” get paid? And don’t forget to leave enough for your profit.

I have a feeling that if you do this small exercise, you’ll realize that you are not charging enough for what you bring to the table. And I’m hoping this is incentive enough for you to stop undervaluing yourself and start charging what you’re worth.

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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