How much should I charge for a design project?

Students, freelancers, young designers and upcoming design studios face this dilemma quite often: how much should we quote to a client? Most of the times designers are clueless about how a particular design project should be billed. People often scour the internet to find answers and what they mostly stumble across are websites that claim spit & polish for 99 dollars or on the other hand they come across case studies where agencies made millions redesigning something. That doesn’t give a very clear picture, does it?

If you try asking a designer directly, say on facebook, “How much do you charge awesome sir for the fabulous work you do?”, chances are you wouldn’t get a straight answer. Nobody wants to spill the beans so easily and also, there cannot be a straight answer to such a question. You see every design project is different and there is nothing like a simple identity design project, if you ask me.

I started freelancing while I was in college. It was around 2004 that I began designing logos. I was also, clueless about how much a logo should cost or much I could make doing a brochure. However, for me there was a higher interest, if I dare say now, I was then, still practicing the craft and honing my skills. It was more like a paid learning exercise for me. It worked for my clients as well—they didn’t want to spend a lot of money getting a logo made and I could also keep my conscience clean as I knew I wasn’t overcharging for what I delivered that time. Still, I had figured out a crude method of deciding the charge. Sometimes I would see how much time and involvement was required on my part and at other times when I was doing a logo for a restaurant, I would just go through their menu and see how much a tripple chocolate sundae costs there.

During the next 8 years I did many more projects and now I was dealing with a larger variety of clients — from real estate developers to venture capitalists, from educationists to medical equipment manufacturers. Reading a menu wouldn’t work now so I devised a method of calculating a fair price for my work. As I said earlier, every project is unique so this isn’t certainly a formula but I sincerely hope that it can be put to use by those who every now and then find them in a situation where they don’t know how much should they charge for their new project. So here it goes, the simple guide to an honest invoice:

  1. Experience counts: yes it does, if you’re still in college, you certainly cannot charge as much as a full time designer would, who has been sweating his grey matter for the past 10 years. So rule number one—the more experience and the more projects you have under your belt, the more you can ask for. However, the kind of projects also matter. A brochure design for your favorite Aunt’s boutique doesn’t equal a brochure design for an airlines. But then how much can you charge? Read along…
  2. Involvement matters: how much of your time will the project take up? Is it going to be a weekend job or will it require constant participation for the next two months. Obviously as a student you wouldn’t take up projects that require a full time commitment, however, as a freelancer or a new studio you might be getting into one. If that is the case please read the following points carefully;
  3. What am I worth: No this isn’t a spiritual question; what I am referring is to your market value. No offense here, but you have to decide what you’re worth. Say, if you were to take up a job now, what would you be honestly getting paid as a salary? If that’s something difficult to determine then take a look at your qualifications + experience and head over to a job site. Say if you hold a diploma from a design school and have been freelancing for 3 years, look up any job site and see how much they are willing to pay to such candidates. Now suppose with your qualifications and experience, the best offer you could get is of Rs. 45,000 a month, then that’s your current worth in the job market. In other words, if somebody is employing you for a full month, you at least expect to be remunerated that amount. We can also call this your minimum price or the lowest bid you’ll ever make.
  4. How much time will it take: Now moving on, say you finally got that project to do a logo for ‘Happy Tummy Ice Cream’ or you got a deal to do a set of 20 illustrations for the book ‘Why Little Kids Are Afraid of The Dark’. You have to do a time estimation for yourself and also for the client. For the logo, suppose the client is looking for 5 options and then he’ll be picking out three from which you’ll both finalize one brilliant logo. Say you’ve got a knack for drawing logos, even then you’ll be churning out options at a certain rate and let’s say that rate is a logo in 3 days so for 5 options you’ll take at least 15 days, then say refining the logo would take another week and then there will be feedback from the client and time lost in convincing him what the best logo out of the lot is, let’s add another week for all of this. So now we know you’ll take 15 days + 7 days + 7 days = almost a month to do the logo with 5 options. Now you already know your net worth is Rs. 45,000 a month so you could pretty easily say that you’ll charge Rs. 45,000 for the logo. For the set of 20 illustrations: let’s say you take 2 days to do an illustration so 20 illustrations should take 40 days. There will also be feedback from the client so add another 20 days for that. So it means you’ll take 2 months for the project. But, you’re also doing a book cover and another website along with this project. Say for the website you’re getting Rs. 15,000 and for the book cover you’re getting paid Rs. 20,000 so you’re already making 35,000 for the first month. So for the fist month your deficit is Rs. 45,000 – Rs 35,000 = Rs. 10,000 and for the next month you’ll be completely focusing on the illustrations so you expect a full remuneration of Rs. 45,000. Therefore, you would now quote Rs. 10,000 + Rs. 45,000 = Rs. 55,000 for the project and not Rs. 90,000. If you were working on only this project full time, you’ll certainly finish it early. Stil this is a rough approximation. If you have a pretty good client aka a rich mogul then you could charge more but bear in mind that most distinguished clients wouldn’t have approached you (a freelancer or a student) if they wanted something done.
  5. Market situation: We all know that warm beer is pretty bad, you know what else sucks? The economy or so people have been saying or using that as an excuse. Still, this is something you might want to consider. Say you’re working for the hospitality industry and your client runs a hotel and you really know that hotels in West Virginia have had a lean season, then in such a situation you’ll have to be considerate. A hotel wouldn’t be making as much money in West Virginia as one would make in Las Vegas and if the hotels is listed in CheapHotels.com you know what to expect. In such a case I would suggest you stick close to your minimum price as discussed in point number 3.
  6. Aftermath: So a logo is a one time process, right? Wrong… in most projects the client will expect you to provide some sort of after sales service. You might get a call some day and the client may complain that he’s not able to get this thing printed on a high gloss plastic coated card. So you’ll have to take out time, maybe a day and explain to him that this logo isn’t supposed to be printed on a plastic coated card and that hand made paper might work better. This will take time and your involvement. So if you’re apprehensive about providing customer support to your client, then do add this on your bill so you’re not frustrated later. Now your monthly asking rate is Rs. 45,000 so your daily wage is Rs. 1,500. If you think the client may pester you for a week after you do the logo, then instead of charging Rs. 45,000 you should quote Rs. 45,000 + (Rs. 1,500 x 7) = Rs. 55,500 and you’ll be providing service + support with a broad smile.
  7. Where are you from: Say you’re from India and have just read an article on AIGA that says graphic designers make US$5,000 a day. Sounds ridiculous right? So should you charge that much? Yes & No. ‘Yes’ only when you are one of those designers AIGA is talking about and ‘No’ in most cases. US economy is different. A pizza costs much less here than it would in US so you’ve got to set your price accordingly.

I guess 7 is a good number for any list. Makes it look profound, like the ‘7 Spiritual Laws’ or something like that. Once again I’ll like to point out that this is not a formula but can certainly help you in asking a fair price for your work. Sending your client a good quote is important. If you get greedy and ask for a lot, you might end up losing the project… if you’re too unaware of how market works and in your humility and shyness ask for a price too low, you end up being exploited. Design is an honest profession or at least should be one and my only suggestion for students / young professionals is that put in your 100 percent, grow with each project and don’t hesitate to ask for what your work is worth. I hope this article was useful. You can post your feedback in comments below.

About Utpal Pande

Utpal Pande is a graphic designer from India. His work has been featured in the NY Times, international magazines and journals. As a design speaker he has been invited to forums such as TEDx. He is also the editor-in-chief of VSUAL.

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