Whether you’re new to freelance design or you’ve been working as a contractor for decades, knowing how to set the right price for your services takes careful consideration and practice to ensure you don’t lose on bids or have to eat unexpected costs later!

In today’s marketplace, where our industry is facing many uncertainties, staying competitive without sacrificing your price point and value requires a bit more technical skill and a little courage, as well.

Tips for Building Your Freelance Pricing Structure

In a YouTube video by Philip VanDusen, Principal and CCO at Verhaal Brand Design, on how to price your graphic design contract work, VanDusen outlines an effective pricing structure that he calls “S.W.I.M.T.E.S.T.” This approach allows you to identify and evaluate your freelance pricing using the following considerations:

  • Size of Client (i.e. small-to-mid-to-large size corporations)
  • What Type of Work You’re Hired to Perform
  • Impact You’re Making for the Business
  • Market Rate You’re Competing Against
  • Time It Will Take You to Complete the Project
  • Experience You Already Possess 
  • Skills You Offer Outside of Graphic Design (i.e. consulting, branding, etc.)
  • Tude (or Attitude) of Your Potential Client

Comparatively, Chris Do of The Futur takes a slightly different approach to VanDusen’s pricing strategy for graphic design contract work. Rather than looking at the “Time” it will take you to complete the project, he argues that a professional graphic designer needs to charge based on the “Value” he or she brings to the table. Do asks us to look at the example of an experienced logo designer who may only require an hour or less to create a beautifully custom logo for a brand. Rather than charging for the hour and making less than the designer is worth (or what Do calls “being punished for being good”), the designer should charge based on the value of the logo itself, and the impact it will have on the company’s brand. 

So, although Do does implement VanDusen’s “Impact” and “Experience” approach to his pricing model, he differs from S.W.I.M.T.E.S.T. 's six other factors for pricing out graphic design contract work.

How Do You Price Your Freelance Graphic Design Work?

Two successful thought leaders in the same creative industry, yet two different ways of thinking about charging clients for your skills. So, which approach is better?

While working in the graphic design industry, I’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs with pricing my services. Much of this stemmed from being young and worrying about losing a bid early on in my career. I also understood that to gain more experience, I had to be willing to take a few price hits to build my portfolio and flex my design muscles a bit. Now with more than a decade under my belt, my interpretation of these two approaches is that both are effective, but it depends on which type of contract work you’re looking to bid on.

  • Retainer Work: VanDusen’s vision works well when a client requires your services regularly. His approach to freelance graphic design is ideal for creating an hourly rate for a business or agency with whom you may enter into a three, six, or if you’re really lucky, a twelve-month contract. 
  • One-Time Project: Do’s theory works best with one-time projects, where you’re able to establish a price upfront to show your worth, rather than sticking to an hourly price rate that might cost you additional money and time as a designer. And because one-off projects can often lead to retainer work, it’s best to use Do’s theory at the beginning to set the right expectations with your clients.

The truth is it takes practice, patience, and as I said before, a little courage to know if hourly rates or value-based pricing will benefit you. Based on my experience, I’d say finding the right price point will involve a bit of both strategies, with some finessing:

  1. Determine the Impact Your Design Will Have
  2. Think About Its Longevity
  3. Consider the Rewards It Will Offer
  4. Identify How Much Revenue It Will Accrue

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