Justifying your rates

Rates are one of the biggest questions that new freelance designers ask about. How much do you charge? Should you negotiate rates? Are you charging too much or too little? These are usually easy things to talk about.

But getting lost in the conversation, is how to talk about your rates with your clients. Some clients see rates as a negotiable item when they’re in the estimation phase. A common rookie mistake (and one that’s been covered before) is to allow that negotiation to take place.

The right answer is never to reduce your hourly (or project) rate. Instead, reduce what you’re delivering. You’re worth what you’re worth — and sometimes that’s even more than you think.

Designers, myself included, tend to get passive about money. We shy away from those conversations. But it’s one we should be running toward. I’d venture a good guess we’re all leaving money on the table by not. 

It’s one thing to set a rate, but how do you go about justifying it?

The first and most obvious thing, is that experience plays a big role. If you’re just starting out, you’re likely setting your rate lower than someone who has been designing for decades. Clients pay attention to this. If you’re younger and trying to command a very high rate, it may be scaring them off and leave them thinking you’re over-valuing yourself. On the flip side, if you’re a seasoned veteran and charging less, you may find that clients aren’t valuing you or your work as much as they should be.

Case studies also help. No matter your skill level, a case study can dive into your work and talk more about what you did beyond make something look nice. It’s great because anyone can do this, regardless of their skill level. (We also talked writing case studies in the last podcast episode, which is worth a listen.)

If a client sees that you’re having a positive effect on the bottom line, they may be more inclined to up their budget. When you have something you can point back to, like a client that earned 10% more from their new eCommerce site, new clients see the tangible benefit. That’s more than just making the website look better. 

Awards can play a role, too. I know a lot of people get a little bit iffy on this one. But I have seen some benefit from this. There are usually a number of design competitions or exhibitions throughout the year. Some are actual competitions where there is a clear cut winner, second place, third place. Others may not have a clear cut winner — instead there’s levels of placement that many people can be in. 

In either case, it always looks good when you can write that you’re an award winning designer. It’s worth noting to that you can submit for design awards in non-creative industries as well. This can be very useful if you’re targeting a specific audience or industry. Seeing a common organization that’s recognizing you gives you credibility and helps you stand out. If you stand out, you can command a higher rate.

No matter what, and I’ll say it again: stand by your rate. If someone isn’t willing to pay it, even after doing everything above, it’s likely not a client you would want to be working with in the first place.

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