Notes on How to Price Your Work Like a Hero

I often get asked about how to best price one’s freelance work when working with clients.

How much should you charge? Where do you start?

How do you charge at a level that means you keep a client interested, maximise the amount of money you get for your planned (or finished) work, while retaining your self-respect?

[For SoundCloud audio of this post scroll to the bottom and listen.]

I’ve worked as an illustrator for nine years, and have provided various other services that I’ve charged money for over several years.

There has never been a blueprint that I’ve referred to when determining my fees. I’ve always used my instinct more than obeying a set of instructions, but I’ve learned to bear in mind the following points…

The price you set should not be a one-way deal determined by the client.

Price is really a tool that you have full control over that demonstrates your value as an accomplished creative.

You are not exchanging real-time for money. It’s a lot more than that, especially when you start to accrue some experience.

The top freelancers understand that even though they estimate the length of time it takes to work on a project, this ‘time’ expense does not define them and the fee they charge. This should include you.

Your price does not simply reflect the raw ‘quality’ of your work. It reflects everything else you have put into your brand and your business over time: your professionalism, your authority, your influence, your client alignment and targeting, including the thousands of hours of work put into developing a style.

Never forget that you have your own overheads and expenses to deal with that can’t be ignored.

These include rent, taxes, computer costs and everything else that you’re required to cover when running your business.

The price you charge needs to account for all of this, and you will need to push for as much as you can. This is negotiation, and something that you will improve with in time with practice.

Always think of your price in terms of the solution your service provides to a need.

For example, what is the value of an illustration that directly helps a company gain thousands of new followers?

If you can solve a problem for someone who would pay anything for a solution, you are priceless. Obviously this is an exaggeration, but it does apply to a less extreme extent.

This is why charging by the hour is usually a poor option for you.

Doing so places too much emphasis on the idea that you are simply exchanging real time for money and less on your intrinsic value.

Clients will tend to compare you to other, lower value workers when you charge by the hour, and may be put off if that value does not compare.

Instead, you adopt a ‘value-led pricing structure’ (thanks to Liam at ‘Freelance Lift’), meaning that the price you charge is based on the results the client gets, as supported by your value, rather than the minute-by-minute time you spent on it.

When it comes to setting the price for a project, factor this in to your decision-making.

What results will your work produce for the client?

How much is that worth to them based on your knowledge or estimate of their budget?

You believe in your work, and you know how you are a real solution to a need, so believe in the results it can deliver, and believe in the price you set.

Don’t be a wage slave. Put yourself in the position where you can comfortably set your own prices.

I understand that it can be harder to push for a fee that goes beyond the budget of a client, especially in certain industries like editorial illustration.

But with greater value, and effective client-acquisition, you will be in a better position to have more prospect options, and to choose the quality clients you want to work with who ‘get it’, rather than the crappy ones who don’t.

With choice, comes the ability to charge above average. Aiming high may lose you some options, but it will always put you in a positive light in terms of value and boundaries.

A few times in the past I’ve had to resort to lowering my prices a little because I was down on options. This is why I’ve always strived to keep prospects aware of me and to keep income flowing in, so that I have options and don’t make decisions that are rooted to desperation.

For longer-term projects, aim to charge in instalments, for ‘blocks’ of work done, to avoid going down the price-per-hour route if you need to.

The more you know your worth, the more you will communicate this to yourself when setting prices, but also to prospects and customers.

Be constantly aware of your value and the benefits you bring,constantly grow that value, and always be looking for clients that can afford your prices to start with.

Knowing your intrinsic worth justifies price.

Combine all of these ideas with your own experiences with a range of clients, and a sprinkling of trial and error.

The prices you charge may evolve over time, and they may differ slightly from project to project. Just don’t settle for lose/win negotiations with clients by failing to acknowledge your true value.

You are indispensable, and you are in a league of your own. You are an asset, and you need to think of yourself as such.

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  1. Great post, thanks for advice!

    I completely agree with

    “Your price does not simply reflect the raw ‘quality’ of your work. It reflects everything else you have put into your brand and your business over time: your professionalism, your authority, your influence, your client alignment and targeting, including the thousands of hours of work put into developing a style.”

  2. Love this post! Sometimes I watch peers underprice and in the end that hurts all of us, not just them. Their work price should be fair to them and we support each other by offering solid pricing.

      • Hi Alex! Things are going well. Your course “How to get Illustration Clients” has been inspirational. I have wondered off course many times but it helps to know I have to bring myself back and do “things” to keep business growing. I’ve learned so much and I am probably one of the most “ADD-ish” of all your followers.

  3. Great post – I was just writing something similar in my blog as well. Your rate should also be reflective of the value you’re bringing. Sometimes I find my clients don’t really care about my expertise or my time, they only care about what they’re getting. I started selling my web dev services as packages that bring a lot of value and was able to command much higher prices than when I was asking for x dollars an hour.

    • Thanks Ashley – you bring up a great point about how clients are after results. Creating packages that could potentially increase the results they get, beyond even the initial brief is a great way of making the most of a project and amplifying your fee in a win/win deal.

  4. Having pricing for an unappealing client is quite useful. If you double charge an unappealing client that you might feel is not portfolio material you can utilise that extra capital to spend time working on a self directed independent piece for your portfolio. Obviously if there’s portfolio work on the table for normal rate then I would say go for that. But sometimes the worst piece of work can help fund the best ones.

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