How to be Confident in Your Prices
Updated: Sep 14
Once your freelancing gets up and running, you may find that your billable hours are reduced by your personal increases in skill and speed. There’s a really easy fix for that: raise your prices. A client that actually values your work and understands how much it helps their business' image will be willing to pay for it. If they respond declining or saying that they'll get someone else to do it, let them do that. Your ever-increasing skill has ever-increasing value.
Your client isn't paying for the fifteen minutes of time you spent editing a photo for them. They're paying for your years of practice and learning, the expensive software you use (hello, Adobe!), the hardware you maintain and upgrade to handle the software, your insurances, your attention to detail, cost of living, and your reliability. For example, I only accept work under the condition of a minimum of one hour billed or a negotiated project rate. Even if it's three minutes of work from reading the email describing the project to attaching the completed work, minimum one hour. These prices are dependent on both the complexity of the work and the prestige and ability to pay of the client, but never waste your time by saying, "Oh, well, it was three minutes of work, might as well only charge $3." All that will do is lead your clients to believe you do cheap, low quality work.
It's inevitable that raising your prices will box out some of your normal clients. The starving artist trope should remain a trope, not your reality. As you gain skill and reputation, it's important to increase your prices to remain true to your skill set. Don't back down if they respond that they'll get their nephew to do it for free. Okay. Go for it. If you love the work relationship you have with a client, I'm not saying don't grandfather them in. I've done it, and will continue to. Some of the relationships I've fostered have truly improved my brand and skill, and I value that a lot, and thank them for their continued support by giving them slower rate increases or referral rates.
If you're performing a service for a national or international corporation with millions or billions of dollars in revenue, you should charge appropriately. Your work will be viewed by many more people than a sole proprietorship with one location in a small town. You're not doing anyone any favors by selling yourself short. If your client is using your design in manufacture and will turn around and sell 100,000 of the end product, you're devaluing yourself by charging your normal, minimum rate. It's one thing for a product or post to become more popular than anticipated, this can be helpful for boosting your confidence to charge more appropriately in the future.
But before you enter freelance contracts for mega-corporations, your first clients will most likely be friends and family. A lot of people share how much things cost. If you offer huge discounts or freebies to those close to you, you may never escape bottom-of-the-barrel pricing because it's what's expected of you. That's not to say don't apply a discount if you want to, but don't do it out of obligation. If you do, it's okay to request that they not share that you gave them a deal or did extra work for less/free. Simply explain that it could cause you trouble in the same way they would be in trouble if someone told their boss they gave out free product without manager approval, or anything that would fit their position.
If you get offered exposure -- Run. Exposure is what they call it when you die on a frigid mountaintop. Exposure is a polite code word for "nothing." It's a way to exploit typically young, not yet established professionals without the confidence to say no. Your best clients will never ask for a discount, they understand that they are paying for a service that has great value. A great way to remove the burden of exposure is to respond with a referral or metric based refund. This can look different depending on the project. You could go with a system like: for every client they refer to me that contracts me for some service, they receive a percentage off their next service with me, or whole or part of the paid project fee. If the client fails to reach said target, clearly they did not hold up their end of the bargain and did not provide the right "exposure" they claimed to offer. A client worth their salt will grant exposure and pay for your services without excuses or begging. Business is based on an exchange of equal value. If they feel their exposure has value, have them prove it. If it truly has value, they'll be willing to sign their name on it (though, if their exposure really has value, they'll pay you money).
Personally, I'm happy to offer a referral discount for a client I can trust. If someone is actually capable of providing a steady stream of new clients through word-of-mouth advertising, continuously using me as a retainer designer for all of their work, or taking some other proactive approach to getting me more work, that's worth so much time and effort to me. In that event, it's truly worth it to give a discount as a thank you for their continued support. But the amount of clients that actually can offer that is fairly slim, and I've never had a client directly ask for this discount, because they respect that my time and skills are valuable.
As a young female designer, businesses and prospective clients will often devalue my work and insult me in the process by nature of my sex and age, expressing their beliefs that this is a simply hobby for me and therefore not valuable or that they for some reason want work to represent their brand from someone they don't believe is skilled. If an offer feels too good to be true or sketchy, it probably is. Don't be afraid to request more details on the project, and always get it in writing.
Be firm in your standing that you don't work for free or for exposure. You work for money, in the same way they do. Always require contracts and ask for budgets. If they're serious, they will send an offer. If they low ball you on what you feel is worth your time, respond with your standard rate and thank them for their time. Keep the ball in their court. If they decline, move on.
If someone offers you a project outside the scope of your typical work that seems like an interest to you, don't be afraid to take it, provided it's a worthwhile level of compensation. Completing that project and increasing your skill set can be extremely lucrative, especially if it's something you feel you can do more of in the future. After that experience, you can set a rate that works for you and is in line with your other pricing.
Imposter syndrome tends to hit artists and designers hard, and sometimes it can be difficult to feel like your work is worth what may seem like a large amount of money. It's important to remember that your time is just as valuable as anyone else's and your efforts deserve compensation. If someone is reaching out to you for a project, they're reaching out because they like what you do and value your work.