How to state your price with confidence.

"I just throw a number out and hope no one winces."

We’ve all been there (and maybe still are there). Someone asks us what we’d charge for a certain project, maybe to design their website or logo. We just throw out a number and hope the client doesn’t wince, or worse yet, tells us we’re crazy for charging that much.

I remember just graduating from graphic design (and even before graduation), having a few people approach me for projects here and there. I had absolutely no foundation on how to price my work, so I either didn’t charge them, or if I did, I arbitrarily came up with a number that sounded “reasonable.”  I feared pricing my work too high and hearing them say “no” or “wow, that’s just ridiculous!”. I wanted to avoid their push back on my price because I really had no way of justifying it, so I made sure to price my work just a little below what I thought the project should be.

I quickly realized that I needed to come up with some kind of system to price my work so that I could:

- Justify my price if the client pushed back.

- Be the one that decides my pricing. If I based my price on the reaction of the client, I’d be at their mercy, letting them decide what I’m worth.

- Get over hearing “no” if someone doesn’t want to pay me.

- Learn to negotiate. If I didn’t know how to price, there’s no point in negotiating on a number that is arbitrary in the first place.

- Put value on my work. If I don’t value my work, no one else will either.

Here are a few truths that will help you price your work and state that price with confidence:

- Your work is valuable. You studied to become a designer. You invest in schooling, paying for it as well as many hours of training on HOW to design. Just because you don’t have as much experience as designers with years in the field, does not automatically make what you create worthless. Remember: the person inquiring either doesn’t have your skill set or doesn’t have the time to do it.

- There is no formula to pricing your work. Sure, there are methods (some better than others) for coming up with pricing as well as prices that are not in the reasonable market range (ya know, like pricing a logo design at $10 million) 😉 But in general, there are NO RULES to pricing when you’re a freelancer. That truth freed me to make my own rules and come up with my own system on how to price my work.  

- Everyone values design differently. Clients place their own arbitrary value on what design should cost.

True story:  As an experiment, I once gave two proposals to two different clients in the same day, each for the same project: a logo design. One, I priced at 90% LOWER than the other. The client who I gave the higher price to didn’t even flinch. She paid the deposit and was comfortable with the price. She was one of the best clients I’ve ever had. The client who I quoted the lower price to said that was WAY too much for a logo and she did not end up using me.

Of course this is just one example, but it illustrates how different people put different value on design. We should be the ones that determine our value, not others. If we change depending on everyone’s reactions, we will be over-worked and under-paid (not to mention completely confused and tossed around by everyone’s opinions).

- It’s more important to be confident than to be “right” or “perfect” when it comes to pricing. This may sound bizarre, but it works with pricing freelance work (as with many things in life). If we constantly strive to reach the unattainable goal of pricing our work “correctly” or “perfectly” we will be paralyzed and never move forward in our freelance career. It is much more important to just go for it. Figure out a system to come up with your price, price it, and tell the client what you charge with confidence. Confidence is respectable. The more you just get out there and try, even if you end up undervaluing yourself, you will learn. And the next time an opportunity or project pops up, you’ll have a better understanding on how to improve. Progress! Not perfection.

- It’s ok to hear “no” or get push back on your price. If you have developed a system on how to price, hearing “no” or having someone tell you that is too much money won’t freak you out. You have reasons for why you price your work the way you do, and if someone doesn’t value the work the same way you do then that’s ok. Some clients truly can’t afford our price. In those cases, I will either try to make it work for them if I think it’s an amazing project, or I will walk away from the opportunity. Which brings me to my last point:

- Be able to walk away from any opportunity. I’ve been told to go into job interviews with the attitude that they need me more than I need them. If I was not desperate for the job then I would be much more relaxed and confident. Side note: don’t confuse confidence with pride and arrogance. We want the former, not the latter. This same advice goes for working with clients. If you are not desperate to get the project, you will be more likely to value your work at an appropriate and worthwhile price.

Most aspiring freelance graphic designers think that if they can just get their first client, they’ll figure out the pricing. While that is somewhat true, they’ll quickly run into the anxiety that comes from getting the client then not knowing what to say when asked how much they charge. I hope that these tips help you prepare ahead of time for those moments so you can confidently state your price and get paid what you’re worth.

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Melinda Livsey

Orange County, Ca