by Scar de Courcier, Founder, Bohemiacademia
The freelance life is a complicated one, but for many it’s worth the pain of doing your own admin and being every single department because of the freedom that’s offered.
How much is your time worth? That’s what it all boils down to, in the end. But pricing is hard to work out, especially when you’re at the beginning of your freelance journey. Every industry is different, and your prices will depend on the industry you’re working in as well as the location you’re based in, your level of experience, and a number of other factors. Here is a quick guide to getting started with pricing, and to some common mistakes people make when they’re starting out.
There are a couple of ways to work out how much to charge:
- Work out how much you need to make in order to survive at a level you’re comfortable with;
- Work out how much you can get away with charging.
Most freelancers try to go for the first option when they’re starting out, but it’s easy to forget that there are extra costs you need to build in.
When a client pays for your time, they’re not just paying for the actual time it takes to perform the task. If you’re a writer, they’re not just paying you to write an article. If you’re a graphic designer, they’re not just paying you to design a logo. What they’re also paying for is the experience you already have in the industry, and the training you’ve gone through to get where you are.
If you’ve been working in your industry for many years, you can afford to make your rates higher, because clients will know they can come to you with a certain level of confidence. If this is one of your first jobs, then your client is taking a bit of a risk by hiring you, so they won’t want to pay you as much.
If your industry requires a lot of training or expertise at the beginning, your clients are paying for this too, plus any certifications or accreditations you might hold. I am currently renovating my house, for instance, and when I’m hiring someone to connect the gas supply I expect to pay more than I’ll pay someone for painting the walls. Sure, painting is a skill, and I’m happy to pay for a job well done; but people working with gas appliances need a particular accreditation which tells you they can perform the task safely. Likewise, I’m hiring a glazier to replace a pane of glass in the window. That’s a specialised skill. But the guy I hired to sand the floor, who’d only done so a couple of times before and wanted me to rent a sander for him to use, charged me less because it’s not so specialised and he wasn’t as experienced.
Bear in mind as well the amount of time you spend working that’s not spent directly on clients’ projects, but without which you wouldn’t be able to complete the work.
For example: doing your accounts, pitching to new clients, filling in paperwork, marketing your business, and so on. All of these things take time and effort, and you need to keep them in mind when you’re putting together your pricing structure.
“How much time will all that take?” I hear you ask. The answer is, it depends. Some people hire an accountant, so they spend less time (but more money) on their own accounts. Some people type really quickly, so writing blog posts and marketing materials doesn’t take very long.
Personally, I spend one day per week on Bohemiacademia’s ongoing business admin. Included within that is:
- Doing the company accounts
- Creating blog articles / social media posts
- Having calls with clients
- Pitching to potential new clients
- Going to the business mailbox, picking up any mail and dealing with it
- Dealing with HMRC
It’s important to be realistic about how much time this will take you; I’d say one day per week as a minimum, because that’s how long it takes me and I’ve been doing this freelance thing full-time for six years now. When I first started out it took me longer because I wasn’t so organised.
What else…? Ah, yes. Having enough money to live on.
This is a big one, and it’s surprising how many people forget about it, and how bad we often are at working it out.
Sit down and look at your expenditure. When you first start freelancing, the money will probably not immediately come rolling in. You’ll need a buffer, and you’ll probably need to tighten the purse strings. I’d recommend working out three budgets:
- The bare necessities: what you could live on if you absolutely had to, just covering rent, bills, taxes, food, etc.
- Enough to live on: bare necessities + basic home comforts like going out a couple of times per month, Netflix, Spotify… whatever your little comforts are.
- What you’d (realistically) like to earn: it’s highly unlikely you’re going to earn enough to buy that supercar collection you’ve always dreamed about. But you can probably eventually earn enough to go out a bit more, or add in some holidays abroad, or spend an irresponsible amount on bath bombs, or whatever it is that makes your life a bit luxurious.
If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend pricing your services for a Category 2 life, because clients will wear you down and you’ll probably end up working for less than you’d originally quoted. If you start in Category 3 but you don’t have the experience and accreditation to back you up, clients won’t commission the work. But if you start in Category 2, some of them probably will, and others will negotiate you down a bit, and you’ll probably end up with enough cash to live on. Then you can gradually build up your client base, and upsell to your current customers when they see you’re doing a good job, and before you know it you’ll be inching yourself up towards Category 3.
I’ve talked a lot in this post about not underpricing yourself, but there are some freelancers who go the other way when they’re starting out.
If you google your industry and ‘average freelancer rates’, you will probably bring back a range of options. Some people look at this and think, great! I’ll pitch myself at the top end of that! not realising that the people in the top end are there for a reason: usually they’ve been working in the industry for a long time. When you’re first starting out as a writer, you’re not going to earn £350 per article. Once you’ve been writing for years, and you’ve been featured in a national newspaper, and you have a strong following on Twitter, you might be able to swing that.
I know some of you will have clicked on this article hoping for numbers, but I can’t give you those. They’re so industry-specific and location-specific and experience-specific that there’s not much point in me trying. You’ll be able to find them with a quick google anyway. But hopefully this has given you an idea of some of the common pitfalls to try to avoid, and how to look at the question of freelance pricing in the first place.
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