How to Price Your Services as a Freelance Creative
I’ve got to say, I think finances are the worst part about freelancing. I hate pricing my services, sending invoices, and chasing money.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy seeing the money come in. It’s really satisfying when I’ve had a good month or year. It’s far more fulfilling making money freelancing than getting the same pay check every week from an employer. I like to think I don’t take money for granted because of this.
Although I’m into my fifth year of freelancing (whaaat!), I still find pricing my services challenging. I constantly doubt whether I’m worth the number.
The truth is, working for yourself is a really personal job. No matter what you do, whether you’re a creative like me, a plumber, or a personal trainer, we all put our soul into every project we take on. So pricing feels like our worth as a human. It’s a very strange thing. And because of that, we’re all terrified that someone will scoff in our faces and tell us ‘you’re joking’. Followed by having a break down, of course.
That actually happened to me. And y’know what, it didn’t break me. It actually made me stronger. I stood my ground, thanked him and wished him all the best, and moved on. I mean, who the hell was he to tell me what I’m worth?
But starting out, it’s hard to even understand where to begin with pricing. I have friends who’ve started on $20 an hour, not taking into account that it actually costs money to run a business, and we’ve all got taxes to pay, superannuation (if you’re a fellow Aussie). $20 an hour, will get you into trouble – trust me. And hell, you’re worth so much more than that.
Finding Your Hourly Rate
First things first, you need to find your hourly rate. Here's my simple guide how to calculate what you need to be making in order to survive life's expenses.
- Calculate the yearly cost of all your bills (rent, utilities, phone, internet, car insurance, health insurance, etc)
- Calculate your weekly expenses (food, petrol, public transport, gym membership, etc) x by 52, which will give you your yearly cost
- Calculate your yearly business expenses (website hosting, domain, email)
- Add all these yearly costs together.
- Add 40% to that amount to cover taxes and superannuation (9.5%). This is the absolute minimum you need to earn to be able to survive every year.
- Divide your yearly cost by 52 weeks, divide that number by 5 days, and divide that number by 30 hours. This number is your hourly rate. This is assuming you’re working a 40-hour week. Now, I know I’ve told you to divide by 30 hours, but that’s assuming you’re not going to be working on billable client work 40 hours every week. This gives you 10 hours of non-client work, eg. commuting to and from meetings, time spent on marketing and signing on new clients, etc.
So, if you’ve done all the calculations and end up with a low hourly rate, don’t feel like you have to use that number. Use any hourly rate that you feel comfortable with, as long as it’s above your calculated hourly rate – making sure you’ll make enough money to pay for your life expenses and running your business.
If your rate is higher than you feel comfortable with, then consider getting a part-time job on the weekends (there is no shame in this, you'll find a vast majority of freelancers start out this way). Or, consider what you can cut from your yearly, monthly and weekly expenses. The freelance life is no a lavish life, but it’s certainly worth it in the long-run.
Finding Your Industry Standard Rate
It’s always a good idea to check and see what other people are charging in your industry. This can be a little difficult. I've found most freelancers I know are often happy to share their rates with you.
Otherwise, I like to use PayScale. So, let’s say you’re a junior marketing assistant, according to PayScale, the average annual salary in Australia is $45,561 (including taxes and super). If this number fits in your yearly expenses, then that’s a great place to start. Just divide by 52 weeks in the year, divide that number by 5 weeks, and then divide that number by 30 hours a week. Remember to always keep time up your sleeve for un-billable things like working on your business.
Also, don’t be afraid to add to the industry standard! When you’re paid a salary, you have colleagues to help with your workload, managers to liaise with stakeholders, accountants to deal with finances, and on and on it goes. When freelancing, you’re doing it 100% yourself, giving it everything you’ve got – you deserve to be paid accordingly.
Why You Definitely Should NOT Quote Your Hourly Rate
I know, we just figured out your hourly rate, and now I’m telling you not to use it? Well, not quite.
You’ve got two choices here. You can either,
- quote your hourly rate and how long the project should take, or
- quote what the project cost as a whole.
As you can already probably guess, I recommend going with choice two.
When you quote out at an hourly rate, you’re putting value on your time. But when you quote out for a project, you’re putting value on your work. It not only becomes easier to talk about as it’s less personal, but it sounds far more professional. It's really as simple as that.
How to Quote Out a Project
Write out every single step included in the project. Even the little, nitty gritty things like file preparation or uploading videos to Google Drive. Don’t forget to add Account Management to the list. This is something easily forgotten, but often takes up a lot of your time (eg. emails, phone calls to discuss client’s uncertainty, etc).
Later on, you’ll add these steps into your quote, to help give your client a better understand of what value they get for their dollar.
Estimate how many hours each step will take. Be generous with this. It’s very easy to underestimate how long things will take. Then multiply the total number of hours by your hourly rate. And there you go, you’ve found your project’s value.
How to Quote and Invoice a Client
First of all, I recommend setting up a business bank account. All invoices will come through that account. This makes it easier to keep track of what’s coming in and going out every month. If you’re using your personal bank account, it’s easy to miss when a client doesn’t pay you – which happens, often.
If numbers and maths aren’t your strong suit (don’t worry, me either), then I would highly recommend using online accounting software. It took me years to do this, and I really REALLY wish I had done it sooner.
Accounting software keeps track of what’s coming in and out of your business bank accounts, allows you to create and send quotes and invoices, and even takes the pressure out of calculating your taxes (Aussies: it even calculates your superannuation and HECS debt for you!). It does everything for you, making your life easier. All you have to worry about is paying yourself #dolladollabillsyall.
So, I use Xero and couldn’t recommend it enough.
I’ve also tried MYOB and Freshbooks. I chose Xero because I found it was the simplest to understand. That said, I quite like that MYOB is an Australian owned business, and has a pretty fantastic name (MYOB stands for Mind Your Own Business – genius). Freshbooks was a little too #basic for me. I wanted something that looks legit, something I can trust, and Freshbooks wasn’t that for me. But you might like it, so give it a go.
All online accounting software I came across offer a 30-day free trial, so definitely try a few before settling.
Now, accounting software comes at a cost – it ain’t cheap. But if you add the yearly expense into your hourly rate, your work pays for it. For me, Xero costs $50 a month. But if you send less than 5 invoices each month, you can go down to the $25/month plan.
If I haven’t sold accounting software to you, you can send some pretty good-looking invoices and quotes through Canva’s templates.
Do you have any questions about pricing your services? Feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.