How I Set My Freelance Rates


One of the biggest dilemmas freelancers face in those early days is setting basic rates. It’s true that when you’re on year zero of your new self-employed status, you’re going to bid low for gigs–experience is a reward all its own. But you still need to eat and pay the rent.

There’s no benchmark for how much to charge except how much your peers are charging. As in, people in the same experience and skill level as you. Beginners are in an awkward place because they don’t feel justified charging premium rates when they aren’t sure they can deliver content that lives up to the expectations set by that high price tag.

Some experienced freelancers advise, “Don’t bother asking what Vanity Fair is paying when you can’t even make it into the National Enquirer yet.” That’s a bit harsh, but basically true. Set a figure high enough to justify working on the project, but not so high that the client expects rock star results, or worse yet, walks away because they don’t think you’re up to it at your experience level.

But once you’ve made it out of the early stages of your freelance career, how much SHOULD you charge?

There are three basic rules I use for pricing out freelance fees not pre-set by the client:

  1. How large is the project? I charge more for time-consuming, detail-heavy projects that take me away from other paying gigs.
  2. How “important” is the project? High-profile means larger budgets. I don’t see anything wrong with scaling my fees accordingly. I respect the budgetary constraints of small companies, but bigger companies not only want more, they have higher expectations of the finished product, too. Those expectations cost more money, simple as that.
  3. How badly do they want this done? A reasonable deadline equals more reasonable rates. The inverse is true for ridiculous deadlines or expectations.

Some clients try to get you to lowball yourself by trying to force you to come up with an opening offer. I say you should negotiate from a position of strength. I always ask A)What the budget for the project is, and B)What they have paid freelancers in the past for similar work. Any whiff of BS in this phase of the negotiation makes my fee go up accordingly.

Why do I do that? Two reasons–If I think I’m being played with, maybe I really don’t want to work with this company. But it’s hasty to bail on a negotiation of fees just because you have a bad feeling. But a GOOD company will try to at least haggle with you on a rate they think is getting too high. Secondly, if a company really is full of clowns, but they accept my higher fee without trying to haggle, I’ve got some compensation for putting up with their annoying behavior.

Solid people get reasonable rates and offer reasonable expectations. Dodgy, shoddy, and fast-talking types do not. If you have reasonable expectations, it is only fair to be quoted a reasonable price. What’s reasonable?

That is impossible to quantify across the board, but my rule of thumb is that it should be at least as much as I made on a similar project for a previous client. I charge an amount equitable for the work, comparable to other freelancers at my skill and experience level. If you’re an expert in your area, you deserve to be paid for that expertise. If you’re a newcomer, charge a rate that gives you some financial incentive but isn’t disproportional to what you can actually do for your new client.