One of the first web design projects I charged for, way back in 2003, almost never got paid.
At the time, I was playing in a band and we used a local club room to rehearse. I told the owner that I designed websites and, as all aspiring entrepreneurs do, offered my services to make a website for his venue. He said “yes, great!”
I think we agreed something like a £500 fee to design him a website. The problem is, when it came to handing over the cash, he tried to pay me in free band rehearsal space!
I almost agreed (I’m actually surprised I didn’t), but this demonstrates how little some clients value the work of freelancers. I was a college kid, wet behind the ears, but the perceived value of our work varies depending on who you ask. Therefore it’s not surprising that many freelancers have no idea how much to charge for web design.
“How much should I charge for a website?”
This has been a question that I have revisited, time and again throughout my career.
The problem is: there’s no answer.
Okay let me rephrase that. There is an answer, but it varies by project.
Many web designers, especially those starting out in the industry, will put together a rate card, or calculate an hourly rate. This is a nice idea, but it hardly ever works in practice. If you’re contracting with an agency, an hourly or day rate can work just fine, but your business clients are going to want flexibility and negotiation. And frankly, so should you, because pricing on an hourly rate is a terrible way to value your time.
“You’re literally making The Matrix”
Whenever I come to calculating my hourly rate and quoting a project on that basis, something always strikes me:
I can do this work quickly because I’ve practiced it over and over. And because I am doing it quickly, it must be cheap..?
Huh? How self-defeating is that!? Well that’s the logic of day rates.
For years you’ve honed your craft, built your skills and earned experience. As a web developer what you do looks like The Matrix to other people (one client actually said that to me when they saw the HTML behind a mail-shot 🙄) and yet, because we can do it quickly, it must be cheap. This is what happens when you price web design at an hourly rate — it doesn’t account for experience and knowledge.
How to not charge for your time
Pricing web design work not on the basis of time is tricky, because time is a shared unit of measure — everybody knows what an hour is.
So how do you price a web design job? I’m going to suggest that you banish hourly rates and start pricing on the basis of a whole project.
Here’s the secret to doing that: ask your client what their budget is.
Too many freelancers shy away from the “money conversation”, but this is a business relationship and so you must put your cards on the table (and so must the client). Always try to avoid writing a web development proposal without knowing the budget.
Depending on the complexity of the work, you will probably have a good idea of how difficult it’s going to be. Custom websites with lots of functionality and configuration are going to be tougher for you to work out. Don’t get sucked back into thinking about time, it’s better to think about this in terms of investment. If you’re going to invest a lot of thinking and planning into the project, the result should be a better product. And a better product should ultimately deliver a greater return for your client.
Simply put: the universal theory is that you get out what you put in.
For you, that means investing more effort to produce better work, and for your client that means investing more money to see a higher ROI.
Web design pricing depends on your perception
Let’s be honest: some clients will never get what you do. They think web development is easy and can’t understand why you’re trying to charge them “a fortune”.
During my freelance career, the absolute best clients have been the ones who do get it. They’re the ones who give you the space needed to come up with the best solution. They aren’t afraid to invest funds into making their vision happen. These are the clients you want.
And do you know the best way to find these clients? Increase your prices.
This will help to separate the time-wasters from those who want to make a serious investment. What’s also great about this — and it seems contradictory — is that the clients who pay higher fees also haggle less on pricing 🤷♂️
I know, that doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but trust me: it works.
How to confidently price your next web design project
When the next web development opportunity comes your way, try this:
- Don’t give an hourly or day rate — give a flat project fee (or ballpark, if scope needs defining)
- Increase your fee by at least 1/3 of what you think the “right” price is.
I moved from a weak position of false thinking that hourly rates offered flexibility, and low prices meant being “competitive”. I then realised that the best clients want to make proper investments: in their time, their relationships and their money. So don’t be afraid to go all in with your clients. Don’t offer wishy-washy hourly rates and stop trying to undercut everyone else. Increase your prices, set project fees, and create stronger relationships and a more profitable freelance business for yourself.