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How to Figure Out Your Creative Freelance Rate the Easy Way

7 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
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If you’re starting out in your creative career, you’re almost definitely going to have some version of this conversation:

“Hi there! I’m [your friend, family member, friend of a family member, random person whom you met].

“I was wondering if you could [design me a logo, write me some website copy, make me some Facebook posts, etc.].

“So, how much do you charge?”

(Bonus question: “Do you do it for free?”)

But then, something like this goes through your head:

“I’m supposed to charge them? Well, I’m broke, so I need money. But I’ve never done this before. Do I make them pay in a check? Can I accept money? Is that legal? Do I have a bank account? What if they wire me the money? How do you wire money, anyway? Wait a second...I don’t even know how much to charge!”

Good news! I’m going to take you through the exact steps needed for figuring out what you should charge for your freelance work.

But before you figure out how much to charge, you need to ask yourself one thing...

What Do You Get Out of It?

Remember, your time is worth something, but it’s up to you to decide what that is.

MAJOR ADVICE: I’ve found that people asking for something for free don’t value your time. They ask for more work than is reasonable.

(Keep in mind, this is totally different than giving something away for free if they didn’t ask for it.)

Your time is worth something.

Sometimes it’s money.

Sometimes it’s experience.

Sometimes it’s just the fun you’ll have.

Figure out what this is early. It affects how much you charge, how much time to invest, and what you should expect coming out of it.

How Much To Charge

TL;DR - The formula goes something like this:

(Hourly Rate * (Total Hours It Will Take - Learning Curve Hours)) / (The Family & Friends Discount)

But to really figure out how much to charge, you need to answer a few questions:

  1. Who is this for?
  2. What do they need?
  3. What will you give them?
  4. What’s your hourly rate?
  5. How long will it take?
  6. What’s the learning curve?

1) Who is this for?

Okay, you’re going to want to treat the project differently if it’s for a family member or a friend, than if it’s for an established business.

Now, if it is for a friend or family member, you might want to consider a couple things:

  • The “Family & Friends” Discount - Charge them something...anything. But make it much less than you’d normally charge.
  • Some Forgiveness - They’ll probably cut you some slack, since this is someone you have a relationship with. But you should be the person being more professional...not them.
  • Favor? - Is this a favor? If so, set expectations. You’re probably not going to go full-on with a bunch of versions and variations. But give them something quality. Chances are, if you deliver, they’ll refer you with that piece as proof of what you can do.

However, if it’s for a legit business, treat it as such. You get to charge a fair amount for your work. But also, you don’t get too much forgiveness and leeway.

2) What do they need?

A lot of the time, people don’t always know the extent of what they’re asking.

“Can you make me a logo?” turns into “Oh ya, and I need business cards and a profile photo and I don’t know where to get it printed and…”

So, make sure you make it clear what they’re asking for, because that will help define the amount of time you’ll spend on it. And put it in writing.

3) What will you give them?

This is where it gets messy. It’s where you balance how much they’re asking and how much work you’re willing to put into it.

If you’ve never done this before, you probably don’t realize how many different steps actually go into a project. Usually creatives just “do it,” but there’s a lot more to working with a client.

For example, let’s play with a basic logo design:

  • Round 1 (Concepting)
    • 5-7 different ideas
    • Client chooses 2-3 of those ideas for revisions
  • Round 2 (Revisions)
    • 1-3 different revisions of each chosen idea
    • Client chooses 1-2 of those for next round
  • Round 3 (Refinement)
    • Clean up the selected ideas for final approval
    • You should end up with one selected logo
  • Round 4 (Finalization)
    • Address any minor notes

This is just one example. If you need a little help figuring out the steps for your project, you can message me, reach out to someone who’s done this before, or honestly...just wing it. Start with a family or friend and test out your own process.

But again: define these rounds early on. It’ll help gauge both yours and the client’s expectations.

4) What’s your hourly rate?

Okay, here’s where we start talking money. This is the first part of that equation up top...

Let’s assume you’re not doing this as a favor. This isn’t about getting more experience or just padding your book. You wanna get paid.

Okay, ask yourself: How much is your time currently worth?

Not what you wish it was worth.

But also, not what you think it’s worth.

Chances are, you’re worth more than what you think, but not as much as you wish. So, find that sweet spot. Do some research.

Back to that designer making a logo: a designer (still in college or straight out) would be about $20/hour.

Sure, there are calculators based upon your bills and expenses and blah blah blah. You’re just starting out, so you’re obviously not doing this full-time just yet.

You need to figure out your baseline. This is just a place to start.

5) How long will it take?

Now for the second part of the equation: Total Hours It Will Take.

It’s pretty simple...that is, it’s simple once you’ve done it for a while. If you’ve never done a project for someone else, you probably never kept track of your time. You were just like every other creative and just worked on it until you didn’t work on it anymore.

That’s a good way to waste your time and lose money.

Jumping back to the logo example:

  • Concepting time
  • Design time
  • Phone/Email/Contact time with the client

From my experience, that puts us at about 45 hours. It might take you less or more. But that’s for you to figure out along the way, too.

6) What’s the learning curve?

Now here’s the really tricky part.

You’ve never done this before.

You’re just guessing how long it will take you.

That’s okay. But you can’t charge people for the time you didn’t estimate for. Sure, you can be more conservative with your estimate, adding on a few hours in case it takes longer than you thought.

You can’t expect clients to pay for your learning curve.

Your client is paying you for the work. They aren’t paying you to for the experience you’re getting. So, you need to eat the costs on the time it will take you to learn early on in your career.

It may be learning the software, or learning what works quickly, or simply just how to manage your own time. It could just be the buffer you created because you have no idea how long it might really take you.

As you gain more experience, this learning curve gets smaller and smaller. Until you know within a few hours how long it will take you to do a project...and then you’ll stick to it.

So, let’s assume if you’re designing that logo, and it’s one of the first you’ve ever done...ten of those 45 hours might be a learning curve.

That means your real estimated time is more like 35 hours.

Doing the fancy math, for a real, paying client:

($20 * (45 hours - 10 hours)) / 0% discount = $700 for a logo

Now, let’s say it’s for a family member or friend (but not a freebie):

($20 * (45 hours - 10 hours)) / 75% GENEROUS Family & Friends Discount taken off = $175 for a basic logo

Remember, this isn’t making a poster for a birthday party. This is making something professional for another professional...that you just happen to be related to and are really doing them a favor.

WARNING: The first couple couple of projects you charge for, you'll probably undercharge. Or maybe overcharge. The key is to take note of your actual time and charge appropriately in the future.

Getting Paid

Here’s a little tip that I learned early on, as well.

Collect 50% of the estimated cost at the beginning of the job. Then the remaining 50% at completion.

  • Less likely they’ll bail halfway through.
  • If they do bail, you didn’t completely waste your time.

Now, as far as how they pay you:

  • Get paid in a check.
  • Have it made out to you.
  • Wait no longer than a week to deposit them.

There you go. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Lots of Other Stuff You’ll Need to Know

Honestly, there are so many other parts to freelancing:

  • Contracts
  • Collecting when they don’t pay
  • Creative ownership
  • Overhead
  • Expenses
  • Taxes
  • ...and so much more

But you’ll figure them out along the way.

It’s a constant learning process. Nobody has nailed it down because everyone has their own style of working. But this should help you figure out that one, somewhat awkward part of freelancing.

So get to work. And get paid!

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this, say hello @thejeremycarson. LinkedIn Instagram TikTok