Thursday, October 07, 2010

Charging for Web design work

One of my former students emailed me to ask about freelance Web design work, and how much to charge. This is always a very difficult question, and I don't know many people who are comfortable setting rates coming out of college.

Keep in mind that companies will pay what sounds like a really high hourly rate because they are not subject to the overhead that their regular employees have, such as health benefits, office supplies, and other such items.

The difficult part in freelancing early on is figuring out how long things will take. I found as a programmer I had no sense for how long projects would take me to do. People would ask me how long things would take, and I would think it should be a 2 hour project, and I would spend 25 hours on it. I developed that sense over time. Classes like Systems Analysis and Design were great in theory, but when it came to applying the lessons, I fell a little short.

Customers don't really want to pay based on how good you are, so generally, customers should not see your hourly rate. I would suggest creating some base packages. For example, a 5 page Web site should cost X, a 10 page Web site costs Y, etc. You want to be clear with a customer what they are paying for. I found a company that does something like that here, for reference.

You can see they have a base package for $600. For a basic 5-page site, $500-$750 seems to be the going rate. This would generally include the basics of meeting with them, gathering content, designing it, having the user test it, fixing the errors they find, and making the site live. In reality, the technical end of the work will probably take less time than the other components of the project.

Other stuff that is extra, and this is where I would run in to issues. If the customer wants e-commerce stuff, or they want Flash animations, that would be stuff that would cost extra. When they describe the requirements, that is when you have to determine the cost of it. If they describe a Flash animation, keep in mind that is rarely a two-hour gig. Flash animations, Web programming, and e-Commerce projects should include testing and bug fixing time. There have been times where I wrote a program in an hour and then spent 5 hours trying to hunt down a bug. Flash programmers can charge rates of $50-$75 an hour, so a site that is heavy on customization like that will be more costly.

What is very clever is that there is a maintenance package is $50 a month for two hours worth of work, and additional hours are extra. You may want to offer options like "10 hours of updates over the next year for $250, or updates at an hourly rate of $40" rather than constraining someone to a number of hours in a month. By offering a package deal, you may have someone pay for the 10 hours even if they don't need them, just because it looks like a better deal. Also figure most updates will be small changes, so a lower hourly rate is fine.

You can of course work with people on price. There are people I've been eager to work with, and made allowances for them.

You also have to decide if you are going in to the hosting business, or if you are going to arrange for the customers to host things elsewhere. I generally would not want to get in the middle of a transaction between a customer and a Web hosting service. If this is the case, make sure you provide them the username and password for the site. Even if they don't use it, it's professional to make sure they have access to this. I've dealt with people who have no clue about this, and if they ever need to change hosting sites, it's a pain for them. Same idea goes for the domain name purchase. You can direct them, but you probably don't want to be the person in the middle since domain names do need to be renewed.

If you are not doing the hosting yourself, you have to assume some customers may have a URL purchased and a hosting agreement, and others will not. If the customer does not have the infrastructure in place, there is some startup work you have to do to get them up and running, and that may be something you want to charge for. This may be something you want to charge $100 for.

I would recommend the customer set up a billing arrangement directly with the hosting service (like godaddy). If you end up in the middle, your credit card is the one the hosting service has on file. If, however, you are planning on hosting sites yourself, that is something different.

You should always have some sort of portfolio available. For my PCCC students, your capstone project can be a start, but you may want to expand on it and upload it to a server somewhere.

The main problem I think most customers have is that they don't understand that you don't provide content. When they pay for a site, you are taking their existing information and turning it in to a Web site. You will need to meet with someone in their organization, and they should be providing you electronic copies of the information they want on the site. Some customers think you are going to actually write the text for the site, and (unless you want to do this) it needs to be made clear that this is their responsibility, and that you don't provide proofreading services.

As you get better at doing basic Web sites, you can probably get things done quicker and therefore make your business more profitable. You can also change prices as you go along. Notice the site I linked above also includes a year (2010 rate card). You can always change rates yearly (or project to project).


Cinthia T. said...

very helpful. =)

Anonymous said...


Anyone interested in this field needs to research some recent events, most notably the "Getty Images Extortion Letter" which highlights how small businesses are being intimated into paying huge sums of money for copyrighted images. An image that was free when a site was developed may no longer be free after a period of time, leaving the registrant on the hook for "damages". Very troubling corporate abuse is happening here. Again, anyone in the web design field, Google it as well as PicScout, the software being used in this process.