What Is A “Fair Price” For Freelance Web Design and Development?


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I was browsing through some bid requests a few weeks ago and noticed several common threads among postings. Clients want you to work as hard as you can as fast as you can for as cheap as they can get away with. For example, one request asked for TWO sites to be designed and coded and to be powered by CMS backends, but the budget was no more than $450…

I can totally respect budgets, but what about $450 for two complete sites design to code to CMS is fair? That barely covers the cost of the design for both sites, let alone the coding and implementation into a CMS! It certainly isn’t fair to any coder in the USA that would (desperately) take on that job.

A quote from another request:

I’m looking to have this done as inexpensively as possible (duh!)

When will people (ahem, clients) learn that if you want your website to be the best it can you are NOT going to get it for cheap. Good design takes time. Proper coding takes time. Testing takes time. The person you hire will spend hours and hours and hours on these things, for what? A measly $450? Let’s look into it.

Let’s use the job I mentioned above as a reference point – Two complete websites designed and developed for only $450. It’s deadline is 25 days (but the client will more than likely continuously push for an earlier deadline – fast and cheap, right………right?).

Let’s see:

Two unique designs created in photoshop (or other graphic design program): 14 hours (estimate 6-8 hours for each BASE design, possibly much more depending on complexity and detail!).

Revisions to mockups: 8+ hours. (4 hours on each mockup, usually more, especially if client requests new design from scratch.)

Initial XHTML/CSS/JS coding: 32 hours ( (8 hours a day + 2 days)*2 )

Testing of initial layout with content: 8 hours (4 hours each)

Client requested revisions: 4 hours+ (Possibly less or more)

Integration with CMS: 16 hours ( (8 hours each)*2 — possibly more depending on the CMS )

CMS Testing/Revisions/Plugin Customization/ETC: 8 hours (4 hours each)

Client requested revisions/ Bug fixes: 6 hours

Time spent corresponding with client: 5-10 hours+ ((usually) more or less depending on the client personality)

Now, let’s add that up: 91 hours

Now, let’s divide that budget of $450 by the the 91 hours it may take to finish…

That roughly totals to a measly $4.95 an hour. That’s $2.20 less than the minimum wage of New York ($7.15 p/h). You’re better off working part time for 3 weeks at McDonald’s! (91 hours x $7.15 = $650.65).

So what’s a “fair price”? In a perfect world freelancers wouldn’t have to fight in bidding wars (against people in foreign countries willing to work for peanuts) to get new clients. We wouldn’t have to lower prices to get business (bills still need to be paid whether or not we are getting paid for what our work is worth).

I’d love to say stick to your guns – don’t settle for something less, when you know you are worth more… but let’s face it you won’t get clients without competitive pricing (at first), but there is no reason to settle for $4.95 an hour.

Just remember when starting out you’re not going to make loads of extra money. You’re not going to get rich quick. You are going to have to work your ass off to gain reputation, build your portfolio and prove that you are worth a client shelling out the “extra cash” to hire you.

To go back to our previous example, what would be the “fair price” for the scope of that project? Personally, I would charge something like $1000 flat for both sites. Although other things would definitely have to be taken into consideration – like how complicated the design and coding is, and what CMS is chosen. Also state specifically that this is only for X amount of hours (say about 50 hours in this case) worked. I may even break it down for each specific task – ex: no more than 8 hours on each graphical mockup, or no more than one revision for each mockup and include an hourly rate to be added on after those hours are exceeded.

What do you think? What is a fair price? What’s a solution to this problem? How can we educate clients that you really do get what you pay for?

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14 Responses to What Is A “Fair Price” For Freelance Web Design and Development?

  1. lou says:

    Yeah i usually avoid anyone who wants it done as cheap as possible..

    Lots of people don’t realise that most designers sacrifice nights, off hours to meet deadlines. AND most clients do not give you the full scope of things until about midway, then you find out that they need this page, that page, forms, newsletters…etc.. I usually always start with a base price of $800 for a simple design which includes about 8 pages, one form, then I have the client show me what they have in mind thru other websites, which then I add whatever hours times $18 which is my hourly rate.. Otherwise I don’t do it…

  2. Wendy says:

    Only 91 hours? Don’t forget that those are the very same clients that will want you to make their cr@ppy art look good *and* expect you to write all their copy.

    I truly admire what developers do. It makes me happy that I get to make my product first and then sell it, building anything to the customers expectations is just nightmarish.

  3. KC says:

    I agree. I refuse to give my time away.
    I’ve probably talked more people OUT of a website than I’ve done because I tell them the true cost, including things they don’t even think about, such as server cost, domain name cost, update costs, search engine submissions costs, etc.
    And the whole time you’re working for $5 an hour, you’re not available for a real paying client (at my normal rate of $20 to 25 /hr.)

  4. GW says:

    I cannot believe you only look at that much per hour – my starting hourly rate is $65AUD (about $50USD) and from my clients perspective that has been very fair….

  5. vince says:

    Only 1 website, with a CMS:
    I would charge 1,500-2,000 for the design,
    150.00 per template
    80.00 per page
    2,000 for a base CMS depending on how much editability we’re talking about here.
    add 30% of the gross production costs for project management – remember, it’s not just the cost of your time, but there needs to be margin included and this covers a bit of the inevitable scope creep. Any out of scope changes are then estimated and charged for – hourly for freelance should land around 50-75 bucks an hour easy.

    You guys are selling yourselves short and messing up the market so be careful how you price.

  6. Lindsey says:

    @lou : I’ve sacrificed sleep at night, weekends with friends and family, birthday parties, and at one point my entire social life just to meet deadlines and stay on top of things.

  7. Lindsey says:

    @wendy: I did copy for only one site, and will never do it again! Also I try to stay away from jobs when I know it contains things that will not enhance my portfolio (clients that will still insist on tables and bad graphic design after I’ve explained to them the benefits of going other ways).

  8. Lindsey says:

    @GW : Well, it depends on where you are from – the going rate around here is about $20-25 an hour. I would love to charge double that, but then I wouldn’t have any business. Especially where 3/4 of my work comes from over the internet and I’m competing against people in India who will do it for 1/4 of what I’m already charging!

  9. Lindsey says:

    @vince: The market isn’t the same everywhere- If you live in a small town like I do, where you are competing with hacks who will do the work for $10 bucks an hour (and quite crappily I have to add) and have to then supplement the work you are not getting by bidding on jobs against people in developing countries who can charge a silly amounts like $5 an hour(or a $100 CMS powered website) or less… getting $20 an hour is the going rate.

  10. GW says:

    That’s a fair reply but I think you may want to look beyond your local town that is what is so great about the Internet – it is a World Wide Web :).

    I have similar cases where a client has gone to a cheap hack, and you know what I say go for it, and 8 times out of 10 they come back to me to fix it up or redo it – why because my work is always of High quality. I am not worried about a few who want a cheap dirty crappy looking site that is not what I am about…

    I figure if you charge less you get less and will end with less. Ask for more, all the time, every time, you will get more and you will be grateful for it. Never sell yourself short, you are worth more and keep thinking that – think prosperity, think big, then think bigger and keep thinking bigger and the more you do it the more you will get rewarded.

    I wish you great growth in your future projects :)

  11. Brandon says:

    Can anyone give an example of a site they did and how much they charged? Just curious for reference. I hear alot about hours put in, but I don’t know what that relates to with the details of a design and layout. Is it a simple layout, or complex. Simple graphics, or complex? Is it an out of the box CMS like wordpress, or is it a custom CMS that you made?

    Any reference would be great.

  12. GW says:

    Brandon, it is not quite that simple, I mean I have done quite a few sites and have charged accordingly but have since gone back and added more and updates ate that is not a case of this design equals this much. I work out each project similar to what Lindsey has done, i.e. how long will it take (now when you first start out you will always underestimate) to design, this is after usually two contacts with the client to get a clear(er) picture of what they want – I don’t charge for those consults – and then I apply my hourly rate. I then look at who the client is as I have a discount and markup structure based on who the client is, i.e. are they a non-profit organisation, club, commercial enterprise, small, medium or large business and so on – I have even done a number (about 10) FREE sites for reciprocal advertising, in the end my average is about 50 – 60$USD per hour

    I’m not about to say here is X site and this is what I charged, why? because that is commercially confidential for both me and the client – I am sure you can understand that.

    Not helpful I know but I think if you set yourself a standard hourly rate that is a) what you think your worth and b) what you think your clients will think your worth and then apply what you consider is realistic to star off, but do not undersell yourself always look higher and bigger and if you keep your mindset that way it will become that…

  13. Brandon says:

    GW. Thanks for the reply. That is good advice and does make sense. Thanks for your insight.

  14. akeane says:

    Example of silly comments from clients showing lack of understanding of what ‘we’ do: Client wanted a photo gallery added to his website we were building so my partner added one page (mainly so the client did not have to pay for more pages). Well I did up a nice gallery based on example from CSSPlay. Client emails me and asks me to add a few more photos and comments that it should only take me 15 minutes. I scrolled down to see how many photos there were and there were 15 photos. Mind you for this particular gallery each photo had to have a thumb nail and a medium image and ,of course, the original image was extremely large… plus the images were not very clear to start with. Okay… I think you see my point… 15 minutes! O’I forgot downloading the ‘huge’ images to start with.

    Enough said… yes I have done a website or two at a very low price for a friend of a friend because I am just starting out and still trying to get a decent portfolio plus the websites were very basic and the client provided all the photos and content. I’m not a good writer so I ‘demand’ that the client provide the content… I will make suggestions but I’m not going to write it.

    Thanks for ‘listening’.

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