Freelance, Self-Employed

Doing freelance work on a regular basis, as a chosen way to work as a designer, is related but different from doing the occasional design project. By far the single most difficult thing to do in either situation is to determine how to charge for the work you do. If you are trying to determine how much to charge for a single project it becomes even more difficult because you have little or no past work to compare with.

A student who is asked to do a project for a client typically has the most difficult time determining how much or even how to charge for their design work. In general there are some guidelines to consider;

  1. You cannot charge the same rates as a full-time freelance designer because you do not have the same experience or overhead expenses that that person does.
  2. On average design internships pay $12–$15 dollars an hour in the Central Valley and slightly higher in the Bay Area. You can use this as a starting point for hourly rates.
  3. Try to estimate how long it will take you to create three versions of the project to present to your client + two revisions and final design. This is a normal example of what would be expected for a flat rate.
  4. Additional revisions should be billed separately
  5. Have a written contract clearly defining your deliverables and payment. Itemize all individual deliverables and due dates/timeline. See the link to Design Contracts
  6. For each project, do a cost break down when estimating and billing. Charge different rates for different types of design. In other words, concept design should be charged differently than revisions, research, etc. Spell out these differences in your contract and invoice.
  7. It is better to underestimate or undercharge the first time or two. You will earn from this without creating bad feelings with your client who may then come to you for more work in the future.
  8. Keep records for the time you spent and how much you charged. This will make it much easier for the next project.

Whether charging for a single project or determining design rates as a full-time freelance contract designer there are some additional variables you should always account for but sometimes overlook. Those include the following;

  1. Cost of maintaining your equipment (computers, software, paper, printers, etc.)
  2. Cost of business licence
  3. Cost of business expenses (travel, website, advertising, etc.)

Becoming a full-time Freelance or Contract Designer may occur at any time during your design career but most commonly happens during one of three stages;

  1. right after graduation while you are searching for a permanent job,
  2. while you are doing other non-design work to supplement your income while getting established or
  3. after several years working for various design firms building experience to the point you now wish to go it alone.

Venturing off and establishing your own graphic design business is exhilarating and a tiny bit intimidating. But cutting the strings to the corporate world and being in charge is highly rewarding and very doable. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, twenty-four percent of graphic designers are self-employed.

Being a full-time freelance graphic designer offers an ideal work environment—the ability to work from home, time flexibility and, most importantly, autonomy.

We see why many designers want to run their own design business. But once deciding to branch off from the corporate world to be self-employed, what are the next steps?

While freelancing offers an ideal career environment, like with everything, it does offer new challenges, hurdles and its own headaches.