The short answer: it depends on the project and your work style.
But you know that. So let’s go into the specifics.
Charge Per Hour If…
- The parameters of the project aren’t clear. They really should be. It makes everyone’s life easier if you know exactly what you’re doing, where it ends, and both of these things are laid out in the contract. But if they’re not, and you don’t mind doing more work for more money, or if this is one of those “single project that could turn into an ongoing project” deals, make sure you’re getting paid per hour.
- You believe this is a project that’s especially prone to “scope creep”—the client adding more features at the last minute—and want to make sure you’re compensated for it. Graphic design clients, as I’m sure you know, are prone to wanting massive last-minute changes or additions to their projects, figuring that you just have to “type a few buttons into Photoshop or something” to make them. If you’re stuck with a client like this, an hourly rate will make sure you’re compensated for the extra hours you’ll spend changing all the oranges to blues. It’s possible to ask for extra for these features if you’re charging per project, but it’ll be harder to explain them.
- The project has a bunch of unpredictable parts. For example, say a client wants you to design five websites. So, charge the same for each one, right? Not so fast… Turns out one of them can be done entirely in WordPress, but another needs a special animation, another needs a mobile app, and so on. Charging by the hour will cover the time you’ll need to do a ton of different things, some of which you might not be as good at as others.
Charge Per Project If…
- You’re fast. Some of us are really good at what we do. A project that would take many freelancers a week, you can do in two days. Great. That skill is probably the result of years of practice… Which is why you shouldn’t volunteer to be paid less by signing up for an hourly wage. In the apocryphal words of speed cartoonist Sergio Aragonés, “You’re not paying for the 30 seconds it took me to draw it, but the thirty years it took me to learn to draw it.”
- You’re slow. Some of us — we know who we are — are especially prone to stopping to check Reddit, alter our Spotify playlists, and shoot another client a quick email while we let the current project molder in another tab. If you can indulge in this and still get the work in by the deadline, great, but you shouldn’t charge the customer for that. There are a lot of online timesheets that can help you keep track of that, but if you’re the easily-distracted type, let’s be honest, you’ll forget to turn the clock on or off sometimes.
- You want to raise your prices. It’s easier to simply claim that the project was bigger or more complex, which it may well be, than to take your client through the minutiae of why you deserve more per hour for doing what they see as the same amount of work.
…Or You Can Compromise
Some freelancers have a base fee for the initial work, while charging hourly for any additional work outside the original scope of the contract.
Some Other Opinions
We asked four of Creative Market’s top designers how they charge.
- “Typically, I charge per project and extra for additional revisions beyond the agreed amount. If a client expresses the need for many options or if it has to go through a corporate chain of people, I’d charge hourly.” —Jeremy Vessey
- «If I take any custom projects, I charge per project and never per hour. Per hour charge is for factories and other labours where you do the same thing over and over again usually. When it comes to design, each project is and should be unique in its own way and the prices should be different. I don’t believe that only the work that has been put into the project should be rewarded but the idea and the creativity that you sell. You can make a logo that was very easy to execute but the idea could be brilliant and that sort of work should cost more.” —Alex Munteanu
- “I charge per hour but I offer free quotes and project pricing up front based on my hourly fee. When a client contacts me about a project, I ask them to give me a detailed list of all their project goals and objectives. Based on their list and my experience, I quote a project fee based on the estimated number of hours the project will take times my hourly fee plus any incidentals like graphics, etc. I prefer to charge per hour because I take on a wide variety of projects; one customization may take 2 hours while another may take 10.” —Heather Lounsbury
- “…A project rate basis with a pre-determined hourly for anything outside of scope. Our value proposition is in the value we add, as opposed to the hours we spend at the desk.” —Mike Rogers
Your client’s budget, and how strict they are about it, will play a large role. If they have a fixed price and refuse to go over it, you should lean towards per-project. This is especially true for the ones who’ll scrutinize every line on their invoice and grill you about why stage X took five hours where the next stage only took two.
«Examining at the contract’s signature, the tenseness of the penstrokes is the hallmark of someone who’s been looking at her ex’s Facebook page on the clock.» Image by Linda Tanner
However, if you’re pushing yourself to be more productive, charge per hour. That’s a risk, though. You don’t want to end up forcing your clients to pay for a failed experiment to see how effective website blockers are at keeping you away from cat videos. If you choose this approach, make sure you can handle it.
How do you charge? Leave us a comment and let us know.
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