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What to charge for web design

what to charge for a web design course

Written & illustrated by Daniel Walter Scott.

* Created: 15 March 2014 (updated on 18 March 2014)

* Note - this guide is aimed at freelance web designers and the information here are my views.

Are you starting out as a web designer or are you a graphic designer thinking of taking on a web project? Knowing what to charge for web design is hard. In this post I'll go through what I charge as a freelance web designer in Sydney and some useful tips for people new to web projects.

I'm a web designer. In a nutshell a typical web job will consist of taking a brief from a client. Designing a range of concepts. Then building the site in something like Adobe Dreamweaver.

Basic website cost

My pricing starts at $2000 (AUS) for a simple (brochure) website. Roughly 5-15 pages. The site will be like a online business card. You'll find others that will build a site for $500 and others charging $5000 for the same job. I feel the pricing reflects my ability, experience and the current market. I add loads of value to any project I start. I do miss the odd job because there are cheaper options out there. I also miss work because I'm not priced high enough. There is a lot to be said about perceived value - more expensive means better - right?

Pricing a web design job:

Brochure website 5-15 pages
= $500 - $2000

Website with some dynamic interaction e.g. Shopping cart, member login or CMS (content management system).
= $2000 - $6000

Fully customized website with lots of custom features and user interaction with the site
= $10000+

Spend time on the brief

Mocking up a website

hand drawn wireframe

Make sure you're clear in your brief with what's covered in the quote. I start with a basic briefing form that you can download here. I normally meet with the client and work through the form with them

My main goal is to find out what the purpose or end result of the website is. Once you’ve got that clear it makes it easy to make decisions. For example if the site’s main purpose is to drive phone calls to the client you can make decisions on the design based on whether the design moves visitors closer to that action or further away.

While at the meeting I’ll draw out a rough outline of the pages they are after and any features they have mentioned. I do this visually with a couple of basic drawings. You’ll be surprised how unclear the client is themselves with what they want. It’s your job to help clarify what the purpose of the website is.

I often have a list of pages included e.g. Homepage, About us, Contact us, Product pages (x10) and Payment page. I’ll also list out the features they’ve requested e.g. Image gallery, payment gateway, testimonial slider or videos. Web jobs tend to suffer a lot from 'job creep' where a small site turns into an ever growing list of features.

Make it very clear that after the client gives the all clear to get started that any additional features or pages will be additional costs that you can quote on as and when they come up.

Discounting

Discounting your web design work

If you know your client doesn’t have $2000 to spend on their site but you still want/need the work - be sure to make them aware that it would normally cost $2000 but (just this once) you can do it cheaper. Lots of designers do this bargaining in their head before they even speak to the client. The client has no idea that they have just received a healthy discount and the relationship starts with the client assuming they are paying your top dollar, and you starting the job feeling like they are getting something for nothing.

There is a lot to be said about the perceived value of something rather than the actual cost. Hotels do this amazingly. A room at the Hilton is remembered as being a $700 a night room rather than the $290 you paid on Wotif.

Are you a Designer or Developer?

Half font end designer half developer

Normally there are 2 types of website builders: designer or developers. Also known as ‘front end’ or ‘back end’. Once you’ve figured out what you do the best, you might need help from someone specializing in other skills. Essentially a web designer makes it all look good and a developer makes it actually work properly. I haven’t met anyone yet that is amazing as both - it’s like being Wesley Snipes in Blade. All the powers of a vampire but able to walk around in the daylight. A good web builder will understand as much of each profession as they can but will also know their limitations.

I’m a front end web designer. I can take care of the look and feel, branding, graphics, images, website styling e.g. colours, fonts & layout. I can do amazing things with HTML & CSS but I get lost working with PHP or Javascript. I can do a lot of things with out the help of a developer because I have the support from software programs like Adobe Dreamweaver. With out this program I’d have to do a lot more coding than I currently do. And coding is something that I’m not particularly good at. Nor am I particularly excited by.

Because my skills lay mainly in front end web design I will need help on some jobs. This will mean a jump from my $2000 simple website cost to a $5000 price. I’ll need to pay a developer for their time and manage them to ensure the job runs smoothly.

Time budgeting for web design

Time budgeting for web design

Now $2000 is a starting point for me. Looking through my past invoices my jobs typically end up being around 3-4k once I’ve factored in extras like basic logo creation or some additional photography. A 5-15 page website that doesn’t require any additional help will take about 1-2 months to complete. This isn’t full time, a lot of that time is used while the client sources imagery and considers concepts. The longest part of any job tends to be the client writing the copy for the website - they can take an age to get it back to you.

So I’ll have a couple of jobs on the go and end up spending roughly 60 hours in front of my laptop on a job. So it’s an hourly rate of about $50-75p/h, some jobs are more & some jobs just pay the bills (just). Of course larger jobs take longer and if I need help from a developer I need to work in with their schedule.

When quoting time I double the time I need. It’s far better to deliver a website 2 weeks early than 2 weeks late. Also when you’re starting out you’ll probably spend 120 hours to do the same job I spend 60 hours on. Unfortunately you can’t charge twice as much. But as you get better at the job you’ll start earning a lot better hourly rate.

Job creep (a.k.a scope creep)

Job Creep in website design

Web work suffers from job creep more than any other profession. Job creep is when a project expands to include features or pages that were not included in the original quote. Make it clear on the brief about what is included and also include an hourly rate for additional work.

I’ll explain to a client that my hourly rate is $85 or $125 per hour depending on the client (corporate or personal). Later on when the client asks you to add an extra feature or page you can say its outside the current quote and you’re more than happy to do it and it will take you an extra 5 hours. The client is able to do the math - It's far easier talking to clients about extra hours than extra money.

One of the main culprits is a company logo. If you’re designed a website for new business. Find out if they have a logo already. I’ve done lots of projects where we’ve all signed off on the quote and I ask for them to send me their logo. Getting the reply “oh - I thought that would be included in the website”. Branding work is a whole other project and should be considered a project on its own. Make it clear that this is a separate project that you’ll happily quote on.

If there is no way around a creating a logo for them. I'll explain to them that is should be a separate project but they you’ll put together a logotype for them until they decide to spend more time looking at the project. A logotype is normally just a font based logo. (Google is a logotype, Nike’s tick is a logo).

google and nike logo

Update: Another way to ensure job creep doesn't get the better of you is to list all of the additional work that the client wants doing in a 'Phase 2' list. This way the client is clear that it's outside of the current projects boundaries and you can quote separately on this when phase 1 is finished. Thanks for the good tip Malcolm Knott.

Getting paid

more to web business

Making sure you get paid is vital to the survival of you as a freelance web designer. Ensure half of the invoice is paid before the work begins. Why? So many web projects that I’ve taken on have never made it off my laptop. Sometimes the client loses interest in their new business idea or they find someone else in the market doing it already and can't compete. Or it just gets filed in the too hard basket. People forget there is more to a business than just a good website.

Remember web work can drag on for ages through no fault of your own. I've got jobs that have taken more than a year between finalizing a brief and final invoice being paid. This is your profession and you are a freelancer. The costs are cheaper than going with a larger business and if you explain this nicely the client will understand. Remember you can’t pay the airline 30 days after you’ve taken a flight.

I've got 2 regular clients that have more than 1 web job that will never be finished. They got to the concept stage and no further. Because they have paid half of the job they are happy to come back to me and say "forget that last site, I've got a better idea that I want your help with". It's win - win, the client is comfortable to come back with different jobs because they have paid you for the work you've done and you're happy to start another job with them because your costs were covered.

50% up front also weeds out the people that aren't quite as ready as they make out. Lots of people are just kicking the tires. It’s best to find that out before you invest your time. Explain to your client that it's very common in web design to pay a deposit. Also explain that a lot of your costs are outlaid in the initial part of the job - The ideas and concept stage. Be firm about this. Speak nicely and calmly about "I'm looking forward for the invoice being paid so I can get started”. Explain to your Client at the first meeting the process of working with you. You create a brief together. You'll supply them with a written quote. They are then Invoiced for 50%. Once that has cleared you begin the conceptual work.

Conclusion

There is no perfect way to price a job and no perfect way to run a job. You’ll be comfortable doing parts of what is outlined above and other parts you might find a better way that works for you. Also the prices here are just my prices. People are so scared to share what they charge that it can make it hard to decide where to start when you are new. I hope this post will help you decide what to charge as a web designer in Australia.

If you’ve got any questions please hit me up on Twitter/Google+/Facebook.

Also if you want to learn more about HTML & CSS join me for one of my classes here at Bring Your Own Laptop.

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