If you’re a freelancer, you’ve probably noticed how professionals in the same field as you may charge a lot more for the same services, or a lot less. A quick browse through Upwork, for example, and you’ll quickly realize that there is not just one pricing model for freelance services. Some freelancers prefer charging a monthly retainer, while others find more value in charging per hour or per project! It’s also hard to identify the freelance average hourly rate. Freelance rates can be extremely vague, especially when you’re just starting out.
So, what’s the deal with the freelance pricing rate models out there? Which one best suits your needs? Should you choose an hourly rate or a monthly retainer? How will you figure this out on your own?
How to adjust your freelance rate and get paid for your efforts
We have been there, and know how complicated all this sounds. This article is a quick comparison guide to help you understand the most popular freelance pricing rate models and decide which one reflects better what you’re actually worth.
Know your expenses first
Before deciding which pricing model for freelance services you are going to follow, you need to take into account the costs of running your business. This includes:
- Standard bills: electricity (even if you work from home), internet/phone connection, mortgage, rent
- Office supplies: printing paper/inks, pens, clippers, etc.
- Εquipment: computers, maintenance, software
- Various services: your hosting/domain costs, invoicing platform, social media spending, add-ons related to your profession, other subscriptions
Make a list of these expenses and you’ll get the amount you invest in your business, month in – month out. The monthly amount you’ll get is whereupon you’ll calculate your freelance rate baseline. This baseline is essentially your monthly expenses plus a safety cushion. For example, when you need to get new equipment or subscribe to a seminar.
Then, you get the baseline for your freelance rates and add a percentage of your profit, on top of that. This applies best to a monthly retainer, as you can understand. So let’s break down the two most popular freelance rates, hourly and monthly.
The majority of freelancers choose to get the average hourly rates of an employee in their industry and adjust them depending on their experience and the size of the client’s company. It’s important to take into account your value as a professional and not be afraid to be a little more expensive than the majority.
We have already explained how to calculate where to set your freelance rate per hour. For that, you should also search online for other freelancer hourly rates. The rates differ according to your field. Freelance graphic designers, social media managers, web developers, and bloggers don’t all charge the same. The average freelance hourly fee depends on the demand for your craft! Which you need to keep in mind before setting your hourly rate. If you’re a copywriter, chances are there are thousands out there doing the same thing. So keep your hourly rate within a reasonable range. This way, you will be able to offer quality work and earn a decent living at the same time.
Clients are familiar with the concept of hourly rates. It is the most common pricing model for freelance services. Plus, if you can easily prove the hours spent on a project, you are safe. There are plenty of time-tracking programs out there to choose from. Additionally, rates per hour are easy to negotiate. When a project is time-sensitive, you can always pre-define a “rush” rate, higher than your normal hourly charge.
Freelance pricing per hour also enables you to be flexible when the client is a scope creep. In simple words, whenever your customers demand a change in the project’s scope, they are going to pay you for the extra hours you’ll spend to adjust the outcome. Anyhow, hourly rates are clear on what your time’s worth and will give you a very good estimate of how long it takes you to complete projects with similar scopes. This way, you’ll adjust them per case so you can organize your program and take up more clients at the same time.
One of the drawbacks of freelance rates per hour is that customers oftentimes need to know how much a project will cost them beforehand. Now, big companies that have big budgets don’t care if you bill them $4.500 or $4.200 for a job. But for small businesses, this is a critical change in terms of cash flow.
The next problem arises when you have your hourly rates on display (in Upwork, for example) so you can’t negotiate with them when a project is highly demanding and complex. Hourly rates are usually an estimation for the average project, so they become inflexible when you take your work to the next level.
Last but not least, freelance rates per hour penalize you if you’re fast. Being fast while not jeopardizing quality should be a well-paid attribute of yours, not the other way around! Plus, finishing a project quickly means that the customer paid less than they would have paid if they had chosen another professional. One that is slower and less good than you. So, why earn less for an amazing website that could have been easily charged for more and be happily paid by the client?
Make sure to draft a contract, clearly stating your freelance rates per hour, and have the clients sign it. This will be legally binding for both sides, should anything occur down the line.
Let’s now examine what a monthly retainer payment model is and the purpose of choosing this type of fee. This model of freelance pricing is widely used by more experienced and established professionals. The freelance monthly retainer is a type of contract where the client pays you on a recurring basis (monthly), in advance. Work-related issues, scope, and timeline are decided later. Basically, your client pays you a fixed amount of money, regardless of whether you actually work for them during the month or not.
Freelance monthly retainers can be really good for both sides but can go sideways for many reasons. Once again, there is no standard average monthly retainer fee. After you agree upon it with your client, sign a retainer freelance contract, stating what projects are included in your retainer price. Keep it simple, and the payment terms clear. To determine if the monthly retainer is suitable for you, take a look at the pros and cons!
Monthly retainers are synonymous with steady pay; cash that will flow into your freelancing business no matter what. Provided that your clients are punctual and business is good, you have a certain income to cover bills and be on top of your obligations. Even in months when your operating expenses are high or other projects don’t appear on the horizon.
You get to feel somewhat safe as an employee does, but you also remain your own boss.
Α really important advantage when working on a monthly retainer is that clients love them too. This is especially true for clients that honor their agreements and prefer to hire someone as a business partner rather than just another freelancer they can outsource their overhead to.
Also, clients that will propose to keep you on a monthly retainer are satisfied with your performance and it’s highly likely that your collaboration will last. Plus, from their side of their story, they get to have someone they can trust and depend on.
While being on a freelance retainer contract seems to be safe for both sides, it entails some disadvantages that you need to take into account. First, the retainer implies that you provide your services on-demand or whenever the client needs you to do something (if you don’t want to lose their business).
When you decided to become a freelancer, not having someone to boss you around was the number one reason to do that; so you understand how things can be frustrating for you on a monthly retainer.
This leads to a bidirectional dependency. Your client heavily depends on you for their projects and you depend on them to get your monthly paycheck. So, you need to keep in mind that getting more clients is a priority because if you have one and something goes wrong, there goes your income! This leads us to the next con…
Being on a retainer means dedicating a certain, if not all, amount of your time to that kind of client, leaving less room for one-time projects. This means fewer opportunities for you and limited income.
So there is not just one pricing model for freelance services. Both options we’ve discussed have positive and negative sides. Most freelancers resort to the hourly rates because they haven’t figured out their pricing completely. This is not a good enough reason to choose it though. Try to imagine yourself in each of these circumstances and decide which one suits best for your industry and personality. On the other hand, monthly retainers are somehow restricting and inflexible.
No matter what you choose, you can always adjust or mix your pricing for better results. If you find out your pricing model isn’t working well for your income, examine alternatives to keep your business growing. Don’t forget, it doesn’t have to be fixed. You can charge some services on retainer and some others on an hourly base. This will ensure you get paid based on the value of your work and time!