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Design Cuts

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Episode 5: Pricing Yourself as a Designer

In this episode we discuss all things pricing! How do you decide upon your rate? How and when should you raise your prices? How do you position yourself as valuable for potential clients. Should you ever design for free or for exposure? There’s a ton covered in this episode, and you can listen in below:

Show Notes for This Episode:

[0.55] Tom’s various experiences with pricing (from both sides of the coin)
[1.20] Lisa’s struggles with pricing herself starting out, and how your pricing mindset changes over time
[2.50] Lisa’s rule of thumb for how to increase her prices
[3.30] Pricing yourself based on experience, not just your time
[4.20] Dustin feeling disparaged by pricing early on
[5.15] Why you can charge more because of positioning
[6.15] It’s OK not to be paid right now, what you think you should be eventually
[7.00] Designing for exposure, or for ‘free’
[7.30] When it is OK to design for free
[8.00] A good example of free work in action
[8.30] The fake promise of exposure
[10.00] Chase Jarvis’s lesson on pricing
[11.00] Ian increasing his pricing, and not hearing back!
[11.30] Dustin’s experience hiring a designer, and paying them fairly
[12.15] Tom’s tip for increasing prices over time via referrals and over-delivering
[13.00] Why confidence matters with pricing
[13.30] Why it’s tougher pricing yourself as a designer, as opposed to more traditional jobs
[14.00] Digging into the importance of confidence more (and looking at supply and demand)
[15.15] The power balance in pricing negotiations
[16.00] Why the quality of your clients matters
[17.00] An example of a common client type
[18.15] Start projecting what you want in the industry, and it slowly starts to happen
[18.50] Why you should be hearing ‘that’s too much’
[19.40] Understanding that not all clients look for the lowest price
[20.40] A great question to ask first-time clients
[21.15] Designing for designing for equity
[21.30] Designing for shaving cream!?!
[23.00] Why equity tends to be a no-go (but why you should go with your gut).
[24.30] Why markets and price-points exist (there is a demand for them!)
[25.00] Why larger clients can come with various issues too
[25.50] Dustin’s thoughts on designing for equity (and why Ian should go for it!)
[27.00] Why initially pricing yourself feels like plucking a number from thin air
[27.50] Going outside your pricing comfort zone
[28.30] Lisa’s experience of not hiring junior designers (who were too expensive for her)
[29.15] Why you should be humble and want to work hard
[30.00] You start to get a gauge for what pricing works for you
[30.45] Finding your pricing sweet spot (Tom’s examples of online products)
[32.00] The importance of finding your accurate hourly rate
[33.00] Don’t ignore the extra time
[34.00] Why you need to take into account sickness, and the reality of your life to find your true hourly rate
[35.50] The importance of doing the math to really understand how you’re valuing your time
[37.45] The importance of developing multiple income streams if possible
[39.00] Alleviating the pressure on yourself with pricing
[40.30] Being honest enough to ask your clients about the pricing
[41.45] Lisa’s bold job interview
[42.50] Quick fire tips on raising your prices

“A must for every creative freelancer (or those aspiring to freelance). Thank you for being so… honest! Such a wealth of information from people I admire who have ‘been there and done that’. Listening to the podcast every week feels like I’m among friends. Can’t wait for more episodes!”AG_GD

28 Lovely Comments from our Community:

  1. Glad you four are doing this…we need honest conversation from professionals representing a nice spectrum of experience. I also appreciate Lisa’s comments about choosing the quality of client. Also, it takes time to give clients quotes and time is money. By trade I am a writer who began a new journey in 2009 into the design world. Without networking and podcasts such as this, slipping through the cracks is so easy. Thanks again! – Michelle Bradford

  2. John C. says:

    I understand this is a new show, not all of you may be public speakers, and you’re trying to be conversational. BUT… you sound as if you’re still in college with all of the “likes” and “y’knows.” Pricing is a VERY important topic (one that I’ve struggled with for over 30 years) and as such your listeners should feel like you are speaking from a place of experience (and clearly you are). But it’s somewhat difficult to suspend disbelief when “like” is every third word. Thank you for your collective wisdom regarding this topic. Dispense with the meaningless talk show filler (likes, uh’s, y’knows) and you’ve got yourself a winner. Keep up the good work.

    • says:

      Hey Cathy,

      Thank you so much for tuning in! We’re just so glad we could share this with you 🙂

  3. Cathy says:

    I love your frank and honest discussions, as a one woman band it’s so good to hear what others in the industry have experienced. Thanks for the opportunity!

  4. Teddi says:

    Great podcast as always! Keep up the good work!

    • says:

      Thanks Teddi, we’re so glad you like it 🙂

      • says:

        Hey John,

        Thank you so much for your feedback!

        We totally appreciate the importance of the topic and I know the Honest Designers didn’t mean to trivialise it in any way. In fact its more to do with how comfortable the designers are when they talk to each other, that they would speak as if it was just a regular catch up as opposed to the podcast.

        Rest assured though, you and a few other listeners have advised of the over use of certain words and the Honest Designers are making a conscious effort to try and keep those word pauses at bay 🙂

  5. Ashraf says:

    Thank you for sharing your valuable experiences and advice.

    I’m 34 and in the process of changing my career to graphic design and as far as pricing is concerned, I came across a book called “Breaking The Time Barrier” which has solid advice for creatives to move away from time based pricing to value based pricing. Just thought someone in the same boat as me would like to read it…

    Thanks 🙂

  6. Definitely one of the hardest things for me too learn was walking away from a job. But as a designer, freelancing, there is nothing more freeing then turning down work you know is not the best fit, or a client where there is no satisfying them. It’s so scary turning away work, but I have found it’s given more confidence in dealing with clients. The other thing that I would stress, don’t be afraid to tell a client that their ideas are not the best solution. When I was first starting out freelancing I would just do exactly what the client was asking for, even if that was clearly the right solution. If you can give your clients the right solution for their dilemma, even if it’s the complete opposite of what they were envisioning, most of the time they will be blown away, and come back for more. And that is part of the pricing to your experience bit that Lisa was speaking to.

    • Tom Ross says:

      Wise words here Joshua! You should absolute walk away if a client, job, or price isn’t right for you. We actually just got done recording a new episode all about clients, as I think finding that balance of serving them well, but looking out for your own interests is so key. I’m so glad it sounds like you’ve got this under control for your freelancing career, it’s certainly not easy :).

      • Tom Ross says:

        Thanks for the lovely feedback Ashraf. I appreciate the book recommendation, sounds like an interesting read. I like the idea of value based pricing, although however you frame it, you will be exchanging your time for money in some format, at least within a services based business. Of course this is different with things like digital products, passive income etc… However, saying that, it can be freeing to give a flat rate for a project, rather than be clocking every hour of your time. All a personal choice for the designer at the end of the day.

  7. Sharon says:

    I’ve only just recently raised my rates and I am often guilty of the anxiety when I say to a client “this is my rate” and I await the response of “thats too much”. However lately more and more clients have been more accepting of my rates, which in turn gives you more confidence.

    I do get annoyed when occasionally I have to use recruitment agencies to find work (ie when i have quiet spells and some work is better than no work). I know what rate I want but am always told by said agencies, “oh that client is only willing to pay X amount” and I end up with a ridiculously low day rate, just because I NEED to work to pay my bills. I know some agencies charge crazy markups on top of what the designer actually gets, therefore I do try to avoid using them as much as possible, but I sometimes think this is often detrimental to a designer knowing what to charge for future work that ISN’T via an agency. If you are told, you’re only worth this (low) day rate (and sometimes these are big companies you’re working for), then its hard to find the confidence to ask for more.

    Great podcasts though, very helpful 🙂

    • Tom Ross says:

      Thanks so much Tamaralee, I appreciate you taking the time to comment. If you have any topics you’d love us to discuss, please do let me know.

      • Tom Ross says:

        Thanks Kylie, I’m thrilled you’re enjoying the show! Do let us know if we can help you with anything personally and we’d love to try and provide some added value for you :).

        • Tom Ross says:

          That’s so great to hear Sharon! I’ve been in that boat completely, where I’ve almost cringed emailing out a price to a potential client, only to have them come back and accept it – so I definitely know what you mean about the confidence boost.

          Whilst the lower priced work may be demotivating, I think it sounds like a smart strategy to ensure you can keep doing the work you love. Perhaps it’s worth coming up with a plan for how to get more of the higher-priced work, and track over time how you can reduce this recruitment agent work, until you no longer rely on it. Perhaps if you trialled some alternatives, reallocating some of that money that would go to a recruitment agent into something like Google or Facebook ads – which in turn could attract more higher-paying clients.

          Whilst it does come down to what the client is willing to pay, as we discussed in this episode, it’s definitely worth working on the confidence and mindset side of things, as this often translates into earning more over time.

          Thanks for the wonderful feedback, and best of luck with your ongoing work. Please know myself and the other hosts are always here for you should you need any support :).

  8. Kylie McCaffrey says:

    Loving the podcasts. Very relevant and good to hear the questions of pricing are experienced collectively – thank you!

  9. Another fantastic episode!
    Pricing is always so hard when starting out and something one needs to adjust throughout their career as the workload/client number changes, style of clients or direction of specialisation.
    You guys nailed it with all the scenarios…love it.
    Looking forward to next week.

    • Tom Ross says:

      Hey Rick, I couldn’t agree more! That’s definitely one of the most effective way to gauge when you should increase your prices. However, I don’t necessarily think you should lower them just because the work isn’t there. There’s lots of other things you can do to attract work at your current rate, otherwise it’d be a pricing race to the bottom in the quieter periods inherent in most freelancer’s careers. But yes you’re right, it comes down to supply and demand, as with any business. As I mentioned on the podcast, there are those designers who get booked up for months in advance, and whilst this is a clear indication that they’re in demand, it’s also probably a sign they could potentially raise their prices.

      • Tom Ross says:

        Thanks Justine, that means the world to us! 🙂 Pricing is definitely tough, especially early on as you have no real benchmark to go from. I’m so glad you found this episode helpful, and best of luck with your own pricing journey!

  10. Thank you for your show…I’m really enjoying your discussions. They are very helpful~

  11. Brenda.ball.wood says:


    • Tom Ross says:

      If you look for the icon with the circle and 3 dots within it, in the player, please click that, and you’ll see a ‘download’ link :). I hope this helps guys.

  12. Rick Siegfried says:

    You can talk all you want about “what you think you’re worth” and “remember to charge for your experience,” etc., but once your business is established, there is only one true indication to raise or lower your prices. (And this pretty much works for any type of business.) If you have too much work to handle, then raise your rates. If you don’t have enough work to keep busy or make a living, then lower your rates. It’s really pretty simple.

  13. Rochel Talansky says:

    Is there a way I can download these podcasts? I don’t have i tunes and want to listen to them offline.

    • Neil says:

      Pl. Check the first option under the last of the 3 tabs, Details

      • Tom Ross says:

        Hey Brenda, thanks for your honest feedback. We’re definitely still finding our feet, and I’ll be sure to pass this onto the gang. However, despite all the ‘likes’ I do hope you’re able to find some useful info in the show :).

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