I remember it so clearly: I was sitting at my tiny kitchen table, staring blankly at my computer screen, wondering what the *@ my freelance rates were. (Home office tip: Where you eat your meals is not your workspace. But I digress…)
I had been going back and forth with a potential client for a few days before I was finally asked, “So, what do you charge?” Cue the disc-scratch sound effect.
Mind you, I had just quit my 9–5 agency job and had quite literally no idea what my freelance pricing should be.
That’s right — I was one of those “take the jump and figure it out” Unemployable types and hadn’t even thought through how much I should (and could) charge clients. I figured it out eventually but made plenty of mistakes along the way, I can assure you.
I’m here to tell you that it’s not as complicated as you may think. Not quite wave-a-magic-wand-and-charge-whatever-you-want simple, but not rocket science.
So, in this post, I’m breaking down the important things you need to know about establishing freelance pricing — including the things I wish I knew when I was starting.
Here we go, folks.
Freelance Pricing Models: Which Is Right for Me?
Chances are, if you’ve Googled any variation of how much should I charge? (i.e., “freelance writing pay,” “freelance hourly rate”), you’ve seen a few different types of freelance rates pop up in articles. There are many opinions about which model is the “best.”
But before you can figure out which freelance pricing model is right for you, let’s define them.
Freelance Hourly Rate
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but a freelance hourly rate is how much you charge a client per hour of work you do.
The thing with a freelance hourly rate, though, is that as you start to gain experience, it’s likely that you won’t need nearly as much time to complete a project as you did in the beginning. Therefore, because you’re getting better at your craft, you end up shorting yourself financially. No one wants that.
In the freelance world, a retainer is the closest thing to a consistent paycheck. A retainer is a set, pre-billed fee for a specific period or amount of work.
Typically, the freelancers who use retainer pricing give clients the option to select a package based on their freelance hourly rate or value. For time-based retainers, for example, a client can buy a package of 50 hours at $100 per hour for a total of $5,000 each month.
Alternatively, clients can disclose the type of work they’re interested in each month and pay one fee no matter how long it takes for the freelancer to deliver.
You can set retainer pricing on a rolling or use-it-or-lose-it basis. In a rolling structure, clients can move the extra hours they didn’t use to the next month, and in a use-it-or-lose-it structure, clients would lose each hour they didn’t use that month. Either way, when it comes to finding enough of the right clients, having a retainer client or two in the mix is a clutch move.
If you’ve researched or used a freelance writing pay scale before, you’ve probably heard the expression “by the word.” In fact, you may be using this structure right now. This pricing structure is when you charge a fee per word you write and usually runs between $0.10– $1.00/word, depending on your skill level and experience. (Keep reading, though, because there’s more specific insight on freelance writing pay below.)
Not only does charging by word count make it easy to scale your assignments, but it’s easy for clients to understand your pricing. Just be sure that if you go over your estimated word count that you loop your clients in before sending them an invoice for an extra 500 words.
Ah, the project fee. In my opinion, it’s the best way to structure your freelance rates. It’s easy to keep track from an invoicing perspective, there’s no complicated counting, and best of all, there are no awkward conversations around hours or word count with clients since they’ve already agreed on the price.
Not to mention, when you’re thinking about raising rates, it’s pretty straightforward to do so. For example, let's say you want to increase your freelance rates by 10% every six months. All you have to do is tack on that extra 10% to your fee.
Think about what might be best for your business. Maybe the retainer route is less stressful for you because it’s similar to a regular paycheck.
Perhaps you can maximize your freelance writing pay by charging by the word and specializing in longer pieces like white papers or 2,500+ word blog posts. Or maybe the project fee model will be better for how your business is structured.
Now that you know the differences between pricing structures, let’s figure out how to land on a number.
Determining Your Monetary Worth as a Freelancer
First things first: To determine your freelance rates, you need to figure out how much you should be making each month to cover your bills and expenses. That way, you can set a baseline of how much you need to make every month and go from there.
Start by making a list of your monthly expenses like rent or mortgage, insurance, internet, and subscriptions like Netflix. Don’t forget to include your business expenses, too.
Take stock of everything you need to pay for and multiply that total times 12. Those are your yearly expenses. Please don’t cry — understanding how much you need to make to maintain your lifestyle is among the most challenging aspects of going freelance.
Now comes the fun part. Once you know how much money you have to make, you can decide how much you want to make. Then you can come up with your freelance pricing.
However, this can get a little tricky. If you want to make one million dollars, I applaud you for your ambition and wholeheartedly believe that you can do it. But that doesn’t mean you should start charging a crazy amount to reach that number.
You have to consider a few things:
- Your experience level
- What the market can hold
- The value you bring to the table
Those three things will help you arrive at a dollar amount.
You may be thinking, “Kat, aren’t I supposed to charge what I’m worth?
Well, yes and no.
Here’s the thing. “Charging what you’re worth” is not synonymous with “whatever freelance pricing you want.” You have to factor in your experience, the value you’re providing, and what your marketplace can sustain. Also, keep in mind that what you decide to charge will shape your effectiveness in building a customer base.
Now, let’s say you want to make $80,000 as your take-home pay, meaning after you take out taxes, you have $80,000 in your bank account. If you set 30% of your income aside for taxes, to take home $80,000, you’ll have to bill at least $115,000. You get the picture.
Figure out how much you need to make and how much you want to make first, then set your freelance rates based on that.
Best Practices for Researching Freelance Rates
There are many resources out there that can help you determine your freelance pricing and support you in setting business goals. Below are a few that will help you get started.
1. Use Rate Calculators
These tools are great for figuring out a ballpark range for your freelance hourly rate.
2. Search the Groups, Channels, and Forums You Subscribe to for Advice
There’s so much knowledge in these groups. You just have to know how to look for it! Scrolling through groups is overwhelming, so try searching for advice on freelance rates instead. Searching for answers to your questions before posting about it will also make your moderators very happy.
3. See How Much Your Peers are Charging
Do some sleuthing! Make a list of freelancers in the same or similar industry as you and see what they’re charging clients or how they have their pricing set up. Keep in mind that what works for them might not work for you. I know that when I was starting out, this was especially helpful in figuring out what was reasonable to expect for freelance writing pay.
Freelance Average Rate by Specialization (in Upwork)
Thanks to the rise of the gig economy, there’s now a wealth of information about freelancer pricing in a given industry. As mentioned, this is one of the essential bits of information you need to know when figuring out your freelance rates.
Among the best freelancer sites is Upwork, an online work marketplace that’s dedicated to “connecting talent with more opportunities.” Let’s take a look at their data-driven insights into what freelancers in a given niche can make, and then I’ll toss in a grain of salt or two.
Freelance Design Rates
Graphic designers on Upwork generally charge $15–$35 per hour. If those freelance hourly rates sound low to you, don’t panic: that’s the average price. Freelance hourly rates go up to $150 per hour for more experienced, pro-level designers.
Also, as Upwork points out, not all designers charge hourly rates. Plenty of them charge per project, and you’ll have tons of points of comparison from other freelancers on the site.
So, for example, your freelance pricing for a full-on logo design or branding project will be significantly higher than what you can charge for a simple flyer.
Another nice thing about using a freelance marketplace like Upwork as a point of reference is you can see how quickly (or not) people move from being a beginner to being a pro — and charge higher freelance rates accordingly.
Here’s what Upwork advises for designers:
“When it comes to setting individual rates, a seasoned designer or art director can typically work faster while delivering more value to their clients with deeper insights into their work; their pricing often scales up to match. Location and local market conditions can also influence rates. Another factor is reputation. Someone who’s still building their portfolio may price services more competitively.”
In other words, once you build your freelance portfolio and rack up loads of positive reviews, you’ll be able to increase your freelance pricing.
Freelance Marketing Rates
Digital marketers do everything from improving organic SEO to creating full-on marketing programs, from digital transformation strategy to sales funnel systems. Again, the Upwork average pricing looks relatively low on the surface: a $15–$45 freelance hourly rate.
For a beginning marketer, that freelance pricing structure sounds about right. Because the success of digital marketing programs you design is relatively easy to assess using analytics, you should be able to scale up relatively quickly. Hourly rates for more experienced digital marketers are in the $80–$100 range.
And, of course, if you have years of experience in freelance content marketing or other digital marketing under your belt when you make the leap to Unemployable status, you can set your freelance rates higher based on the annual salary you’d be qualified to earn if you were a full-time employee.
Freelance Website Developer Rates
Website developers often do much more than just site development — this category can include programmers who design APIs, single-page applications (SPA), or cloud-based apps.
The general freelance pricing range, according to Upwork, is $15–$30/hour. This grain of salt has to do with the abundance of freelancers overseas who charge very low rates for digital development.
And again, the more experience you have, the more you can charge. Beginners who do development work using no-code or low-code tools (i.e., WordPress, Webflow) will be on the lower end of the spectrum.
More seasoned, full-stack developers — those who have a command of various digital development frameworks and programming languages — can charge much higher freelance hourly rates (i.e., $75–$150/hour). To set your rates, variables including location and engagement duration can factor in, too.
How quickly you can move from a beginner to pro-level depends on your technical know-how and ability to take on more complex projects.
Freelance Writing Rates
Content creators are in high demand nowadays, and freelance writing pay can reflect that, going as high as $85–$125/hour, depending on the project, according to Upwork. Average rates, however, are more in line with other freelance rates on their platform: $15–$40/hour.
If you’re a beginner looking to build your portfolio and keep a steady stream of projects, starting out on a freelancer platform like Upwork can be a smart move. It also gives you a chance to work on developing creativity and can increase your confidence as well. Plus, you can use those positive reviews you get on the platform on your website for validation that you have the chops necessary to command higher fees.
When you’re ready to up-level your skill set, along with your freelance rates, it’s worth it to get tips and training from professional content development resources like Copyblogger, for example. Becoming a certified content provider helps verify your ability to write sales-driving content — and supports a more lucrative freelance pricing structure.
Freelance Social Media Rates
A social media management gig isn’t just about slapping up a few images on Instagram or shooting out some Tweets. It entails understanding how the top dozen or so social platforms work, how to be strategic in creating posts, hashtagging, scheduling, and so on. While Upwork says the average freelance hourly rate for social media pros is $14–$35, as with other categories, this can go much higher (i.e., $65/hour+).
Also, pricing per project or campaign is common when it comes to freelance pricing for social media. For example, fees managing two social channels if you’re an expert can run up to $2,000 per month. And other tasks, like blogging with social shares, influencer targeting, and customer outreach can command monthly freelancer rates up to $1,500 or more.
As with other digital marketing, moving from newbie to pro may take time, but the good news is your effectiveness is quantifiable with analytics. So keep track of your successful campaigns — excellent, measurable results are some of the best ways to close a sale.
You’re in Charge of How Much You Make
If you take one thing away from this article, it’s that setting your freelance rates shouldn’t be done arbitrarily. Dive into the resources above, ask your peers and mentors for their advice, and do your research. Remember, this is a process. Your freelance pricing will change as you go, so take a little pressure off yourself.
You have to start somewhere, though. And one of the greatest parts of freelancing is being in charge of that.
If you're wondering which freelance platform is the best fit for your unique circumstances, check out our comparison of Upwork vs Fiverr. While there are many more, these two top pretty much any chart and are safe picks for beginners.
How much do freelancers charge per hour?
As discussed, freelancer rates vary, from as low as $10/hour to $100+/hour, depending on factors including experience, location, and marketplace conditions. What you can, need to, and want to charge are calculations to make based on your financial needs, competition, and preferred business model (hourly, per project, or retainer).
How do you calculate your freelance rate?
When you're figuring out your freelance pricing, you have to consider a few variables: your level of experience, what the market will bear, and what others doing similar work charge. It’s always helpful to check out a freelance calculator (like this one) to get a basic idea.
What should a beginner freelancer charge per hour?
“The lowest price possible” isn’t the answer — don’t undervalue yourself! Set your freelance rates by first considering your monthly nut and business operating costs. See what others charge. Then set your freelance hourly rate (i.e., $30/hour) and use that as a rule of thumb when pricing projects and retainers.
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