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Reader question: what to charge as a freelancer?


Posted in Development, Education, Entrepreneurship, Goals, Posts, Reader Responses by

I got a question last week from a reader named James on how he could start doing freelance web design and development, and how much he should charge. I was pretty brutally honest with him, because I don’t think it’s helpful to sugarcoat things. I’ve posted his question and my answer here, with his URL and last name removed. Hopefully someone else will find it useful.

The Question:

I would like to start freelancing, but I am unsure what my rate should be for the skillset I have to offer. Here is my website: [WEBSITE URL]. What was your rate when you started out?

- James

My Answer:

Hi James,

I think your question about the rate you should charge really depends on a few things, but before we dig into rate, I’d like to make a few comments on your website and how you’re presenting yourself. I’m going to be brutally honest, because no one trying to strike out on their own is well served by false praise.

The Feedback (brutal)

First of all, before we talk about anything else, your domain name is terrible. It sounds like a russian spammer site. Get a new one, preferably a .com and one without dashes. I just checked and [READERS-NAME].com seems to be available…are you crazy? Definitely go snag that before someone else does :)

Second, your site design is pretty bad and this matters, because most people who will be hiring you have no idea what good code or bad code looks like, but they know what a good website looks like, and if yours looks bad, they’ll assume you can’t code very well either. Not fair, but that’s how it is.

Here’s the fastest way to fix it: go to http://themeforest.com, find an HTML / CSS or WordPress theme that you like, and reskin your site.

Third, almost all of the examples of your work on your site are terrible. You’ve included some of your class assignments, some pretty crummy photoshop work, etc. The overall effect of looking at your portfolio is that you have no idea what you’re doing.

But don’t despair, because you actually have an impressive list of WordPress sites that you’ve worked on, most of which look pretty good.

Dump everything but those WordPress sites. And since you have like 50 of them, just go through them and pick the ten that represent your best work and which look the strongest visually.

Do not go for quantity over quality. When I’m looking to hire a freelancer, I look at maybe 3 or 4 of their examples, picked randomly. If any of them look bad, I close the tab and keep looking. I want people who care about their work, and who care about what they’re representing to the world.

Fourth, you need to focus on what it is that you want to work on. I would suggest WordPress, as there’s plenty of work in that arena, and that’s where your strongest portfolio stuff is. So dump everything else off your site and just talk about how you’re a WordPress guru. Don’t mention HTML / CSS, Flash, Photoshop, etc.

Finally, rewrite your resume to reflect this new focus. Drop any position that doesn’t have anything to do with web development / IT. Rewrite your skills and experiences to include more about web development / IT. Get rid of that forklift thing.

Rates

Ok, now let’s talk about rate. When I started, I charged $50 / hr. And believe it or not, I probably wasn’t much better than you. But what I had was a few decent examples of my work, and no crummy examples (at least not public ones).

To sum all the points above up, when you’re done, you want something more like this: http://www.jaredatchison.com/

I found that guy via a little Googling for “wordpress developer”. I have no idea what the guy charges, but I would guess somewhere in the $75 – 95 / hr range, and I’m sure he’s probably swamped with clients. The reason he can charge that is partly that he’s more experienced and has better client references / connections. But it’s also because he’s presenting himself a lot better than you are.

Few people go looking for a jack-of-all-trades “webmaster” type. You’ll have a much easier time getting clients and getting high rates by specializing in something. WordPress is a good place to start.

Growing in your career

I don’t know you, but I note that you’re new to this industry and just graduated from school with an associates. And little things like how you’re presenting yourself, your domain, your newness to twitter, etc. tells me that you have a lot to learn. This is a good thing! Everyone was once where you are, and we all managed to get past it. You can too. I would recommend that you start a couple daily habits:

1. Respond to a couple dozen postings on the Craigslist gigs board, FreelanceSwitch.com jobs board, AuthenticJobs.com. You won’t hear back from hardly anyone, but that’s not your fault. This is a numbers game, so start putting in your time.

2. Reading everything you can from these sites:

http://news.ycombinator.com
http://freelanceswitch.com
http://problogger.net
http://copyblogger.com
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/
http://wordpress.alltop.com/
http://freelance.alltop.com/

And as many more as you can.

You’re in for an adventure, but stick with it and you’ll see huge progress in the next couple years. Good luck, and let me know if you have any more questions.

If you enjoyed this post, join the conversation. I’ve been freelancing for awhile and I’d love to answer any questions on that (or anything else) that you might have. I won’t ever disclose your identity without permission. Hit me up!

You should subscribe and follow me on Twitter here.



2 Responses to “Reader question: what to charge as a freelancer?”

  1. David says:

    Brutal but good advice. I would also add that its okay to start small and then grow in to it. Also, don’t work for free. I also found that as I charged more I also got better clients, the “bad” ones needed themselves out because of price… Most of the time.

  2. @jaredatch says:

    Ryan – thanks for the mention :)

    What to charge is always some what of a "game". You don't want to over charge but at the same time your time (and experience) is worth money.

    My advice to people starting out is to start out with a realistic rate and then closely monitor how that works and make adjustments from there.

    If you are booked constantly booked for 4-8 weeks and get more email than you can handle (potential leads) then it is time to raise your rates.

    Another thing is your online "resume" and experience definitely helps. So I recommend anyone who is starting out that they work on that. For example I have numerous free plugins on WordPress.org and scripts on GitHub. I attend and speak at WordCamps around the country each year. While none of this directly makes me money, its all an investment. Once you get things like that under you belt, coupled with experience, you can start to raise your rates.

    Doing stuff like this shows that you are serious about your "trade" and are always up to date with the latest technologies. This will allow you to charge more which in turn usually results in better clients.

    So to summarize:
    - Make sure your website is professional and describes the work you do. Don't hide what you do deep in your site. Make it apparent from the moment someone hits your site.
    - Have a Work/Portfolio section so people can see what type of work you do. Even if it's only a small number of entries to start, it's better than nothing.
    - As you complete jobs, assuming you did a good job, ask the client for a brief testimonial and add that to your site. This will allow other potential clients to see that people have had good experiences with you and you are pleasant to work with
    - Give back and contribute to other projects such as projects on GitHub or plugins on WordPress.org. Clients will take note of this and it shows that you are passionate about what you do and you go beyond the "9-5".
    - When finically possibly, attend conferences and events. First you will learn a lot. Secondly you will be able to network with other freelancers and potential clients. Third attending conferences looks good on your "resume" and again shows that you are committed.

    I see a lot of new freelancers throw up a stock website with contact form and a few screenshots and then wonder why they don't get business. Regardless of what your rate is, that won't work, at least not sustainably. You have to market yourself – the people who don't do that usually don't make it unfortunately.

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