Pricing, a Note to my Fellow Freelancers

When I began freelancing way back in 2001, a part time gig after work to buy the extras like diapers and car insurance my full-time job’s paycheck left no room for, I built sites for $100 or so.

The funny thing is, back then you could easily convince a company to pay you $10,000 for a site. I just wasn’t comfortable enough, partially due to coming from an at-times-poor and mostly self-sufficient upbringing, to deal in that sort of money.

Fast forward to 2004, when I was a full-fledged freelancer with no steady paycheck from an employer, I charged $750 for a site. I tried bumping it to $1500 after a year. That worked. Then I tried bumping it to $2000 a year later. I began losing job after job. I went back to $1500. A few years later I successfully made the leap to $2000, but when I tried to go to $2500, guess what happened? Denied again.

Was I pricing too high? Yeah, for some of those clients. But for most, I now realize, I was pricing too low. I was a pretty top notch and actually trained in classical art theory designer adhering to web standards in a time where nested tables and clip art were the norm. Back then, clients and now failed agencies were screaming “Web 2.0” before the idea of usability and actual purposeful design and functionality were even a consideration.

Way back at that original steady paycheck job I was working, a friend and coworker told me that you should always price high. He said, there are people in this world who want to lay down $5 for a shirt and people who will pay no less than $50. What he meant was, sure, you can sell yourself cheap, but the people who buy your wares are looking for cheap junk. You’ll need to sell them and 1,000 of their likeminded fellows an entire shirts worth of crap to make a living. Or you could sell 100 shirts to those folks who appreciate quality, and subsequently provide for the same lifestyle.

Another funny thing happened during all of these years. In 2001, you could build a crappy website and charge big bucks. By 2006 or so, the number of people pasting HTML together was so great, that we all drove one another into the poor house trying to lowball every job in hopes we’d be the next big thing. I was one of them, in a way. I had a son to take care of, bills to pay. But I looked around at my colleagues work and realized it was largely garbage. I’m not saying there aren’t great designer/developers out there. It’s just that there are even more get-rich-quicker types looking to slap a logo on a prebuilt theme and call it a custom solution. When you build your particular brick and mortar store, did you vie for a KFC franchise or are you trying to do chicken the way only mama knew how? If you’re the former, more power to you. Get a cheap theme and continue to turn the Internet into a strip mall. If you’re the latter, and I’m still-in-business working proof for you skeptical folks out there, find someone like me or guys like Chris Coyier or Chase Reeves (if I dare to mention them in the same breath as myself) to make your site more than just another 10 second stop on someone’s daily web surf.

In short, price fairly. Give non-profits and companies you can get behind a break. Charge like hell when it’s time, and make sure you’re not selling your rare few and only days on this Earth in exchange for pittance.

These days I charge $3000 (my pricing is now available here) for a complete WordPress powered, custom designed and handcraftedly coded site. Thats actually still incredibly cheap, but it pays my bills, keeps my family well enough off, and affords us the life we want above and beyond that which we need. That’s for a basic site though. My average project lately earns $10,000 or more because I’ve done my due diligence, learned my medium, and try and kick as much ass every time as possible.

Don’t sell yourself short, don’t pander to fools and don’t do anything Mr. T wouldn’t do. You’ll be happier, more successful and have the option of way more free time if you abide these words of caution, from someone who’s been there.

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