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How to price creative services

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Pricing seems to be a topic that everyone wants to talk about but yet we rarely share actual numbers or more in depth information with each other. On top of that, us creatives tend to undervalue ourselves consistently. Even if you feel like you charged enough for the initial project, what about revisions, scope creep and accounting for those subscriptions you pay to provide nice mockups in your presentations? So much about raising your price is psychology. Knowing WHY you should charge a certain number will make you feel comfortable asking for it and it will help you choose the projects that you will enjoy working on. When you charge a fair amount, you will also feel more excited about the project and not get frustrated when something takes a little bit longer than expected. Instead, you can explore different ideas, work with your clients and have more creative freedom.

how to price design services


  • Hourly v.s. value based pricing

  • How to calculate your project fee

  • Contracts and accounting for changes

  • How to price services when you outsource work

  • Pricing retainers and ongoing work

Hourly v.s. value based pricing

The value you add for doing a good job is not linked to how long it took you, it is based on your experience.

When you charge by the hour, that price needs to account for your fixed costs (like an Adobe license or office rent), your time, taxes, a buffer to leave some wiggle room and potential costs that come throughout the project. When condensed into one hourly rate, it can feel high to clients. It also opens up an unfair sense of comparison when all clients see is the hourly rate of different creatives.

Value based pricing has the benefit right in its name. Not only is a a fixed price that makes the client feel comfortable, but it also allows you to charge for the value you add. When you create a design, take a photo to use in a marketing campaign or create a promotional video, you are adding value by helping the company build a relationship with their customers and make more money. That means that the success of the client's business is partly dependant on your work. Because of this, it is important that you have the time and resources you need to provide the best possible service rather than work a certain number of hours. The value you add for doing a good job is not linked to how long it took you, it is based on experience.

Using a value based pricing model does not mean that the fixed price can not change to account for a new scope or purchases you and your client agree on, like fonts. It just means that your price is expressed per project. You can then add limitations in your proposal or contract - like how many revisions you allow - which we will talk about later in this post.

How to calculate your project fee

Your project fee should be based on two things: what your costs are and the value you add to the clients business. When I say costs, I don't only mean direct costs like your time but also ongoing costs like paying for your computer, and business costs like reinvesting in your business and spending money on marketing. If you only charge for your time, you will quickly run in to problems with growing your business.

When you decide what to charge, I suggest having a look at the average salaries of someone with the same experience level as yourself. This can be a little different depending on your city but the agency Firefly has created a comprehensive guide to average salaries in the creative field based on the Edinburgh market.

Once you know how much you need to take out in salary, start looking at all your costs and make space for you to invest in your own marketing, learning and general business development. If you feel unsure where to start, we wrote a previous post about calculating your costs and managing project loads that you can check out.

For the "value added" to the client, this depends on a few things. Consider what impact the right or wrong design would have to the clients business. If it is a very new business with little brand recognition and few competitors, getting it wrong would not have the same impact as if you were creating for an established global brand with a lot of competition and media exposure. If the risk is higher, you have to work harder to make sure you have made all the right choices but you are also adding more monetary value to your clients business.

Contracts and accounting for changes

Your contract is the perfect place to outline what is expected throughout a project, especially if something changes partway though. You can use our Lead to Retainer guide or check out the free resources in the learning section of this site to find checklists for what to include in your contract.

In general, I suggest outlining a few key things to avoid scope creep and make sure you can charge more if the project scope is changed:

  • Explain the number of revisions included in the project fee

  • Explain what the scope of the project is

  • Give examples of changes that would warrant a new fee (e.g. differentiate between a normal revision and a client changing the direction of the project)

  • Explain how you would let the client know about a potential increase in price and what their choices are at that point (e.g. you can choose to accept the new fee or stay with the original scope at the set price).

How to price services when you outsource

For any parts of your business where you are not an expert at what your client is asking for or if you need additional help, outsourcing parts or all of a project is a great alternative. We commonly team up with copywriters, illustrators and web developers to accompany a branding project.

When you subcontract work, you take on the risk of something going wrong. Perhaps the person you hired falls ill, can not deliver the work on time or does not provide the quality you are looking for. In that case, it is your responsibility to your client to pay for your time or someone else's time to remedy the problem. As the project manager or leading creative, you will also be the one who takes meetings, both with the client and your subcontractor and you spent time and money landing the client. You are also at risk if the client does not pay you because you still have to pay your subcontractor. Don't take this as a negative towards outsourcing work, these are just the facts that are great to know and subcontracting work can be crucial if you want to grow your business.

Knowing all this, you need to consider both the additional costs for your time briefing the subcontractor and the risks you face. Because of this, I suggest charging the client roughly double what you are paying the subcontractor. This way, the 50% deposit the client pays you will cover the cost and the rest of the fee can go towards your time and marketing to land the next client. If your client fails to pay for the second 50%, you can still pay the subcontractor even if you lost your own time.

Pricing retainers and ongoing work

Retainers are great for creating a steady and more reliable income for your business and they can also help build a stronger relationship with your clients. Retainers usually start once a larger project ends. For example, after a website is build you might offer monthly support or hosting of the site.

In exchange for the added security of having a reliable income every month, retainers usually give some form of reduction in price compared to your normal prices. This gives the client an incentive to sign up for the convenience and potential savings and gives you security. Showing these benefits can help you sell retainers as a great option to your clients.

You can structure your retainers however you like, some of the most common are:

  • A monthly retainer with a certain number of hours (or e.g. 1 day/week of work)

  • A monthly retainer with a certain scope (e.g. social media management or a written blogpost per month)

  • A bulk of hours that can be used when the client needs them (not based on a monthly income but rather the client pays it all upfront)

All of these structures can be helpful if you have a lot of clients coming back asking for small changes that would only take a few hours.

If you are having thought about pricing your creative services, join our Facebook group and share it with our creative community. Everyone is welcome and we are a very supportive bunch!


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