Whether you’re a new designer just starting to build up your skillset or an experienced in-house designer just breaking into freelancing, setting freelance graphic design rates can feel like picking a random number out of a hat and hoping it’s the right one. You don’t want to undersell yourself, but you also don’t want to get laughed out of the building. It’s a tricky balance to strike.
To be fair to yourself and your clients, consider these three factors when determining your rates: location, level of experience, and expertise. If you take those three things into account, you’ll be able to match your rates to those of other freelance graphic designers and set your expectations and your clients’ expectations accordingly.
The median salary for designers is highly dependent on where they work. San Francisco, CA; New York, NY; and Bridgeport, CT are some of the most lucrative locations in the U.S., but there’s a wide range of average salaries across the country. Those cities in particular are surrounded by promising start-ups and plenty of highly ranked design schools, including Yale University, the second highest-ranked program for aspiring designers. See how your city compares.
This kind of calculation can help you figure out what to charge based on where you already live, but it’s also useful in decision-making when you’re moving to a new place. Let’s say you’re a freelance graphic designer choosing between living in New York, NY; Atlanta, GA; and Dallas, TX. The cost of living is different in each of them, but so are the average rates. Based on the data above, New York is one of the best locations for graphic designers, meaning the average rate is also the most competitive of the three choices. So, in this simplified example, it might make the most sense to choose New York.
While New York may be the #1 pick in your head, there is another party to think about: your clients. If you already have clients where you live now, and they require you to come into the office, you’re going to suffer a blow to your business when you move. When you’re working in the same location as your clients, determining rates is straightforward because economic factors like cost of living and self-employed graphic designer taxes are aligned. If you’re working remotely, you’ll need to think about how rates are settled when you live somewhere else entirely.
You should establish rates based on where you live rather than where your client lives. That privilege is one of the greatest benefits of being a freelancer because you have the freedom to live wherever you want. “I always said I wanted to make my dream of being a freelance designer work so that I wouldn’t be tethered to one location. This is one of the best remote jobs,” says freelance graphic designer Krystianna Pietrzak. Take advantage of that flexibility if you can.
Let your clients know where you live to ensure you are on the same page when establishing rates. If you have the flexibility to work anywhere you choose, there are several things to think about:
If you are looking for somewhere new to live, running these thoughts through your head and thinking about how your rates may be affected will surely help you in the long run.
Jess Goldsmith is a freelance graphic designer who currently uses Bonsai to manage her work. She also relies on Google calendar, which conveniently automates time zones on both ends. Jess always emphasizes her meeting times when scheduling meetings with all clients, whether international, domestic, or same area.
So, you’ve already taken location into account—now it’s time to think about your level of experience. Say you have one, two, or five years under your belt. Here’s how your average rates might break down for each of those levels.
For one year of experience in graphic design, the average salary is $52,000. Add a year to that, and the average salary is $56,000, while five years of experience equates to about $66,000.
If you’re closer to entry-level, your range will be lower. Most experienced freelance graphic designers charge between $65 and $150 per hour. And at the low end, newer designers charge from $25 to $50 per hour. The amount of time you have spent doing your job defines your credibility—and rates.
Your rate as a freelance graphic designer should be at least $66 an hour if you live in the U.S. and have 7-10 years of experience. According to Nation1099, this freelance graphic design rate in the U.S. was calculated using Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter, PayScale, and Indeed and their “all-in expense formula”: the sum of benefit deductions, fees, and expenses.
Nation1099’s All-In Expense Formula
Your expertise is your specialized, unique skill set, or knowledge you have in the field you work in. It is important to consider when outlining your freelance graphic design rates because it helps you clearly identify and justify what you are charging.
Sharing your expertise not only helps clients know what you can do for their brand or business, but it also helps you understand what you have to offer. It helps you expand on what you can do and establish your reputation, which increases your professional value and justifies the rates you charge. Once you can clearly pinpoint what you do, it will be easier to work out your market-based pricing.
The Simple Dollar explains that market-based pricing is comparing your rates to other—in this case—freelance graphic designers to ensure your rates are at a competing price. If you are multifaceted in your expertise, you can charge more; if not, you’ll charge less. For instance, if you are skilled in web content, graphic design, Adobe Creative Suite, and logo design, you could charge more. Someone else who is only skilled in web content and logo design may only be able to charge less.
Using our Freelance Rate Explorer will help you see what the rates are for your expertise. Your rates will be clear to you once you have been able to fairly align your expertise with other freelance graphic designers.
The three factors listed above are the biggest, but everyone’s situation is different. Everything from health factors to self-employment taxes by location to significant pay disparities can influence average rates in a particular place.
Pay disparities are a major issue in freelancing today; race and gender continue to be the bases for wage discrimination, and freelancers are not exempt. But individuals can still work to close their personal pay gaps.
If pay disparities work against you, you can make a change as well. When looking to close your own personal gap, negotiate, charge higher rates, and ask for transparency about what rates your counterparts are receiving.
Negotiate: Freelancers who don’t think to negotiate can miss potential revenue and slow down the growing success of their project portfolio. From the moment you meet with a client, think about what you both have in common. Make a personal connection and then bridge that conversation into the project at hand. As a freelancer, it is you against the client, so making a good first impression is the welcome point to negotiation.
Charge higher rates: Presenting higher rates to clients can give you a better reputation, which can then generate higher-profile clients. And what is attractive to one high-quality client, may lead to another through a thoughtful referral. You produce amazing work, so set a price that reflects that.
Ask for transparency: If pay disparities work in your favor, you can make a difference. Be transparent about what you make and speak up when you hear about someone else being compensated unfairly. Submit your data anonymously to support reports like the one from Design Census. AIGA Eye on Design has also created the Graphic Design Salary Transparency Form to create a culture of transparency in compensation. Whether you are looking for a difference to be made or can provide salary information to make a difference, this is a great place to start.
Using formulas and guiding tools is crucial for determining rates as a graphic design freelancer. You have to incorporate other expenses like health insurance, retirement funds, and self-employment taxes, to name a few, not to mention the cost of tools and programs used to create projects. So, using a freelance rate calculator can be very helpful when establishing your rates.
In the end, your approach to outlining projects, developing client relationships, and essentially earning a decent living are all connected to your approach to pricing. There are plenty of tools to help you align and justify your rates. After considering location, level of experience, and expertise to see what you should charge clients, remember to check out Bonsai’s freelance rates explorer—so you can back up your rates with cold, hard data.
A verbal contract (formally called an oral contract) refers to an agreement between two parties that's made —you guessed it— verbally.
Formal contracts, like those between an employee and an employer, are typically written down. However, some professional transactions take place based on verbally agreed terms.
Freelancers are a good example of this. Often, freelancers will take on projects having agreed on the terms and payment via the phone, or an email. Unfortunately, sometimes clients don't pull through on their agreements, and hardworking freelancers can find themselves out of pocket and wondering whether a legal battle is worth all the hassle.
The main differences between written and oral contracts are that the former is signed and documented, whereas the latter is solely attributed to verbal communication.
Verbal contracts are a bit of a gray area for most people unfamiliar with contract law —which is most of us, right?— due to the fact that there's no physical evidence to support the claims made by the implemented parties.
For any contract (written or verbal) to be binding, there are four major elements which need to be in place. The crucial elements of a contract are as follows:
Therefore, an oral agreement has legal validity if all of these elements are present. However, verbal contracts can be difficult to enforce in a court of law. In the next section, we take a look at how oral agreements hold up in court.
Most business professionals are wary of entering into contracts orally because they can difficult to enforce in the face of the law.
If an oral contract is brought in front of a court of law, there is increased risk of one party (or both!) lying about the initial terms of the agreement. This is problematic for the court, as there's no unbiased way to conclude the case; often, this will result in the case being disregarded. Moreover, it can be difficult to outline contract defects if it's not in writing.
That being said, there are plenty of situations where enforceable contracts do not need to be written or spoken, they're simply implied. For instance, when you buy milk from a store, you give something in exchange for something else and enter into an implied contract, in this case - money is exchanged for goods.
There are some types of contracts which must be in writing.
The Statute of Frauds is a legal statute which states that certain kinds of contracts must be executed in writing and signed by the parties involved. The Statute of Frauds has been adopted in almost all U.S states, and requires a written contract for the following purposes:
Typically, a court of law won't enforce an oral agreement in any of these circumstances under the statute. Instead, a written document is required to make the contract enforceable.
Contract law is generally doesn't favor contracts agreed upon verbally. A verbal agreement is difficult to prove, and can be used by those intent on committing fraud. For that reason, it's always best to put any agreements in writing and ensure all parties have fully understood and consented to signing.
Verbal agreements can be proven with actions in the absence of physical documentation. Any oral promise to provide the sale of goods or perform a service that you agreed to counts as a valid contract. So, when facing a court of law, what evidence can you provide to enforce a verbal agreement?
Unfortunately, without solid proof, it may be difficult to convince a court of the legality of an oral contract. Without witnesses to testify to the oral agreement taking place or other forms of evidence, oral contracts won't stand up in court. Instead, it becomes a matter of "he-said-she-said" - which legal professionals definitely don't have time for!
If you were to enter into a verbal contract, it's recommended to follow up with an email or a letter confirming the offer, the terms of the agreement , and payment conditions. The more you can document the elements of a contract, the better your chances of legally enforcing a oral contract.
Another option is to make a recording of the conversation where the agreement is verbalized. This can be used to support your claims in the absence of a written agreement. However, it's always best to gain the permission of the other involved parties before hitting record.
Fundamentally, most verbal agreements are legally valid as long as they meet all the requirements for a contract. However, if you were to go to court over one party not fulfilling the terms of the contract, proving that the interaction took place can be extremely taxing.
So, ultimately, the question is: written or verbal agreements?
Any good lawyer, contract law firm, or legal professional would advise you to make sure you formalize any professional agreement with a written agreement. Written contracts provide a secure testament to the conditions that were agreed and signed by the two parties involved. If it comes to it, a physical contract is much easier to eviden in legal circumstances.
Freelancers, in particular, should be aware of the extra security that digital contracts may provide. Many people choose to stick to executing contracts verbally because they're not sure how to write a contract, or they think writing out the contract terms is too complicated or requires expensive legal advice. However, this is no longer the case.
Today, we have a world of resources available at our fingertips. The internet is a treasure trove of invaluable information, platforms, and software that simplifies our lives. Creating, signing, and sending contracts has never been easier. What's more, you don't have to rely on a hiring a lawyer to explain all that legal jargon anymore.
There are plenty of tools available online for freelancers to use for guidance when drafting digital contracts. Tools like Bonsai provide a range of customizable, vetted contract templates for all kinds of freelance professionals. No matter what industry you're operating in, Bonsai has a professional template to offer.
A written contract makes the agreement much easier to prove the terms of the agreement in case something were to go awry. The two parties involved can rest assured that they're legal rights are protected, and the terms of the contract are sufficiently documented. Plus, it provides both parties with peace of mind to focus on the tasks at hand.
Bonsai's product suite for freelancers allows users to make contracts from scratch, or using professional templates, and sign them using an online signature maker.
With Bonsai, you can streamline and automate all of the boring back-office tasks that come with being a freelancer. From creating proposals that clients can't say no to, to sealing the deal with a professional contract - Bonsai will revolutionize the way you do business as a freelancer.
Why not secure your business today and sign up for a free trial?