Over the years, I have taken on a variety of freelance projects. The ones that stressed me out the most were the ones with moving pieces that were handled as I worked. Outside of expected variables in a project, there was often scope creep and other expenses that seemed to pop up. Planning and experience goes a long way, but so does communication. The more you do, the more you'll know. But there will always be things that pop up and managing them can be done with happy endings. It's all about establishing a relationship and managing expectations.
Now, I’m not saying you should be able to guess everything that could happen (although I promise you this does get a lot easier the more you do it), but have a plan for how to address surprises. Be clear about what is included in a project price early on, and what needs to be considered as another project at a later date. This goes far in preventing scope creep.
Look into all possible expenses up front. If there may be design elements, systems, technology fees, etc. make sure they are considered. You may want to outline them, or you may feel that is too much detail for your client.
Charging Hourly or By Project
Once you know what you will be contributing and have a list of expenses, consider your pricing structure.
I used to charge hourly based on an estimate with wiggle room. Even with scope and estimating hours planned well, there was always the issue of figuring out what time to charge for. Sounds ridiculous, I know. But this forced my brain to focus way too much on what time to ethically charge my client for, and what I should be responsible for.
I think about design concepts all the time. I’m really hard on myself, so if I went over an estimated time, I often felt that I should know better (relating to research time or coming up with ideas faster). I would tell myself that I’ll just do better next time. While that sentiment is not without some merit, it doesn't have to be a constant battle.
For me, hourly just doesn’t work. So I take on clients who are comfortable with that. I charge per project and am comfortable with what I charge because of experience, planning and processes I have put in place (detailed in part II). Personally, I don't even outline all of the expenses for a project because I think it added unnecessary complexity to the proposal at that point in the relationship.
Paying the bills
Often, this is the most obvious factor to take into consideration when pricing work. One step to allow focus on a quality solution and service is considering costs that can be planned. Supplies, elements or technical services are more obvious. Don’t discount the value of your time just because you aren’t charging hourly.
The fact that I work full time means a few things which may not apply to all situations. It means that I do not rely on freelance projects to cover my bills. I have the ability to charge less and still cover my bills and project expenses. Conversely, I know what I offer clients is highly valuable and competitive. I don’t have to worry when I send out a proposal that the project may fall through based on the price. Most importantly, I have formed a relationship at this point and it's a no-brainer partnership.
Having a job also means that the time spent on projects is scheduled time outside of my work day responsibilities. If you rely on freelance projects, your time spent on them may be even more valuable, not less.
Focus on Quality
On top of work, I'm committed to other activities and family duties. So for me, making sure I can focus without stress on a project is a top priority. In other words, it has to be worth my time. I want to be fair to clients. I also know how serve my clients well, and how it relates to price and ability to perform.
Again, expectations up front save a lot of hassle and put everyone on a level playing field. I don’t hide that I have a full time job. I am clear about the start date and end date of every project. This way, there is still a deadline that they know will be followed without nitpicking every minute or hour. It will never be a surprise as to where we are in the project either, because I communicate throughout. Being open about any roadblocks, we work together to get past issues if they arise. I prepare possible solutions before we discuss to avoid undue worry.
By setting expectations, communicating often, planning expenses and considering overhead you can price accordingly and plan to focus on what matters the most: quality service and results.
Read Part II: Project Management for Designers, where I share more detailed ideas that I use to price freelance work and plan projects.