Freelancers often struggle with how to price their services. There are many sites that offer salary data for full-time employees, but none that do so for freelancers.
We’ve managed to collect data about freelance hourly rates over at Bonsai, and we wanted to make it public, so we built Rate Explorer to make it easy for people to see our data on how much freelance designers and developers charge by the hour.
We obtained the data from among the 15,000+ freelancers that use our app. We supplemented it with user research surveys, and that added another few hundred data points.
Currently, we only have data from freelancers operating in the U.S. Once we gain a critical mass of hourly-rate data for other countries, we will share those as well.
We spotted some noteworthy trends by analyzing the data.
Developers earn 30% more than designers.
The hourly rates of designers (especially graphic designers) remain sticky at under $60 an hour at all geographies and experience levels.
In addition, whereas developers quickly begin increasing their hourly rates after gaining 3 years of experience, designers tend to increase their hourly rates at a slower pace.
Read: Why Designers Should Learn How to Code
The most common explanations we’ve heard for this trend are:
- Design is a very competitive field
- Lower barrier to entry for some types of design
- Typically smaller project sizes
Freelancers in the Coastal regions have higher hourly rates than those in the Midwest and the South by an average of ~10%.
Freelancers in the West Coast and East Coast generally have higher hourly rates compared to freelancers based in the Midwest and South.
This trend was surprising to us because freelance design and dev jobs can easily be done remotely, so it would be reasonable to think that a freelancer’s location would not have a whole lot of influence in his/her hourly rate. The difference might be linked to the higher living costs in coastal regions, which in turn might necessitate higher hourly rates, — but this is just speculative.
Read: The Best Sites for Finding Remote Work
The biggest increase in hourly rates happens when freelancers reach 3–5 years of experience.
Across all skill types and geographies, freelancers significantly increase their hourly rates when they gain 3–5 years worth of experience.
Having spoken to some of our users, we’ve learned that this trend can be attributed to:
- Learning core business skills like negotiation
- Building a network of recurring and trusted clients
- Establishing a strong portfolio
Read: Three Simple Steps to Maintaining a Razor-Sharp Skill Set
What This Data Can Mean for You
Pricing can be a complicated subject, and many factors should go into pricing your work. The Rate Explorer is most valuable as a directional indicator. Are you above, below, or within the average for similar freelancers?
7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Rates and Keep Your Clients
Making Money Designing Themes: What You Should Know
How I Earned A Lot More on Projects by Changing My Pricing Strategy
5 Tips for Making More Money as a Freelance Designer
At the start of last year, I was in a tight spot.
I’m a freelance writer, and my steady flow of work had slowed down and dried up. In February 2014, I made just over $7,000. In February 2015, however, I made just under $2,000. That’s a 70% pay cut when compared to the previous year’s earnings.
With my income declining rapidly to the point at which it was well below my cost of living — one of the tricky aspects of living in Tokyo is that it’s one of the most expensive cities to live in — I was forced to take action.
I did what most freelancers did: I sent out email after email to my old clients.
The results were weak, one small project and a one-off gig.
So I decided to try something a little different and turned my shortage of work into an interesting marketing experiment.
From my own experience, and speaking with other freelancers, it seems like the typical freelancer’s response to a shortage of work plays out like this:
- After a few weeks without a project, begin to worry, and start contacting old clients.
- If that doesn’t work, start sending out cold email after cold email to new prospects.
- If there’s no response, go for low-budget jobs on sites like Upwork or Freelancer.com.
- Panic. Offer a huge discount to the prospects you meet, trapping yourself in the low-pay/low-reward freelance cycle that so many talented people end up being stuck in.
Basic analysis of this strategy shows that it doesn’t work. I know because I’ve experienced it myself, as have many of my friends who also freelance for a living. The truth is that low rates don’t sell. At least not with the type of awesome, high-quality clients you want.
A far stronger approach to getting more work and increasing your income is to focus on getting high-quality clients by selling to them really, really well.
It’s the "more wood behind fewer arrows" approach. Market your service to fewer prospective clients, but put much more effort into each one of them. I learned this concept from entrepreneur and business-growth advisor Bryan Harris (founder of Videofruit) who used it to market his video creation service to tech companies. The main idea is to offer so much value that it’s impossible for any prospective client to ignore you.
Sending Out Handwritten Letters
Here’s what I did to get my freelancing business going again.
Instead of sending cold emails, which are effective in bulk but have a terrible response rate, I snail-mailed handwritten letters to all of the companies I wanted to work with. The letters were mailed to design and digital marketing agencies throughout the U.S.
In total, I sent out just over 100 letters, half of which were hand-addressed, and half of which were written entirely by hand.
All of the letters contained this exact same message:
Hi [person’s name],
Do you work with freelance writers at [company’s name]?
I ask because I am a freelance writer from New Zealand and I would love to work with you. I write for big tech companies like [mention one of my previous clients], as well as small to mid-sized agencies. I can write press releases, blog posts, articles, website content, landing pages and more.
My content is extremely good and very modestly priced.
I understand you’re probably suspicious of letters you receive from strangers, so to ease your concerns I would be happy to write a few custom samples for you, free of charge.
If you’re interested, just send a letter to my return address.
Just kidding! You can email me at [my email address]. That’s definitely more convenient.
Looking forward to working out how I can help you in your role at [company’s name].
Along with the letter, I also included:
- My business card
- A page containing testimonials from my existing clients
- Samples of my work
To find the right people to contact, I manually went through the Google results for search terms like "digital agency in [some city]" and found the person in charge of content and public relations. I tracked down their LinkedIn profile to check that they were the right person to contact, then wrote the letter and mailed it to them.
Since I was sending the letters from Japan, they were packaged in Japan Post envelopes with a Japanese postage stamp. I’m sure the novelty of receiving a hand-addressed letter from another country was one reason for the campaign’s success, since it instantly inspires curiosity.
All in all, I received 14 responses from the slightly more than 100 letters I sent out. It cost me about $200 to ship out all the letters, so it ended up being roughly $14 per lead.
Of the 14 responses, one made a significant 5-figure order and two others made small 3-figure deals with me. The 5-figure client has grown into one of my most important clients today.
I also followed up over the phone with the clients that didn’t respond to the letter. Almost all of them reported that they were amused and surprised about receiving a letter from a writer on the other side of the world, and many said I would be first in line for any extra writing work they had available in the future.
As a writer, letters are a great strategy. For designers, I think they’re even better. Imagine if you could put your favorite portfolio items right in front of a client on beautiful card paper instead of emailing them a link to your online portfolio or Dribbble account, hoping that they’ll click through and browse through your work.
If I were a freelance designer, I would try mailing out pop-up books with website layouts, cards with sample logos and testimonials from happy clients. As a developer, you can use the exact same strategy I did, but mention your previous development work instead of written content.
The point of all this is that sometimes it’s better to use "old fashioned" technology to market yourself, especially in an industry like design and development where the vast majority of marketing is done online.
Simply by doing something different, you can stand out in a very good way.
Since I started doing this in early-2015, I’ve had a steady flow of clients from the letters I’ve sent out. My rates are back to where they were before, and on occasion even better than before.
If you’re ever short on project work and can’t get a response with the typical way of cold-emailing prospective clients, give handwritten letters a try. It’s old fashioned, it’s unique, and it’s exactly what you need to do to get the attention of great clients and give your freelance business the push it needs.
Aggressive Expansion: 8 Tips for Finding More Clients Now
5 Pricing Tips to Earn More on Client Projects
7 Ways to Get More Referrals for Your Web Design Business
5 Tips for Making More Money as a Freelance Designer
You probably don’t need most of the features that come with large UI frameworks such as Bootstrap, especially when you’re working on small, straightforward projects that you just want to get up and running as soon as possible. Fortunately, there are smaller, simpler CSS frameworks out there that you can use instead.
I’ve created an excellent list of small/minimalist CSS frameworks for you to explore. Most of them are under 5 KB (when minified and gzipped) and contain the essential ingredients for building responsive web designs.
min, the smallest CSS framework on this list, has a responsive 12-column grid system, button styles, table styles, Android-compatible icons, and more. min even supports ancient browsers like Internet Explorer 5.5.
Milligram is for modern UIs — its grid system uses FlexBox, sizes and lengths use the
rem unit, and it’s Mobile First. Being on the cutting edge comes at a cost: Milligram only officially supports the newest versions of Chrome, Firefox, IE, Safari, and Opera.
Out of the box, Blaze CSS is already lightweight, but you can reduce its file size even more due to its modular architecture which allows you to include only the parts you intend to use in your project. (Read the instructions for creating a custom Blaze CSS build for more info.)
Kube packs a punch for a CSS framework that weighs less than 6 KB. It has a responsive grid system, a robust set of classes for styling your web forms, multiple table classes, notification classes for displaying important messages to your users, and more.
Pure, an open source project led by Yahoo! developers, is a suite of CSS modules that will help you quickly build responsive web designs. Pure has basic styles for all HTML elements (developed on top of Normalize.css), and modules for grid layouts, web forms, buttons, tables, and navigation menus.
Calling itself a "CSS micro-framework", Furtive is geared towards modern web designs. Like Milligram, Furtive is Mobile First, has a responsive grid based on FlexBox, and uses the
rem unit for lengths and sizes. It has the basics covered: buttons, forms, and even default color classes.
Though it hasn’t been updated in over a year, Skeleton is still a top-notch starting point/boilerplate for rapidly building modern, responsive web designs. It comes with an intuitive grid system and base styles for your HTML elements.
FOX CSS is a lightweight, modular CSS framework. It uses the Mobile First design approach, supports browsers as old as IE 9, and has a non-aggressive CSS reset (inspired by KNACSS).
Basscss is made up of 22 CSS modules consisting of a CSS reset, a grid system, color classes, utility classes to help you build your responsive designs, and much more. Basscss is surprisingly feature-rich for something that weighs less than 4 KB.
Siimple is a minimalist CSS framework for building responsive, clean web designs. It’s similar to Skeleton: It has an intuitive 12-column grid system and base styles for typography, tables, buttons, forms, and more.
Lotus is one of the smallest CSS frameworks out there. It’s got the essentials covered: a responsive grid system, typography, buttons, and web forms.
Picnic CSS is a lightweight UI framework written in Sass, making it easier for you to edit and customize variables such as colors and lengths. It also has some impressive, purely-CSS UI components such as a modal window and a content slider.
The following table contains useful details about the CSS frameworks featured in this list.
|Name||Size*||Docs||License||GitHub Repo||Popularity **|
|Kube||5.94 KB||Docs||MIT||Repo (outdated)||538|
|FOX CSS||2.46 KB||Docs||Unknown||Repo||87|
|Picnic CSS||2.32 KB||Docs||MIT||Repo||932|
*Size is the file size of the minified and gzipped CSS file. Size values were derived from my independent testing of the production-ready/distribution stylesheets of each CSS framework.
**Popularity is the amount of users who are keeping track of the CSS framework’s source code on GitHub. This value is measured by the number of Stars the project had around the time this post was published. A higher value means the project is more popular.
7 CSS Tools You Should Be Using
5 CSS Effects Libraries for Supercharging Your Designs
CSS Development at Large-Scale Websites
When visitors arrive on your company’s website, you want them to take action. Depending on your business, that “action” may be many different things, from filling out a contact form to making a purchase.
Regardless, you should improve your site to make converting as easy as possible for your visitors. The best way to do this is with conversion rate optimization.
One of the simplest ways to optimize a site is with A/B testing, or by creating two versions of the same element and showing them to real visitors to see which performs better. As you run these tests on different parts of your site, you’ll be able to optimize each page for a higher conversion rate.
Before you get started, though, you’ll need to select a tool to help you set up, monitor, and review your tests. There are many available online, but the following four are our top picks at WebpageFX.
Your company’s website serves many purposes, like explaining your services, highlighting your successes, and building your brand. But most important of all, it helps visitors become customers.
But in many cases, those visitors need to get in touch with you before making a purchase. And for that to happen, you’ll need a compelling “Contact Us” page.
Creating a page that’s simple enough for visitors to finish, but thorough enough to get the information you need can be a challenge. These 10 examples will provide some inspiration for your company’s site.
When I started out, I made about $1,680 a month (after taxes). Now I make that in less than two days. It’s crazy when I think about it.
For a lot of us (myself included) it’s never about the money. But what I have inevitably realized is that money brings freedom. The freedom to choose the work we take on. The freedom to work on meaningful projects. The freedom to have time to do what we want.
As designers, I believe in improving not only the quality of our work, but also the value of our work.
Talking about money is always a touchy subject. But just to give you some background about where I’m coming from, and about my income as a freelance designer: I’ve made more than $140,000 working only seven months in a year. I enjoy some time off in between projects, and the freedom to do other things. However, bear in mind that I have been doing this for nine years, and with that comes experience and a honed set of skills.
Here are some tips that will surely boost your design work’s value. These tips are not things you can do overnight; you will need to put in some hard work in order to achieve your desired results. But if you take action, I’m sure you will eventually see positive results.
1. Be a Good Designer: Produce Great Work That Solves Problems
A strong body of work commands interest from prospective clients and increases your perceived value as a designer.
I am a strong believer in constantly working on my craft. Improving the quality of our work helps us get more projects, and also contributes to pushing our industry forward.
What aspects of your design work can you improve, and how?
Set a Goal
The first step is to have a good idea of what "good design" is. Think of all your favorite designers. Write down a list of the top five designers you admire. Done that? Good. Your goal is to close the gap between your work, and the work of the designers you hold in high regard. Follow their work, as well as the work of other designers that they like/favorite/save on social media platforms such as Behance, Dribbble, Pinterest, etc.
Now you have a benchmark for good design work.
Improve Your Visual Design Skills
The first and most obvious thing to work on is your visual design chops. The best way to improve in this area is to practice.
Spend one to two hours a day analyzing, deconstructing, and recreating the work of other designers. What would begin as an exercise of merely emulating and reproducing someone else’s work will eventually allow you to see and understand why certain designs work better than others.
Many great designers started this way. Haraldur Thorleifsson, a successful designer who has worked with companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Airbnb said in an interview:
When I was younger I liked to take things apart to figure out how they worked. I never did figure anything out, and I certainly couldn’t put anything back together, so this mostly meant that I had a lot of broken stuff.
I am by no means a natural designer or illustrator, so when I started designing I basically did the same thing. I would take screenshots of sites I liked and copy them, the digital equivalent of tracing from paper. This taught me a lot about spacing, typography, grids and how to create graphics from scratch.
Over time, as your visual library expands within your head, you will realize your own ideas.
To get better at design, the idea is really just to keep creating. When he was asked by a design student what to focus on to help grow one’s career, Mike Buzzard, a Design Manager in UX at Google, answered: Just keep making stuff.
Even if you’re a seasoned veteran — just keep creating, as there’s always room to improve. A seasoned chef still sharpens his knife. Join communities and find great mentors to learn from. Always make time to learn new skills that can make your work better.
Visual chops are all well and good. But design is more than just the visual. It’s also about meeting the client’s goals, and thinking about your work as being a part of a system.
A lot of designers don’t want to think that their work sits in a marketing plan or a business strategy. But it does.
To be an effective designer, it’s essential to have a holistic view. You must see where your design work fits within the overall picture. To possess a holistic view means taking some time to learn about the other components of the system. Get into reading about business, marketing, copywriting, web performance, and other associated subjects.
While there may be art in what we do, we are not artists. We are designers. It’s the balance of form, function, and user/client objectives that makes your designs great.
2. Be a Great Communicator
At the end of the day, clients (whether they are creative directors, marketing managers, or business owners) are just people. People just like you and me.
When I used to work as a Creative Director, whenever we needed to hire designers, I would of course evaluate the design portfolios of the candidates as part of the decision-making process. But almost equally as important was looking at how well the candidates communicated. How did they come up with the context and rationale for their design solutions? Were they consistent with keeping the lines of communication open?
Being able to communicate well and eloquently helps you build trust with your clients. How well can you answer their questions? Try to be empathetic and put yourself in your client’s shoes. What do they need to know, and how can you best solve their problem?
Start by identifying your personal communication style and tone. I prefer to write clients using a conversational style of communication. It helps me weed out all the unnecessary jargon and allows us to engage on a more personable and "authentic" level. Also, people that are okay with this style of communication are usually from the types of organizations that I like working with.
Indirectly tied to communication is punctuality. Punctuality is super important. Honoring your promises and staying true to your word is important if you would like your clients to be able to trust what you say. If you’re going to say something is going to be done at a certain time, make sure you do it on time or (even better) earlier than the time you have committed to. Under-promise and over-deliver. Not vice versa. By nature, I’m not a super organized person, but through the years I’ve learned to always deliver no matter what.
3. Put Yourself Out There
No one is going to hire you if they don’t know about you.
I used to feel iffy about promoting myself. But I need to put myself and my work out there in order to attract prospective clients, as well as to be able to make connections and start conversations with like-minded designers. Dan Mall said it best: "Contribute to the conversations you want to be part of."
If you’re a freelancer, getting yourself exposure is almost as important as having great design work. Join online creative sites like Behance and Dribbble, and keep posting your work on them. Share your work and reach out to different communities. You can even share your journey by posting snippets of your design exercises, similar to what Paul Flavius Nechita did with his 100 Days UI project. (He was interviewed about the project on Dribbble.)
4. Work with Only Good Clients That Pay Well
As your designs become better, and as your reputation grows, you should be receiving more job leads.
Instead of taking on every single project that comes your way, it’s important to prioritize closing the clients that will pay you what you think your services are worth.
But how do you do that? By demonstrating the value of your work to prospective clients, and what it will mean to their business.
Read about value-based pricing in this article: How I Earned A Lot More on Projects by Changing My Pricing Strategy.
I have garnered clients via a "pull" methodology. This means prospective clients get in touch with me via different channels. I never reach out to potential clients. Getting projects using this "pull" methodology means that would-be clients already know about what kind of work I offer and what I’m about. Also, they will typically already know which markets I serve.
Identify what markets you serve and think about what your time and services are worth. Accept the projects that are within your criteria.
Good clients will refer you to other good clients. And I mean not just "good clients" in terms of pay, but also how easy and pleasant they are to work with. It’s because like-minded businesses and people tend to connect and engage with each other.
In the same token, less-than-stellar clients will probably refer you to other less-than-stellar clients. If you design sites for $100, you will be known as the $100 web designer, and you will in turn attract clients that believe websites should only cost a hundred dollars. If you do sites for $30,000, then you exist in that market. (And if you’re Huge, you exist in the $18 million market.)
5. Be Nice
Most people don’t like to work with designers who have huge egos.
The Golden Rule applies here: Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Good manners is a currency that goes a long way in the business world.
How I Made Web Design Profitable by Not Doing Web Design
How to Fire Bad Clients
Web Designers Making Thousands of Dollars in Passive Income