Camels - CC / Flickr
Camels - CC / Flickr

It’s one of the problems I have as a freelancer, and I’m not alone in this – how much am I supposed to charge for the web design services I provide? An invoice running to hundreds or even thousands of pounds or Euros sounds scary for most of the people I work with.

Most of my clients are politicians – many MPs in Westminster – and they each, personally, get a salary of about £64000. Yet the only people they are used to paying are researchers and interns on a month by month basis and there’s no understanding of how a freelancer’s work is organised. One Brussels politician once told me €700 was the upper limit for payment for her complicated site, oblivious to the fact that she was spending €16000 / month on staffing expenses. OK, not the same budget lines, but go figure it out. Needless to say these politicians’ own salaries are at least twice my own.

Let’s look at this the other way – from the point of view of my expenses.

I’m moving to London in September as most of my clients are there. I’ll be working from home most of the time, I’m in my early 30s, and I need space to work. So no flat-sharing (I need a place to myself) so my rent is going to be £850 / month. Add telephone, internet, utilities, council tax and the total is about £1000. Add onto that HMRC self assessment payments on account of £415 / month and that’s more than £1400 before I have even bought some food at the supermarket… Then comes travel to meet clients, overheads for web hosting, costs for accountants.

Then take a working month. Theoretically (ha!) out of 30 days I am supposed to take weekends off, so 22 days total. At least one day a week I need to organise my finances, chase up clients that have not paid. So that’s 18 days.

I need to be invoicing at least £500 / week just to keep things turning, and ideally something close to £800. That means I need to launch 3 simple-ish WordPress websites each and every month. 36 new sites a year! There are already close to 100 sites still running that I’ve designed or developed in the past, each with their unique legacy, and that legacy never reduces in size. Alternatively I could take on larger projects that operate on the basis of some form of retainer.

So that’s the reason for the camels pictured here. I’m lumping a heavier and heavier weight onto my back. I have major responsibility for a huge number of sites and I have considerable personal financial responsibilities. And the gap between these things is rather narrow just at the moment.

7 Comments

  1. According to my experience, it’s better to count with 220 working days for self-employment. Because a freelancer also goes on holiday, and should be able to take a few days off in case of sickness. Like this you arrive at maximum 18 working days / month. So take what you need per month * 12 / 220 and you should have your daily rate. Then multiply with 1.5 to cover overhead time where you don’t work for clients.

    Less seriously: Another possibility is to make websites for UK government – I recently read that they pay up to 35 m £ for a website: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/06/30/coi_website/

  2. Andras

    Time to outsource most of the boring admin work (e.g. http://www.odesk.com) and also create a non-negotiable daily fee: if some clients rather say no, it’s their problem. Pick the best 20 clients and fire the rest! 🙂

  3. It may be too complicated to create separate entities for different types of clients: keep it simple.

    You need to create a fee structure for paying clients – and assertive enough to make them realise that you run a business.

    If and when you want to do charity (pro bono) work, just do it.

  4. Your calculation also leaves out business development time and the professional development/training you should be doing for yourself. Your rates are nowhere near to what they should be. Don’t be afraid to charge more. And perhaps, as a social-democrat who believes in wealth redistribution, you could follow Andreas’s advice: different prices depending on the means of the potential client. Also there is indeed no point in accepting clients that you don’t really want to work for, either because it doesn’t pay well or you don’t like what they want you to do.

  5. Simon Blackley

    Jon, don’t exploit yourself. A commercial rate for what you do is anywhere north of £ 300/day. Your calculation leaves out saving, health insurance, pension . . . Set a basic rate that allows you to offer discounts to really good causes (who value what you’re doing for them) and still hit a target average day rate.

  6. I know this problem only too well! It’s really the same in the field of education and learning. The best way around this, for me, has been to create several different instances and structures for the work I do – a small non-profit with a good network of colleagues for work that is close to my heart but pays badly, a small company with one business partner for work that is important and pays well, and my freelance identity for smaller projects that pay ok-ish. This way, I can juggle different kinds and types of projects and payments reasonably well.

    When it comes to bubbly politicians with a 700-Euro limit, send them elsewhere. There is no gain, only pain, to be had with ‘customers’ like that.

  7. This is something I can very much relate to. In terms of translation, many clients have completely unrealistic expectations, especially with the large number of “translators” who take on projects in their free time for a bit of extra cash or whose partners earn the bulk of their expenses for them.

    And as for journalism and writing? Last time I tried to negotiate a ridiculously low price upwards, the person in question replied by quoting the old wisdom that “if you want to write, you need rich parents.” Ahem.

    Nevertheless, there are some really great clients out there who understand that we need to invoice more than just the raw time spent doing the work – mainly other freelancers or people who run their own business and, occasionally, a socially-responsible head of department in a big company.

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