It’s not uncommon for me to run across bloggers offering web design services for prices that make me cringe. Not generally because I find them too expensive, but because these “designers” are offering complete blog makeovers for pennies. When I stumble across someone offering what should amount to more than five hours worth of work for less than $5/hour, I honestly want to shake them and scream at them for not only valuing their own work so poorly, but for devaluing the entire industry.
Just the other day I saw another blogger commenting that designers who charge $500 for a blog design were “ridiculous” and over-priced. Probably because this blogger had been conditioned to believe that a full blog-makeover shouldn’t cost more than $50, and should include however many revisions and changes that the client wants–which more often than not, amounts to hours worth of work and less than minimum wage for the designer.
Now, I’m a firm believer that you should be able to price things however you want. If you honestly only think your time is only worth $5/hour, then fine. But I’d urge you to stop thinking so poorly of yourself and pay yourself something worthwhile, even if it is only a hobby. And, if it’s really a hobby, you’d help designers who make a living off their designs out a lot more if you actually designed for free. Why? Well, if you don’t care about the money, then you’re just offering your services to be nice and to have fun, but if you’re undercharging, you’re training customers to believe that design work isn’t valuable and making it harder for those of us who make a living designing, to actually make a living.
What many newbie designers (and customers) don’t realize is that there’s a lot more to designing than just making pretty pictures and uploading them in Blogger. Not only do you need to charge for the hours you spend working on the design, but you need to pay yourself for the hours that you spend communicating with clients, writing contracts, and invoicing. And if you have overhead (you probably have at least a little), you need to charge enough to cover it. Last I checked, the new version of Photoshop still cost over $1,200 which would mean you’d have to complete 24 blog designs at $50 just to make back what you spent. Student versions can be used commercially–if they’re registered to you. But you can’t skate by on that forever. Eventually you’ll graduate and Photoshop will have a new version out, and you’ll have to shell out some money for an updated version.
Stop undervaluing yourself!
You’re not worthless, but by sticking a super-low price tag on your work, you’re saying that your work and your time (and essentially, YOU) are worthless. They’re not! You do not deserve to be treated like garbage, and people will treat you according to how you present yourself. If you market yourself as a cheap, throw-away web designer, you’ll be treated as such. Be confident in your work.
Cheaper isn’t always better
By presenting yourself with a really cheap product, many customers will skip over you because they know that they get what they pay for. You’re sending the message that you’re not really very good at what you do. And if a client does hire you and is pleased, you’ll become known as “that cheap designer” and have a hard time raising your prices (especially if this is currently a hobby and you’re hoping to go full-time). Even if you’re new and still learning, you should pay yourself at least minimum-wage (for ALL hours you work on a project, not just the design hours) and present yourself professionally (contracts, invoicing, and clear terms).
You’re devaluing the industry
As I mentioned above, you’re screwing over those of us who do this for a living. When you don’t pay yourself for your time, you’re saying that web design is easy, worthless, and that no one should be paid a decent wage for it. Those of us who invest hours in learning current code and design practices have to explain to clients why we’re worth more money than Suzy’s $50 designs. Yes, it’s our job to sell ourselves, but it’s equivalent to an awesome seamstress with eco-friendly fabric and original patterns competing with $2 dresses made out of polyester in a sweatshop. Clothing used to be something that people appreciated and invested in, and now it’s all throw-away fashion. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not work in a sweatshop, even if the work is making pretty webpages.
Photoshop doesn’t make you a designer
There, I said it. Call me a bitch, but just because you own fancy software or made your own header doesn’t make you a designer. You don’t need some fancy college degree or years of training to become a designer, but there’s a big difference between someone who sticks a font and an image together in Photoshop (or Pixlr, GIMP, whatever) and uploads it into their Blogger template, and someone who actually designs a functioning website that displays properly across multiple browsers and resolutions. If you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s fine, everyone starts somewhere, but you probably shouldn’t be selling designs yet.
I can’t tell you how many “designers’” portfolios I’ve run across where their code is messed up, the layout is too wide for most screens (and isn’t responsive), or they haven’t properly lined up their backgrounds for any resolution other than their own. You don’t need to be a coding genius, but you should understand the basics so that you’re not creating designs that only work on one resolution/browser.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then you’re not ready to design for others. I realize this sounds harsh, but you’re not producing a good product or service. I’m not just saying this because it’s a pet peeve of mine, I’m saying it because your angry clients come to me so that I can fix your mistakes. I’m happy for the business, but if you want happy clients, you need to learn website functionality before you start selling designs. You don’t want your clients complaining about you when they realize that their website looks terrible on Internet Explorer or an iPad, do you?
So where should you start?
Design your own site! A few times. Keep practicing. Learn everything you can about web design. Check it out on different resolutions, browsers, and mobile devices. When you feel confident changing your own layout around, do a few designs for free for friends and family–but create a contract for these designs and be sure to include the number of revisions and/or hours so that you’re not taken advantage of. You’ll find that working for free will give you all sorts of ideas on what to include in your contracts, so when you start working with paying clients you won’t be blind-sided by anything. Track the time you spend on these free designs to gauge your pricing for future paid designs.
When you feel like you’re ready to take on paying clients, put together your portfolio of the designs you did for free. Look at the hours you spent on each one, and determine how much you need to charge for a package. Remember, you are WORTH paying. Don’t undervalue yourself. Remember you need to pay yourself at least minimum wage (after Paypal fees) for every hour you work on a project–not just the time you spend designing. You really should be paying yourself more. And don’t forget overhead (Photoshop, font licensing, training, etc.) that you need to make sure you pay yourself back for. Your actual hourly wage is up to you, but I would recommend a minimum of $25/hour for a newbie designer. If you don’t feel like you’re worth that, you’re not ready to sell your designs.
Book your clients! Once you start getting inquiries, you can start booking clients (be sure to space them enough so that you don’t get swamped), and you’re on your way! It’s a learning process, and the design world is constantly changing, so stay on top of trends and standards–I’d recommend blocking some time each week for training or research so that you’re sure to keep learning and stay up-to-date! Good luck!
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Note: This blog post was originally published on my old blog (which has been deleted), but I thought it was worth re-publishing as I now have a bunch of new readers and I think the information is still valuable.