BusinessEducation

When should I charge my client hourly vs. fixed price?

By October 9, 2020No Comments

Hello Team! Hope you had a great week! This week I’m sending you a few thoughts on a questions I’ve receive several times. Hourly vs. fixed bid pricing. Hope you get some good nuggets below!

QUESTION: 

When should I charge my client hourly vs. fixed price?
ANSWER:

Every project that can be bid at a fixed price, should be.

I recommend you only charge clients based upon a billable hourly rate when you provide services that cannot be completed under a fixed bid agreement. These types of services include, but are not limited to:

  • Extra rounds of changes on a project
  • Maintenance requests for digital projects
  • Simple design changes
  • Minor content updates
  • Debugging code
  • Unknown or unclear scope of work

Trading time for money (i.e. charging your clients by the hour) is the least profitable way to price your work because it eliminates the value of the work you produce and penalizes you for working quickly. When charging a client based upon an hourly rate, the faster you complete the work, the less money you make.

On the other hand, properly scoping and providing fixed bid prices allows you to factor both market value and the client’s budget into your price. Perhaps best of all, in contrast to charging your client by the hour, a fixed bid price rewards you for working quickly by increasing the financial return on your time.

All of that being said, many clients will ask for your hourly rate, and you should know how to calculate it. Simply stated, your billable hourly rate is your hourly burn rate (or your hourly cost to do work) with the addition of profit.

Here is a quick method to help you calculate your hourly cost to do business.
How much does your business cost per month? (Add up all of your expenses including the money you need to take out of your business to support your personal living expenses.)
Multiply your monthly expenses by 12 months in a year.
Divide that amount by 2,080 for the amount of “work hours” per year for a full-time worker. (This is based on 40 hours per week and 52 weeks per year.)
That calculation will yield your “hourly cost” or “hourly burn rate.” Keep in mind, this IS NOT the rate you charge your clients. This should be considered your “break even” rate as it does not include any profit.
My book The Psychology of Graphic Design Pricing and my course Freelance with Janda both go into much more detail about how to calculate your hourly burn rate. The method in this newsletter is just a simple method you can start using now. Next week need to add profit to our rate.
Profit margins vary wildly from business to business. I have been told that many agencies operate at very thin profit margins, as low as 1 or 2%. My agency, Riser, ran at a 31% average annual profit margin over our lifespan. The publicly traded “mega-agencies” typically report profit margins between 5 and 10%. Mid-sized agencies may average 15 or 20% margins and some agencies could have a 50% margin or higher. A well-seasoned freelancer working from their home office with very little overhead cost could easily have a 100-200%+ markup on their hourly burn rate. The industry profit margin is really all over the place with no set standard.

Now you may be thinking, “So, how much profit should I add to my cost when calculating my billable hourly rate?” Good question. Your billable hourly rate should include as much profit as your clients will approve. Making this determination usually requires some experimentation, an understanding of what other people like you charge for their time, and a bit of courage.

If your hourly burn rate is $30, but your clients will pay $150 per hour for your services (a 500% markup), have no concern charging it. After all, the market value of a product or service is equal to the amount someone is willing to pay. If your clients will pay it, you can charge it. That is your market value.
You really just need to pick a profit margin percentage that is comfortable to you; this percentage should start, in my opinion, with at least a 20 to 30% profit margin and go up from there. You are not price gouging your customer if you decide that your profit margin should be 100%+ higher than your hourly burn rate. If you have the expertise to provide value to your customer and your customer will green light work at a higher hourly rate, then charge it! After all, you are in business to make a profit.
Stop asking yourself, “How much should I charge?” and start asking, “How much profit should I include in my price?”

Hope that helps provide some clarity around hourly pricing and fixed bid pricing. When in doubt, a fixed bid project price with a detailed scope of work is the best strategy for your business.

Thank you!

Mike​

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I continue to receive amazing feedback from students of my Freelance with Janda courses. Thank you!

“Before taking Freelance with Janda, I actually spent a ton of money on another business courses where I didn’t really see the results or get my money’s worth. After doing the first module for free, I was hooked and paid for the rest of the course right then and there. Michael has a way of speaking where he makes you feel like you can do this! Every module is in-depth where he breaks it down for you, walks you through with examples, and solidifies the lesson with stories from his own experience. Originally when I got into freelancing, I was like a headless chicken trying to figure out why my business wasn’t growing. One of the major things that the course helped me with was learning how to focus, niching down (and actually how to do it), and actionable advice on how to find, nurture, and deal with clients. Wherever you are in your business–thinking about it, stuck in a rut, or scaling, I think everyone has a lot to learn from this course!” – Crystal Kam, Visual Designer, http://www.crystalkam.ca

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COURSE: Freelance with Janda
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Michael Janda

About Michael Janda

I am Michael Janda, an executive level creative leader with more than 20 years of experience in both in-house creative departments and agencies working with some of the greatest brands in the world. I create books, courses, workshops, lectures and other training materials to help designers level-up.

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