This story is typical – you learn web design by building your website. A friend, family member, or co-worker becomes intrigued by your new skill.
Eventually, they ask you to make a website for them. Your first thought is – how much do I charge for a website?
If they don’t expect you to work for free (which is also common), their first thought is similar – what does a website cost me?
Once you have the confidence to deliver a website, it’s natural to go one step further and wonder how much money can I make by selling websites to local businesses? Is web design freelancing an option to generate a side-income?
The answer is YES – but what you charge for a website depends on many factors!
You can launch a website for free on a generic platform, or find an agency to create a major brand redesign for $10,000 – and everything in between.
Right off the bat, here are two recommendations for freelance pricing:
- DO NOT Charge Per Hour
- DO NOT List Your Prices
Let’s dig into the details, and I’ll explain why.
Web Design Pricing Structures
Just like you, a potential web design client is going to wonder immediately what they must pay to get the website they envision. It’s going to be the first question they ask 95% of the time – before giving you any details on what they want. These are the main ways to charge for your services.
Average Price: $50 – $100/hour
You absolutely want to consider what you make hourly after all is said and done with a website project, but do everything you can to avoid pricing per hour.
The reason for that is simple. Pretty much every other pricing structure provides a known cost for your client where they understand what they are going to pay in advance. It gives them a reference point that they can wrap their head around.
With an hourly rate, you may do the work upfront and then send an invoice, but if it wasn’t clear how long it would take, they might have “sticker shock.”
And obviously over time, you’re going to get better at whatever you’re doing, so you shouldn’t get compensated less when you become more efficient per hour!
Average Price: Custom Quote
The project could be a one-page brochure website, you might need to set up a signup form and write an email sequence, you may need to implement advanced tracking, it could be an e-commerce website selling physical products.
Bottom line, it’s best to have a conversation with your potential client to work out these specifics before giving them a price range. That way, you understand what work you have to perform before launching the website and estimate your time/cost accordingly.
Average Price: $500 – $5,000 (one-time)
Creating packages is a great option when you work with one business industry. The projects become similar enough that you can take out the core essentials that work for any business in your chosen niche. The benefits of this pricing style include:
- You standardize your work making it easier to outsource
- You make it easy to understand for your potential client
EXAMPLE: Create a business website package for $2,000 – $3,000 that includes up to 10 pages, paired with domain registration, hosting, Facebook page and cover photo, logo design, business cards, etc. This is a really unique package that will set them up online.
Plus if they don’t want to manage the website or social media accounts, guess who can do that for a monthly charge (see section below)?
The great thing about the web is even though there’s a million services that do all these things, you’re the one that’s going to hand-select the tools that best fit your clients and manage them. As you get experience, you’ll learn which methods are working best and you can double-down on those to see better results.
Average Price: $50 – $500/month
In my opinion, this is the best method that may take a little experience until you feel comfortable finding clients willing to pay you monthly, often for years.
High-end clients realize the potential of a website and have a desire to keep it updated with fresh content regularly. In these cases, you can build a great relationship with local business owners and amplify their vision with your expertise.
It doesn’t necessarily take world-class work on your end. In my experience, paying attention to the simple details and staying active over a long period are the most significant influences to drive more traffic to a small business website.
Your ability to charge monthly increases when you diversify your skills.
Websites are the entry point to learning so many useful adjacent skills like search engine optimization (SEO), code, graphic design, copywriting, marketing, advertising, and more. Once you have a bit of knowledge in a few of these areas, the value you bring becomes a no-brainer to the right types of clients.
2 Types of Freelance Clients
Most people will fall in between good or bad, though it’s useful to consider the two extremes as your reference point.
The Worst Clients
The less you charge, the more your client will attempt to take advantage of you. Psychologically it is weird because the more you pay for something, the more you value it and the less you complain.
So if you have a low price, people are going to see how much they can squeeze out of you. Whereas if you price yourself at a premium level, you’ll have more leeway to over-deliver and provide the “wow” factor to please your client.
Low prices = Cheap customers
This can be a hard concept to let sink in, and even harder to implement. You may need to tap into your network for the first jobs to build your portfolio before you feel comfortable asking for a higher rate or price.
But one way or another, you need to get to that premium level because if you’re the lowest-cost, you are a commodity and therefore replaceable.
The perfect examples of this are big service companies offering the lowest level website creation packages like Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, Vistaprint, and GoDaddy. They usually start at $10 – $20/month, but you still need to learn their system and add content to the website.
The Best Clients
You want business owners who don’t want to deal with managing it themselves.
There’s plenty of them in the real world, and they are the people you want to become an asset for and develop an on-going relationship. That is what builds trust along the way, and they are the ones that will value what you do because they see the benefit of having a website as a lead generation method in their marketing toolbox.
It’s usually not black and white when it comes to figuring out whether a person is going to be a good client or a bad one, however, these are the top 3 signs that I’ve noticed within my top web design clients:
- They care about all aspects of their brand image
- They are obsessed with improving their business
- They take an interest in how the online world works
Perhaps these seem apparent, however, I’ve talked with my fair share of business owners who have an end-goal of doing nothing and reaping all of the rewards.
Handling a client’s expectations is a large part of working for yourself.
The best clients are no doubt more clear-headed and realistic with the results you can bring to their business. They understand that the best outcome depends on work from both of you.
Ironically, the cheap clients pay less and still believe they deserve an “easy button” solution with no effort on their end. Even if you explain this on multiple occasions, they’ll always blame you when things don’t improve.
The earlier you can spot a bad client and keep them from hoarding your time, the better.
If you enjoy working with a client, hold onto them.
Estimating Your Time & Value
Now in terms of gathering the right information to provide an accurate quote, you want to create a web design client questionnaire.
This is what you will send to customers or even just give them a call and go through each question over the phone. Be sure to write down their answers and feel free to ask spontaneous questions if they pop into your mind.
When you have an idea what the project entails and you present your proposal with the price, make sure you give them a bullet list with everything that’s going to come with the website. If you don’t, a lot of times people are going to push you to do more, or say, “Oh, I thought that was included with the price”.
Be VERY clear about what needs to be accomplished so you both fully understand the project.
That includes a list of things they may need to provide you.
EXAMPLE: The website will be 10-pages, one layout for the homepage with an image slider, another layout for all the inner pages, 1 company e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org), 1 contact form which forwards to their e-mail, and they must provide all the photos and wording for the website. Simple, yet provides a solid structure for what you need to accomplish and what isn’t within the scope of the contract or “handshake” agreement.
Pricing is really determined by two things:
- The Value to the Client
- Your Own Value on Your Time
Notice how neither of these relate to the actual details of the website.
Let’s start with your time…
I want you to think about how long it’s going to take you to complete the project. List out the high-level steps that you need to accomplish, i.e. register domain, setup website hosting, install WordPress, find a professional theme, customize with their logo and colors, etc.
Once you come up with the estimated hours it will take, double it.
Or at least tack on a few extra hours, because more often than not, in the beginning, you will underestimate the effort and communication required. I find this to be true with myself, even to this day.
Once you become comfortable with the process, you tend to have the approach that you can do anything quickly. And you might be able to do a lot, but there are always technical challenges that arise mid-project or a new idea from the client that you need to implement. So be careful of being overly ambitious and underpricing yourself.
So now that you have an idea of how long it’s going to take, how much do you want to make per hour? What is going to pay for your expenses and your lifestyle?
This isn’t about being a baller and charging $150/hour from Day 1.
It’s about knowing you have a valuable skill to offer, and in order to use that skill for someone else’s business, they need to compensate you to live comfortably.
That may be $25/hour now, but it can change at any time or for every new potential client – it’s completely up to you. That’s also why I recommended keeping your prices guarded and also pricing for each project that involves some type of customization or effort on your part.
Multiply your rate by the estimated hours: $100/hr x 10 hrs = $1,000
Obviously, over time as you get better at what you do, you will increase your hourly rate and also find ways to become more efficient throughout the creation process. This may involve creating a systematic process that you go through for each project, or it could simply be outsourcing the repetitive tasks.
Now that we discussed your own time value, what is the value to the client?
As a real world example, a website for a newly created yoga studio will not be as valuable as one for an established divorce lawyer. The lawyer may get clients paying them $10,000 – $20,000 each, so getting leads to them through their website is extremely valuable.
You want to focus on the businesses that already have money coming in offline, and would greatly benefit from adding a website to their marketing arsenal. Those are the businesses that have the willingness to pay you and that get more value out of your services.
The nice thing is those small business owners are often much less of a hassle.
They don’t have elaborate technical ideas that will be over your head, they don’t need to have a meeting to make a decision, they don’t micromanage what you do. They will simply let you do your thing and even fund your ability to learn and test online marketing strategies!
Are You a Designer or an Entrepreneur?
I’ve found that web designers will fall into one of three categories:
The Business Savvy Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneur-types don’t care about getting in the trenches with design. They want to make money. They’re the ones using professional WordPress templates, adding text/photos, but not doing any customizing. Honestly, with some of the pro themes available, you don’t have to because they are beautiful. They sell websites to businesses that need them. And for a nice profit.
The Uber Creatives
On the other end of the spectrum, you have more creative folks that come up with an idea and design it from scratch. They then create an HTML website or WordPress theme from their design. Entirely custom = expensive and time intensive.
Stuck in the Middle
I believe I’m somewhere in the middle, and I recommend you find your spot there too. You want to start with a clean looking WordPress theme for the vast majority of small business web sites. But more than design, I’m looking for layout. If I find an OK design with the layout I want, I can then spend a couple of hours making relatively easy customizations to make sure the website looks unique. I don’t like a website that mirrors the WordPress theme demo.
As someone with no design background and perfectionist tendencies, I have to catch myself spending an absurd amount of time on extremely minor details like picking between shades of blue. I’ve been working hard to just pick something and go with it… fast is better than perfect!
If there is one takeaway, it’s that you want to focus on efficiency. I recommend tracking your time on the first projects so you have a concrete idea of how long it takes, and work to improve from there. That is how you make more money with less effort.
WordPress vs. Squarespace
Nowadays, the 3 most popular website builder platforms (outside of WordPress) include Squarespace, Wix, Weebly. And almost all hosting companies offer a version of their own starting with drag-and-drop design templates.
For quickly launching a website, there is nothing wrong with using these easy-to-use services.
However, if you are professionally building websites for other people or even an individual power user, WordPress is a preferred platform for many reasons.
With all website builders, you become locked into them as your hosting company and cannot transfer your design to another service.
However, WordPress is open-source, and your website is under your total control where you can change the domain or hosting providers anytime you want.
If you are coming into WordPress from web development or even graphic design, you probably have perfectionist tendencies. You are likely going to be limited to what you can customize by using web builder templates.
On the other hand, with WordPress, you can “hack” into the PHP/HTML/CSS code and solve any problem you can think of with enough knowledge and elbow grease.
One of the best parts of WordPress is its plugin directory. Software developers around the world let you use their customizations, and take an already excellent product to the next level.
WordPress plugins add functions to your website, whether it’s for performance, marketing, social, or otherwise.
It’s one area that website builders fall completely short.
RELATED: 15 Best WordPress Plugins
Perhaps most important to me is the ability to figure things out on your own. Because WordPress has been around for years with millions of users, there are forums across the internet answering questions that you’ll likely have as you create your first websites on WordPress.
When compared to most other business types, freelancing with web design is a fairly inexpensive way to start a business while working from home.
The main expenses that you’ll spend money on are:
Average Cost: $10 – $20/year per domain
I’ve always used GoDaddy for domain registration only, although you can go with any service provided they are easy-to-use with great support.
Average Cost: $300 – $500/year (unlimited)
This part of your freelancing business is flexible because you can invest in hosting that allows you to create unlimited websites or get individual plans each time you add a new web design client.
I currently use HostGator for many of my local small business website clients.
RELATED: Beginners Guide to Web Hosting & DNS
Web Design Tools & Training
Average Cost: $200 – $300/year
This might include premium WordPress themes/plugins, templates, tutorials or other useful tools that help you launch a website faster.
One of the best WordPress themes for beginners is Divi by Elegant Themes. They give you a drag-and-drop solution to build your own page layouts and customize every section.
Average Cost: $500 – $1,000/year
My current favorites include: Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, LastPass, Evernote, and Grammarly.
This is where you can pick and chose the right ones that help you perfect your business processes. Most of these fall around the $99/year mark and you can stack them together one-by-one as you earn more money as a freelancer.
How to Accept Payments as a Freelancer
Lastly (but some would say most importantly), how do you get your money?!
For a project-based fee, you should charge at least 50% upfront before doing any web design work, and the remaining 50% is due on or before launch day.
Other than exchanging information and ideas, I won’t invest hours of time without money deposited into my account. There are too many flaky people to do a ton of work without knowing the cash is coming. Not to say you should never do this – there are ALWAYS exceptions to any rule – but it’s more important when dealing with an individual that you don’t know or fully trust vs. an established company.
As a personal warning, I’ve had multiple business owners that have paid me the initial 50%, I finished about 80-90% of the project work, and they wouldn’t get in touch with me to put the final touches on the website. It was always, “Let’s review it soon” or “I’ll have those pictures over to you next week”.
It became a long game of back and forth where nothing was accomplished.
But I wasn’t empty-handed, I still made an OK hourly rate despite never launching those websites.
The other related lesson here is that money is more powerful than a contract.
People often fret when it comes to doing a website without a contract or they spend weeks overthinking what should be in a contract instead of meeting business owners who need a website.
Let me say this with the caveat that a contract of some sort (it can simply be an e-mail) is GREAT when it comes to turning a client down for work that wasn’t included with the original price. You can point to it and say, hey I told you XYZ would be in there and doing this is more work than we agreed to.
But think about a situation where someone stiffs you, like my situation above. Are you really going to get a lawyer involved because they didn’t follow the contract (which stipulates the project must be completed/paid in 90 days)?
Unless we are talking in the multiple thousands or higher, the answer is no.
So it’s best to meet these people in person if possible to build a level of trust. Or if that’s not possible, make sure they give you those Benjamins before you get your butt to work!
My first two customers went from one-time project work to a paid monthly retainer where I work on essentially whatever I see fit. That’s a much better situation than trying to be a master of litigation, let me tell you.
When you get a handful of raving clients, people will start coming to you because they will refer you.
Ultimately, the best part of working for yourself as a web designer is the learning experience you have. You work directly with business owners and you should be asking a lot of questions about their business. Not only will this give you more insight into how you can improve their website for their customers, but you’ll also be able to take their strategies and stories and use them for your own business.
Plus people like to talk about themselves, so they’ll like you even more when you are interested in them 🙂
Go from a web designer to a local marketing expert.
Don’t pigeonhole yourself or think you don’t have what it takes. I felt the same way at times, but I can assure you that you’ll learn a TON from your first handful of websites.
Especially when you know the important factors to look at, and that’s where I want to help you avoid mistakes!
Have a question on this topic or a personal experience with pricing to share? Leave your comment below…