Freelance Friday 08: Quoting and Time

Right, this week and next, since we’ve been very loosely following the course of a project here, I’ll be chatting a bit about quoting for a potential job (whether that be giving a quote yourself, or evaluating what you can offer for a client’s set budget).

Not everyone approaches quoting in the same way. And every job is different, so no approach will cover every situation. Perhaps the most useful thing one can have is a few trusted colleagues who can offer advice  when you get a tricky query. There are a lot of illuminating posts by other freelancers out there though, which can really help, and I’ll link a few of those at the bottom of this post.

Next week, I’ll discuss giving a range of quotes, and adjusting them while still asserting the value of your work. This week, I want to talk about the usefulness of quotes based on time.

Disclaimer: As always, this is based purely on personal experiences and approaches, and should not be considered as business advice, legal or otherwise. Any use you make of posts on this blog are entirely at your own risk.


 Covering your time

In her fantastic post The Dark Art of Pricing (a better description, I haven’t heard!), Jessica Hische discusses how an hourly rate should be just part of the equation. It’s an illuminating post, and brings home how important license considerations are. The client will get different value out of the work based on how it is used, and it should be priced accordingly. (See my Licensing Basics comic for a quick look at why the artwork should have a different price for different uses.)

However, I would wager that almost every freelancer, in their very earliest years, has done a job where they thought the fee was adequate, and then realized as the hours ticked away that when all added up, they were actually working for less than minimum wage. So I wanted to go into that time-based portion of the equation a little more.

When someone on a budget contacts you with a query for a small job, quoting for it can feel a bit like casting around in the dark, especially early on without years of experience to draw on. You can end up going for a number that sounds decent, or evaluating a number from a possible client on those grounds.

I want to see freelancers paid their worth. And an important part of that is making sure that those starting out aren’t working for below minimum wage (since, horribly, they will probably be asked to). I think starting with a time-based calculation can help with that.

Their are various tools to help you determine a reasonable hourly rate (here’s one ). If you’re starting out, you may have a day job, a financially supportive partner, be in education, or other factors that will lower your expenses and mean you can have a lower hourly rate. A lower-on-the-scale rate can be appropriate when starting out (I, like many people, started lower than I should have, but have simply continued to raise my rates a little with each quote, in accordance with increased skill and experience). Opinions will vary on what’s appropriate. I’d say between £15 and £25 when starting out (£15 is probably on the low end of what most would recommend, but (please don’t skewer me!) I don’t think it’s necessarily innapropriate for early jobs without commercial licenses).

Time-based rates

Time-based rates don’t need to just be hourly. I quote hourly, daily, weekly and monthly rates, which makes hiring me a little more affordable for those with larger jobs (a bulk discount in a way; this makes sense to me as the longer a job is, the more time I’ve got work, am not having to handle the excess time on communication that lots of small jobs take, etc). I’m of course hesitant to throw out numbers, as a) peoples’ rates vary so widely, and b) as I said, they increase in tandem with my skill and experience, so they’re only the rates I might use as part of a quote at this particular time.

But, I know how useful it can be to see some actual numbers and get a sense of what others charge, so here we go. Current time-based rates, which are not the full quote but form my base when calculating a quote: £35/hr; £275/day; £1000/week; £2500/month. (Again, these will be lower than many would recommend, and they’re not what I want to charge forever, but I think they’re reasonable for the few-years-in, later-part-of-early-career stage I’m in. And they’re a darn sight higher than what I would’ve quoted when I started!) Again, don’t hold me to these in future, as they’ll continue to creep up as is appropriate.

I think time-based rates can be invaluable in giving you a minimum base when you quote, a “not (much) lower than this at the least, to cover my time” – and license considerations can be added from there.

When I get a query in, I first think about how long it would take me to just do the artwork. Then I double that. That’s for a few reasons: Firstly, things pretty much always take longer than expected. Secondly, never underestimate the extra time taken by communication with the client before and during the job. Thirdly, it helps cover the time taken by adjustments to the work along the way (I make sure to be very clear about how many rounds of changes are included before extra fees kick in, as this can get out of control otherwise). You may even want to triple it, depending on how good (or bad) your time estimations are. To improve them, track the hours on your next few jobs, including everything – communication, changes, design/development, etc.

And that’s your base. What you have now can often be a way larger number than you’d have come up with if just trying to find a number that sounded about right. But because you’ve based it on your time, you know it’s reasonable, and can back it up with the time involved when quoting if need be.

Beyond that, the total quote will be affected by what usage the client wants. I’ll get into that a bit next week, when we have a look at offering multiple quotes.

Links and Resources

To wind up, here are a few great posts on pricing:

 This post on Zero2Illo is a great example of hourly rates being used in a quote for a large, high-value commission.

Jessica Hische’s Dark Art of Pricing post

A graphic design post (from Hensher Creative), but with applications to illustration too, and a great reminder of the stages and costs that go into the work and need to be accounted for. (via Zero2Illo)

The Illlustrators Guide to Law and Business Practice book, from the AOI (UK)

The Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook from the Graphic Artists Guild (USA)


Questions and comments very welcomed, especially on a topic like this where approaches vary so much!

2 thoughts on “Freelance Friday 08: Quoting and Time

  1. Vicki Paull (@Wikivic)

    I love this post! <3

    I could go on about this stuff for days – its so great to be able to read more about it from another person's point of view.

    It'll be great to read your post on multiple quotes! I've found with games work, this can be invaluable as a way to discuss how different approaches to the art can affect pricing. Say someone wants their game illustrated all in a full-on fantasy painting style – well, that would probably be pretty expensive as it would all be detailed painting. However, I can send them a document detailing how we can plan the super amazing box art painting to be re-used in other areas of the game, and how we could use some very effective flat colour work in certain areas and bring the cost down (if they like).

    This is great for Kickstarter projects too, as right off the bat it gives people ideas for what they could do with stretch goals and/or special editions.

    Oh, and one more comment to finish off with: I think its important to practice a bit of level headedness and self control if discussing pricing with a new client. If you send them a quote for what you consider to be a fair amount with a fair license and they reply wanting half of that money and full copyright, you might think 'oh no, I obviously charged too much' and accept a bad deal in a knee-jerk fashion. But if you remember that you calculated your quote based on a fair wage to live on, in general if they want to pay you way less than you're worth (perhaps after a little bit of negotiating), its best to just part amicably at that stage.

    1. sally Post author

      Thanks for the thoughts Vicki! Totally agree on all of that – and it actually hit a lot of what I’m going to mention next week!

      Multiple quotes also means a chance to potentially keep clients who want to work with you but have a lower budget, by showing what you *can* offer for that lower budget..they may think you’re worth the compromise, or realize they didn’t need all they were asking for! It lets you offer something within budget to the hypothetical client in your last paragraph too – and as you say, if they don’t accept that, sometimes it really is best to just walk away!

      I had to stop myself pretty much just basically writing next week’s post here! Like you I could go on for days! Gets me fired up, this stuff!

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