How Much is Your Time Worth?

Freelancers spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over how much to charge. But there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to pricing. It’s all completely subjective and dependent on a wide variety of factors, including what the market will bear, geographic location, timing, aggravation factor (or lack thereof) and your level of desperation (hopefully low to non-existent), just to name a few.

If you are selling creative services, one of the things that can get in the way of clear pricing is the belief that what you charge is related to your value as a person. Wrong! It has nothing to do with you.

For example, a client will often ask, “How much do you charge for a web site?” or “How much do you charge for a brochure?” They ask these questions as if they are buying shoes or tomatoes.

In fact, if you were selling shoes and a customer asked, “How much do you charge for these shoes?” you wouldn’t say, “I charge $100 for these shoes.” You would say, “These shoes cost $100.”

It’s the same with freelance or creative services. It has nothing to do with what “you charge.” It’s not about you, and it never will be. You must shift your mindset to think instead about what the product and the process costs. So when someone says, “How much do you charge for a web site?” take the “you” out of it and respond with, “A web site can cost $X.”

Clear pricing is based on a clear idea of what you are really selling. Many freelancers believe that what they are selling – and what clients are buying – is time. As a result, you price by the hour.

Pricing your services by the hour is easy. It’s clean, it’s orderly and it doesn’t require much math. But when you price by the hour, you are cheating yourself, especially in the long run.

You get better at what you do—sometimes a lot better—with time. A web site might take you five hours today when, two years ago, it may have taken twenty. But if you charge by the hour, as you get better and spend less time, you will earn less instead of more. Does that make sense?

Also, yours is a creative process. Not only is there no standard for how long it should take; there is a lot of “creativity” and inspiration involved. You have no idea how long it will take for your best ideas to come. They could take several hours of doodling and thinking and whatever you do for inspiration; or they could come right away. Should you be paid based on how long it takes for your ideas to gel? Is that how you should determine how much money you earn?

The answer, of course, is no. Because you are not selling your time. What you are selling is your years of experience, the effort you’ve expended developing your skills and talents, and your resulting expertise.

What you are selling is your brain, your attention and your creative imagination applied to a client’s specific problem, and that has a value. It’s not an objective value; in fact, it’s highly subjective, which makes it challenging to quantify.

Ultimately, what you are selling is peace of mind. You see, not many clients understand what they’re buying, and they know they don’t know. So it’s your job to make them comfortable and safe in the knowledge that you do understand and will take care of everything. If you do that, the good clients will choose you, even if you’re the highest bidder.

Excerpted from the forthcoming, The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing by Ilise Benun and Peleg Top, co-founders of Marketing-Mentor.com, a coaching program that helps creative professionals grow their business and get the clients they want. Sign up for their free “Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor”.

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