Graphic & Web Design: Rates and allowances
Find out what other freelancers charge; contact agencies and ask them directly what they usually pay. It may be by the hour, day or on a project-by-project basis. 'Mystery shopper' research will help you determine what the local 'going rate' is for the services you provide in your area. Use online forums to ask other freelancers to see what they charge.
You then need to determine what you need to charge not only to break even but to make a profit after overheads have been deducted. Bear in mind that only a percentage of weekly time will be billable; even if your books are full, you will still need time to chase payments, follow up new business leads and do any other necessary admin. So base the rate on a feasible number of billable hours too. (Obviously, make sure you understand what your tax deductions will be too.)
Quoting and invoicing
Meeting the client before quoting will allow you to better gauge the value of the work to the client. How and where is this work going to be used, how long will the work continue to deliver the benefit for which you are quoting (i.e. the durability of the work), can you increase your service levels to pitch at a slightly higher cost? These are all areas in which you'll get a much better feel if you can get in front of the client before quoting.
Always be very clear what expenses will be charged to the client from the outset, whether it be couriers to deliver proofs, travel expenses etc. And also choose your estimate wording carefully - make sure you indicate that the quote is an estimate, giving the most accurate figure you can offer based on the brief, but that unforeseen services or additional development requested by the client will be agreed and charged in addition.
Other tips that may work for you include adding in an 'admin' charge. This is a basic fee that some agencies charge to cover stock/ink, calls to the client, postage and any other administrative expenses. Obviously, this is down to you if you charge it, but adding say, £25-£50 to your quote will ensure the consumables you go through to service your client through won't eat into your profit.
Finally, if you are unfamiliar with the client, and the graphics job is of a substantial enough budget, it may be worth adding a 10% contingency fee on to the bottom of the quote to cover any client requested changes or further development work. Be very clear that this is only charged if used and that you will advise the client once they have tripped over into these charges. As that figure is already in mind as a possible charge, it can make it easier to charge for author's corrections at the 11th hour, which many clients seem to think you should offer for free, even though you spent 4 hours and 3 trips implementing these changes.
Another consideration is charging a proportion of the fee in advance of starting work. For web design, request 25% of the estimated subtotal up front, 50% when the test site goes live and the balance at the end of the project.
Rush schedules dictated by the client should also command a higher fee.
If you're starting out, don't be too precious about what you charge. It can be a tough market out there and you need to be competitive. You want to be seen to be as flexible as possible but at the same time, don't let people take advantage. Stand your ground and don't be afraid to say 'no' if you feel that you're being taken advantage of.
Nick Welsh - bespoke design for print and the internet Mono Industries
More on graphic designing as a freelancer.