A few thoughts on pricing

In the long run, to be the cheapest is a refuge for people who don’t have the flair to design something worth paying for, who don’t have the guts to point to their product or their service and say, ‘this isn’t the cheapest, but it’s worth it.’
Seth Godin

Money, Venice BeachMonopoly mascot, via Thomas Galvez

Price accurately, identify scope creep, communicate points clearly, and bill for every moment worked. I don’t propose unethical behavior, but failing to bill for your time, cheats everyone.
Eric Karjaluoto

A client recently asked me if I could design a cheap logo (for a restaurant). I asked him if he could make me some really foul-tasting food, to which he replied ‘Probably, but why would I want to? My business is…’ He didn’t finish the sentence, as he’d got the point.
Richard Knobbs

I’ve given you my price and it’s the price that I need to charge to bring a deep sense of obligation to the job. Will I work for less? Probably. Can you negotiate with me? Sure. We can have that type of relationship if you really want me to be that type of designer and you want to be that type of client.
Blair Enns

More on design pricing:
The dark art of pricing by Jessica Hische
Picasso and pricing your work on davidairey.com
Saying “no” by Jason Santa Maria (a great 20-minute talk on valuing your time)

22 responses

  1. I agree on all accounts. Now please point me in the direction of the caliber of clients who would appreciate these rationales and responses. Because THAT’S my problem right now; finding right-minded clients.

    Identity designers don’t openly share what they charge on average (a problem in and of itself), but we could at least open a dialogue about where and how we usually find our work and those wonderful clients who understand you get what you pay for.

    Help!

  2. Ralston,

    I started out working for anybody without any real idea of what I was doing or how much I should charge. I used all the fancy terms I could get my hands on in order to show clients how capable and knowledgeable I was (both of which were untrue). The result was I did crappy work for confused clients and made hardly any money.

    Changing my approach by using plain English, explaining that branding is more than making things look pretty, giving examples of how a new identity could help the client, explaining the scope of the project, helping clients define what they need and why, and listening very closely to their concerns has helped me enormously. If I do all that and the client is still arguing about the price, I politely refuse the project. This hurt at first, because I need money, but it’s helped in the long run.

    I’ve usually found clients through recommendations from previous clients or people in the industry who know me. I rarely get a cold call, and I don’t work with that many clients as I only work with one person at a time. I charge by the project based on how long I think it will take (I used to vastly underestimate the time needed), what’s involved, whether or not I need to work with other designers, developers, consultants, etc (if the project is beyond what I can do), and how big the client is.

    Hope this helps and, I agree, a dialogue is a great idea.

    – Richard

  3. The first question many people ask me when they find out I’m a designer is “Are you expensive?” Wrong question. Ask me “Are you good?”

    These are all great points but in my opinion the food analogy is flawed because the client asked for a cheap logo, not a bad one. I think Richard should have asked for cheap food, not foul-tasting food.

    Cheap food, made with cheap ingredients, cheap utensils and little time, isn’t necessarily foul-tasting. In fact, a great chef will make it taste good (mostly).

    Anyway good on you Richard for making your point. :)

    I’ll be honest, I know I can come up with a decent logo if I work cheap, without proper reasearch, spending little time. And it’ll work but it won’t be ideal. It’s shocking how many clients are content with that.

    • Andrea Austoni: Working “cheaply”, when you can actually put out decent-quality work in a short amount of time means that you are basing your value on an hourly rate, and selling yourself short. This is the big mistake. When a client asks me how long something will take (or how long something took), I will say something like “5 hours and 40 years” because the only reason I can do things so quickly with the end-result being worthwhile is because of the investment I have made over many years in honing my skills. That investment is worth a lot more than the actual time spent in hours on any given project. Also, concerning a logo – you are not just selling a “design” – you are giving someone a copyright to that work, which should be valued in proportion to the worth of the business it is representing. It is the face of a business you are creating, and it should represent that company over many years if it is successful – not just an ad that will run for a month. If you cannot explain this to the prospective client, then you’re better off passing on them because they will not value your experience and expertise and you will always be haggling.

  4. First you have to ask yourself how much is my education, experience and most importantly how much is my time worth. If you can come to terms with it yourself and feel you are offering a price that reflects those points you will have an easier time telling clients.

    I also believe that you need to be up front and personal with your clients and explain about research, strategy etc. So they understand that design is a investment for their company and not just something they can get because it looks good. I think there is a big gap between what we as designers know a well designed Identity can do and what business owners think a design is for. If we can close that gap, perhaps we can make them understand the value of a good design.

  5. Hey, Richard.

    Your care and wisdom are so appreciated. You took the time to address my message and that means a lot to me. Thank you.

    I agree with and practice everything you mentioned in your second paragraph. It took me 14 years of bumpy but evolutionary growth as a creative to adopt those practices, but adopt I have. And with zero regret. Honest plain English communication, explained scope and value of a project, working with a mindfully tiny number of clients at one time, only working with people on missions I believe in, and kindly turning down work from people who simply can’t see the value in what I produce. These are a few of the precepts that shape who I am as an identity designer.

    However, it is your third paragraph that holds the key for me here. Perhaps my frustration has caused me to desperately want a quick, fast, find-the-perfect-client-here resource. And perhaps that doesn’t exist. I do love the reminder, though. That great friendships and good associations, procured over time and with work, are the main sources of new opportunities. New opportunities that come from people who’ll more easily understand who I am, what I do and why it matters. I’ve lost sight of that in my desperation.

    I’ll keep working on those genuine friendships and associations. I’ll keep doing good work and telling the stories of those works to help build a clear reputation. And I’ll keep praying and trusting God that I am led to the people and opportunities that prove what I’ve long since come to believe; good work begets good work.

    Thanks again, Richard.
    +Ralston

  6. Waiting for this topic, looking forward to reading everyone’s opinion. Raising ones prices just for the sake of getting more money is wrong. You should have the talent and work experience to justify your prices.

  7. On the subject of where good clients come from.

    I designed a 30th birthday card for a friend’s brother on his behalf as a favor.

    I didn’t see him for 5 or so years. Now he runs a marketing business and sends me all the good jobs (please note: they are not always good ;)

    The point is that a small act of kindness and donation of time has fed my family for the last 2 years.

  8. Likewise, Richard, I said yes to every project I could find when I started working for myself, and as a result made a ton of mistakes that cost me time and money and stress. But I learned.

    Andrea, part of it comes down to what you’re happy to work on. A lot of people want me to create a logo in isolation, but I’m in a position that suits me well where I can wait for the projects that involve more.

    Martin, yep, I agree about that gap.

    Ralston, have you seen my second book? (Shameless.) It goes into quite a lot of depth on how to win the clients you want.

  9. Hey, David. Indeed I have read your book (no need for shame—it’s well worth the plug given the wealth of resources within!). But its been a while and I feel I need to revisit its contents.

    I think the biggest challenge for me now is remember that meaningful growth is often a slow, steady process. It can be frustrating for me enduring the time it takes to build an attractive reputation among former clients, friends and industry associates, but folks like you, Richard and many other creatives are constant reminders for me of the marathon’s worth.

    I’m appreciative of your constant help, David, and will continue to run the race set before me with endurance.

  10. Great read. I try to work at the high end of the pricing spectrum so clients don’t seek my services purely due to cost. I’ve found these types of clients don’t need to be “sold”, they already understand the value of thoughtful design.

  11. I’m a beginner designer without many projects in use, but identity design is something I love and, like some of you have mentioned, I also need money, so I took all the jobs I could get. But when I read all the comments here, professional brand creators with years of experience, I’ve thought I should be more assertive and incorporate a certain degree of minimum requirements for the clients.

    The last logo I did was for photography studio. After the brief, the designing and reviewing, I showed three propositions (very different approach on all of them) and talked with the client. I got that “meh” response and strict instructions how to put something in the logo and how it was supposed to look. Long story short, I’ve said to the client, that I won’t make a crappy logo (he wants a ton of ridiculous stuff to be included), because I could not force myself to do so.

    As a professional designer I want to deliver something that will be good for the firm, his business, and not something just flashy and (in his opinion) cool looking. I said that I know what I’m doing, and if he knows it better, that it’s fine by me – he can design it himself. I kindly refused further cooperation. And you know what? A week later, the client had a change of heart. Suddenly he understood, that my years of study and experience are not for show. That I charge him and deliver something, that maybe isn’t entirely right for him personally, but it’s damn right for his business.

    In my country (Poland) there is a joke about accurate pricing for your work – I’m not the author, but I’ll keep this analogy in my heart for the rest on my life ;-) Here it goes:

    A guy goes to a mechanic and says:
    – something’s wrong with the engine. It makes funny noises and stuff…
    The mechanic starts the car, listens to the noises, turns off the car. He grabs a hammer and delivers a mighty blow to the engine! He starts the car and the noises are gone. He says:
    – It’ll be $200.
    – WHAT?! $200 for a hammer slam?
    – No, no, no. A hammer slam is for $10. The other $190 is for me, knowing where to hit.

    PS.
    Sorry for grammar and spelling errors that might have occured.

    PS.2
    David, I love your 1st book. I’ll definitely buy this new one :-) Regards.

  12. Really great conversation, both the quotes and subsequent comments.

    It seems like it tends to boil down to confidence and clear communication skills during the courting/negotiation process. While it does hurt to lose a potential client over money/pricing, that scenario inherently implies that it wasn’t the perfect fit anyway. (Though the bills still have to get paid.)

  13. Well I confess I am willing to design a logo for $50, for a good cause or small business. But I still put a lot of work into it. I’m not into clip-art or vector packs. Although I do have a font that seems to provide a unique logo for every character on the keyboard! (I havent used any of these, but I am sure tempted.) I went to college but I dont have a degree. I have been an artist since I was a little kid, and design is just a natural choice for me. Since I have kids I can stay at home with them this summer and tinker with the designs. It’s working out OK but I find myself wishing for some kind of political turmoil to occur that would cut Pakistan and India off from doing business with American companies. Selfish of me, but I do great work and its being undervalued all the time. I’m not slow I’m meticulous, putting in way too much time on minor details sometimes. But I’m still a professional graphic designer, and anyone who disagrees can go eat some cheese, I’m doing this.

  14. That’s a great anecdote, Paweł. It reminds me of the story of Picasso drawing a picture of a woman: http://www.davidairey.com/picasso-and-pricing-your-work/

    I’ve had a few people say “you just draw pictures” or “you just write a few words” to question why I charge what they see as a lot. As I’d rather not work with such people I don’t mind telling them their attitude is rather ignorant. It’s like saying Cristiano Ronaldo “just kicks a ball about”. It ignores the hard work, knowledge and ongoing effort we put into our work. It also disregards the enormous impact our work can have on their business.

    Now if somebody would pay me what Ronaldo gets they can say anything they like. :)

  15. You know, auto mechanics has been a hobby of mine for many years. I don’t believe any mechanical problem with an internal combustion engine can be fixed with a tap of a hammer. The parts are generally bolted or screwed together, requiring the use of a wrench or screwdriver to make any repairs. So, while amusing, Pawel’s anecdote reflects an overly simplistic attitude towards what should be regarded as a finely perfected skill. The story could be modified to include the tightening of a bolt on the valve cover, for example, in order to be more plausible.
    Although it is true that tapping the starter with a hammer is sometimes a good way to re-set a sticky solenoid. However, if this had been the problem, the engine would not be making a funny noise, it would be failing to start.

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