Determining what to charge for design services is extremely subjective but some factors to consider are experience, the quality of your portfolio and client demand. When freelancing, I charge my personal clients a flat rate. When I work for agencies, I charge on a per hour basis. In Time and Money Management for Freelancers, I gave the following advice:
When giving a client quotes on a project, you’ll have to decide whether to charge a flat rate for the entire project or do it hourly. Both have implied benefits, but I usually just charge a flat rate since it helps a client know what to budget for upfront. Additionally, I like knowing from the start that I’m guaranteed a specific amount of money (I always require a half of the total down to begin work). When pricing by the hour, consider that you may end up cheating yourself because as you get faster, the same project you did a year ago might have taken 10 hours and now only takes 5. There’s no reason to set yourself up to learn less!
With each job accepted, you’re in a position to be creative and the goal is to make an idea tangible. Your ideas on how to best tackle the project might not come right away; a vision might take hours, even days. If you’ve charged a flat rate, it’s much fairer to the client in this respect.
With regards to charging people I know personally, I have an amazing group of friends that have supported me since the beginning. They include bloggers, web developers and photographers. While I usually charge them, they do get a discounted rate or, if it permits, we barter services. As an artist of any kind, your time is valuable and relationships should be about sharing and mutual inspiration.
I highly recommend community college! Some of the most talented designers that I know started out at community colleges. Besides being extremely affordable, community colleges tend to be geared towards the real world, meaning that they offer fairly flexible schedules that make working possible. When I decided to go back to school for graphic design in 2006, I didn’t have the budget for an art school or the time for another four year degree. I enrolled in a limited entry graphic design program and earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in less than two years. The class sizes were small, the teachers were very hands-on and after my first year, I began an internship at an agency that led to my first design job. Community college is a great place to start to learn the design basics; if you choose to continue your education, you can always transfer into a four year school afterwards.
Truth be told, I really don’t have any magical system. For photos that I have taken, everything lives in iPhoto. For edited photos and other images that I’ve collected from the internet, I simply keep a folder on my desktop called ‘Pictures’ and drop everything I find inspiring into it. Inside are a gazillion folders with specific categories (as seen above). About once a month, I try to set aside an hour and organize everything new that I’ve managed to collect.
Have a vision. Develop a brand name and an aesthetic as soon as possible. Stay consistent with your posting schedule. Invent columns and content that are unique to your blog. Be passionate about what you do. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge and unique outlook with the world. Try to respond to as many comments and emails as possible. When the going gets tough…keep going. Find a mentor. Remember that not everyone is going to love you or what you’re doing. Surround yourself with people who will be honest with you. Remember that at the end of the day, the internet isn’t reality. And, always stay true to yourself and your ethics no matter what offers get thrown your way.
For designers specifically, instead of just posting new projects and focusing 100% on self promotion, diversify your content by offering advice, tutorials and sharing work / internship experiences with readers.
Deciding what to charge often comes down to a case of supply versus demand. If you find yourself incredibly busy with customers lined up around the corner, raise your prices. At some point, if you are getting turned down repeatedly because your prices are ‘too high,’ back them down a bit if you are in need of work.
Everyone’s method for creating and presenting a portfolio will be different but I recommend always starting and ending with your best work. Other than that, create visual interest through showcasing a variety of mediums, projects, clients and design styles. If you’re not particularly excited about a project or comfortable discussing it, leave it out. And, portfolios are about quality, not quantity. A maximum of 10 to 15 projects is more than sufficient. If you need more portfolio-related advice, revisit 7 Tips for Creating a Print-Based Design Portfolio.