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How to Accurately Estimate a Graphic Design Job

My graphic design company gets requests from freelance designers frequently about advice on how much to charge for design jobs. Accurately bidding on design jobs is easily the hardest part of this business. I've been doing this for quite some time now with what I consider to be pretty good success. Bidding on jobs gets easier the more you do it, because with each prospective client you get a little better at feeling out their individual needs.

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule that can be used over and over again. You're not going to get every job you bid on and you probably don't want to. However, no designer can afford to spend large amounts of time putting together proposals that don't get accepted. I'm sure any freelance graphic designer with a mortgage can verify this. Sure, part of accurately bidding on design jobs comes from experience but there are some things you can do to help streamline your bidding process to weed out time wasters and land more legitimate clients.

The first thing you should do is know what the other advertising agencies, design companies and freelance designers in your area are charging so that you can establish a guideline for what is a fair and acceptable hourly rate or flat fee. You don't want to charge too much but you don't want to be known as the cheapest in town either. I would personally rather bid too high than too low.

When you speak with a client about a new job make sure that you get as much information from them as possible. From this information you should be able to ballpark the time involved based on previous projects. Yes, I know every job is different, but at least this gives you a place to start.

It's been my experience that the majority of clients want to know a hard cost for the finished work and not an hourly rate. Sometimes an hourly rate can even scare potential clients off simply because it's too open ended. To bid a flat rate effectively, set an hourly rate for yourself based on what is competitive to your area while allowing you to operate your business profitably. Compare your hourly rate to the actual time spent on a flat rate proposal for a good way to know if you're profitable in the jobs you're bidding.

One thing that I do that really helps land a job is to determine price ranges for specific types of jobs like; logo design, post cards, basic website design, e-commerce sites, etc. I've found this to be useful on two levels. First, I have established a slight buffer for myself when working on the project. Second, I have found potential clients to be more receptive of a price scale, because they feel like you are open to working with them on getting them to that lower end of the scale. This, of course, is entirely up to the client and how they affect the flow of the project and approval process.

The key to coming up with a reasonable price scale is to use the information that the client provides you about the job. This information will help determine where they may fall in your price range. Use your own design experience to help determine the potential hours that may go into a job.

For instance, a client wants you to bid on a logo, letterhead, envelope and business card design package. This could take you anywhere from 6 to 16 hours depending on the client and complexity of the job. So, you estimate the job at 16 hours and a rate of, we'll say $65 an hour, which equals $1,040. Hourly rates and design fees are going to vary from state to state and location to location, but here's what your client proposal may look like;

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