Freelance Rate: Should You Charge Hourly or Per Project?

29th October 2019

For as long as there have been freelancers, there has been the great freelance rate pricing debate – do you charge your client by the hour, or give them a fixed project price?

How do you ensure that you’re getting paid enough for your freelance work to be profitable, without scaring clients away with a seemingly enormous invoice?

Annoyingly, there isn’t a magic button you can press which will tell you how to charge for your work – but we have got the next best thing; An in-depth breakdown of the benefits of each option, and the best times to use them.

Hourly Rates

The comfort blanket of the freelance rate world! Choosing to charge by the hour often feels like the safest option, and it’s pretty much accepted as an industry standard. Just like an actual comfort blanket, sometimes it can be a little bit stale, and sometimes you need something a little bit more robust – like a duck-feather duvet, or a project rate fee.

However, there are some very good reasons why so many freelancers choose to charge an hourly rate, and sometimes it can be the best way to charge. Read on to learn more…

Less Risk

If you’re taking on a bigger project or being contracted for on-going work, it can be difficult to estimate exactly how much time it will take. Throw into the mix an awkward client who sends endless revisions or even pivots the whole project – and you’ve got yourself a pricing nightmare.

This is where an hourly freelance rate becomes your best friend. You can’t accidentally quote too low for a project if you know that all your hours are being invoiced, and any time-consuming edits will be coming out of your client’s pocket – not yours.

Easy to Secure

This one can apply to any contract but is especially true about brand new clients, who can be understandably wary of paying a big up-front bill for a freelancer with no proven track record with them.

An hourly freelance rate makes you seem more affordable – psychologically it can feel safer to pay someone £30 per hour, rather than £150 up-front, even if the work ends up taking 6 hours and it costs more in the long-term.

More Control

Your time is valuable, and it’s likely that you will have several clients for at any given moment, so you don’t want to spend hours making minimal changes when you could be getting on with more important tasks on other projects.

That’s not to say that revisions aren’t important, but there is a reason why you’ve been hired, and we’ve all known clients who have considered themselves experts in a field that they have no experience in. This can end up in pointless, frustrating revisions. If a client is paying for your time these are much less likely to happen as they start to consider your time as just as valuable as you do.

Project Rates

Charging per project can feel intimidating if you’ve never done it before, and it certainly comes with more risks than charging an hourly freelance rate. However, it can open doors to new possibilities and even improve your productivity.

If you’re looking to shake up your pricing and potentially even earn more, it can be worth exploring the benefits of project rates. We’ve had a look and found some of the best reasons to use this pricing method.

Simplicity

Even if you’re using software like Harvest, tracking your time is undeniably fussy, boring and complicated. How many times have you been working on something for a good couple of hours before you realise you haven’t been clocking it up? This is particularly annoying if you’re the kind of person who likes to hop from one project to another after an hour or two.

You run the risk of being seriously underpaid if you’re not logging every single minute – and you’d be surprised how quickly your time can add up. Charging one fixed rate means that you can focus on getting the work done, rather than using calculators and timers to figure out exactly what you’re owed.

Profitability

Charging by the hour is a clear-cut way to calculate what to charge your clients, but project pricing is a much greyer area. Whilst this can be risky, it also gives you the opportunity to secure some very lucrative contracts, as you can base the value of a project on what the final product is worth to the client, rather than simply man-hours.

Market-lead pricing can sometimes mean a huge profit for a freelancer. For example, a client may consider good website design to be worth £2,000 or more due to the amount of new business it will bring. So, if you can design a site in 10 hours or less, you’re coming out with a rate of £200 per hour. Not too shabby!

Productivity

When you know a client is paying for results, rather than time, you’re much less likely to spend your day doing mindless admin tasks or checking the top trending hashtags on Twitter under the pretence of ‘research’.

Nothing feels better than absolutely smashing it and finishing a project early, knowing that you’re not going to sacrifice your pay just because you were extra productive. This means you have the ability to free up your time to spend on marketing yourself, working on additional projects, or learning new skills.

Solution

Here it is – that magic button that will tell you how to price your work! The answer is… you should work with a combination of hourly and project freelance rates, depending on the client and the work.

A good rule of thumb is to start with an hourly rate to scope out a client and allow them to get comfortable with you, before eventually moving on to a project rate once you know roughly how long it takes you to complete a project with them.

For on-going work which can last anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years, stick with an hourly rate. And if you find yourself in a bit of a bind where you know you’re going to go way over schedule with a project rate, suggest that you start adding an hourly rate onto the invoice for every additional revision.

Good luck, and whatever you do – make sure your clients know that you’re worth it! Why not check out some of our other freelance advice posts, like our 5 Marketing Tips to Boost Your Brand.