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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

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Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business
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Mar 13, 2023

The second most common question among graphic and web designers, after how to attract clients, is how much to charge for our services. No matter what price we settle on, we’re never sure it’s right.

Could you have gotten more for that job the client so readily agreed to? Probably. Is price the reason another client isn’t replying to the proposal you sent? It could be. No matter how long we work in this industry. I don’t think we will ever figure out the “right price.” But that’s ok if you feel adequately compensated for your work.

Getting paid $200 for a logo design is a great accomplishment for some designers. In contrast, other designers won’t consider a logo design project for under $2000. It all comes down to the value you feel you bring and the impression you give your clients.

But let’s look at this from the client’s point of view. From their perspective, what’s the difference between a $200 logo and a $2000 logo?

You may say it’s the value. It’s the experience of the designer, their skills and their knowledge. And I can’t argue with you there. More experienced designers do tend to charge more. But does that mean the experienced designer’s $2000 logo is ten times better than the $200 logo from a less experienced designer? Maybe, and maybe not. The less experienced designer may end up creating a better logo.

So why would a client hire a $2000 designer over a $200 designer? It can be summed up in one phrase. Price equals expectations.

Let’s look at another industry.

Say you’re going on vacation and need a place to stay. Your destination has two options (It’s not a popular vacationing spot.) Those two options are a $49 per night motel and a $200 per night hotel. Not knowing anything about or seeing photos of either of these two places beforehand, what do you think your expectations are?

Both the motel and hotel offer a bed for sleeping. Both include a TV and free Wifi. Both have breakfast included. They even both have positive online reviews. So you would expect the same experience at both places, right? Wrong!

The fact that one of the places charges four times the price of the other creates a higher expectation. For $200 per night, you expect the beds to be more comfortable. You expect more offerings on TV and faster Wifi. You expect a more inclusive breakfast.

You expect more from the hotel because they’re charging a higher price. Even though, in the end, both places give you precisely what you need, a place to sleep at night.

The same goes for graphic design services. The more you charge, the more clients expect from you. And I don’t mean deliverables. However, that may be part of it. What I mean is your clients expect better communication from you. More professionalism. More attention to detail. And a more take-charge attitude.

The more you charge, the more the client expects that you can get the job done with minimal involvement on their part. These expectations breed trust. And when you’re clients trust you. They give you the freedom to do your work in the manner that suits you best.

The less you charge, the fewer expectations they have. Which means lower trust.

I speak from experience, and many designers can attest that the less you charge for your services, the more clients want to dictate exactly what you do. They don’t want your knowledge or your experience. They only want to fork over a few dollars for your skills. It’s almost like you’re a rental designer. These are the type of clients who say, “I have an idea. I need you to create it for me.” They expect less from you because it’s what your prices tell them.

Would a client hire a $2000 logo designer and say, “Here, I drew up this rough sketch of an idea. Can you clean it up for me?” No. That’s because price equals expectations. Clients will treat you differently depending on how much you charge.

Clients willing to pay more for design services expect higher service, expertise, and attention to detail. They expect you to understand design principles and are current on design trends and technologies. These clients will likely have more complex and demanding design needs and want to work with a designer who can deliver exceptional results.

Designers who charge higher rates can expect to be treated more respectfully and professionally. They will also need to deliver a higher level of service to justify those rates. The more you charge, the more your clients expect. Price equals expectations.

On the other hand, clients looking for more affordable design services are usually willing to sacrifice some level of expertise and customization in favour of a lower price point.

It’s up to you to decide whether to be a higher-rate designer or an affordable designer. But remember that setting too low rates can harm your business in the long run.

While clients may be attracted to lower prices initially, they may also be wary of working with a designer who charges significantly less than their competitors. That trust between you and your clients never reaches the level it does with higher-priced designers and their clients.

Setting your rates too low can make investing in your business and growing your skills and expertise challenging over time. Because the lower you charge, the more clients you need to make ends meet.

In the scenario presented above. The lower-priced logo designer must find ten clients to make the same amount of money the higher-priced designer earns from just one. This means the higher priced designer can focus more of their thoughts and energy on one client instead of dividing it among many, which helps them meet and exceed their client’s expectations.

How to justify higher prices.

One of the first things clients do when considering a graphic or web designer is looking at your portfolio. They want to understand your style, capabilities, and the types of projects and clients you’ve worked with.

It’s essential to have a portfolio that showcases your best work. One that highlights your strengths. Something that shows you’re worth the prices you charge.

Case Studies can help justify higher prices. Where a portfolio piece shows what you’re capable of designing. Case studies illustrate the who, what, and why of the designs you created.

A case study that shows how you think and approach design problems can demonstrate why you’re worth your higher rates.

But besides portfolios and case studies, it all comes down to confidence. You need to feel confident in the prices you charge. And that’s something that can take time. However, you can get there if you slowly build up to it. The next time someone asks for a price, quote them a bit higher than the last similar project you did. And keep doing this until you reach a price point you’re happy with.

I charged $500 for the first website I designed. The next one was $700, then $900 and so on. Nowadays, I rarely do a custom website for under $5,000. And the clients I have respect my abilities and trust me to provide them with attention to detail that befits my professionalism. I meet the expectations of clients looking for a $5,000 and more website designer.

Whether you charge higher rates or more affordable prices, the most important thing you can offer your clients is high-quality work that meets their needs and builds strong relationships. Although, if you deliver high-quality work to your clients, you might as well make a bunch of money doing it. After all, price equals expectations.

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