3 Ways to Figure Out Your Freelance Rate for Fashion Designers by Sew Heidi

3 Ways To Figure Out Your Freelance Rate for Fashion Designers

Are you stuck trying to figure out your freelance pricing?

It’s tricky…especially in fashion where no one talks openly about salary and pay rates (or anything that has to do with money).

(And it’s even trickier when brands want you to work for free for exposure.)

But here’s the thing:

There are strategies you can use to calculate (and negotiate) your rates. And whether you want to freelance hourly or freelance by project, you can use these techniques.

The best part?

It’s actually really simple.

So, if you want to know how much to charge for clothing design, fashion styling, textile design, or anything other freelance work in the fashion industry, this article will show you step by step how to figure that out.

You don’t want to bid a project too low, but you also don’t want your clients to think you’re ridiculously expensive…

“I’m not sure how much to charge…what should my freelance rate be?”

This is by far the #1 question designers ask.

And unfortunately, there’s no magic answer.

Your rate will be different than my rate or the rate of the other fashion designers reading this guide.

Because we are all different.

We don’t live in the same area, we don’t have the same skills, and we don’t offer the same services.

But, as different as we are, there is one thing we will all go through.

No matter where you live, your skillset, or how much I prepare you right now, we will all experience the same thing during our freelance journey.

It’s called undercharging. And it sucks.

It’s also the biggest mistake most designers make.

In the fashion industry, nobody talks about money, so you don’t know what to charge.

Sometimes you feel like you’re just guessing and then later, you realize that $150 project took you 10 hours.

And $15 an hour (before taxes) is not a living wage.

So, why does this happen? There two main reasons. (And remember, we all go through this, so don’t feel bad.)

First, you lack confidence to charge a higher rate, so you tend to lowball yourself.

Second, you underbid a project.

I’ve done both of these things, and I’ve done them more than once.

It will happen to you more than once too.

Just don’t let it discourage you.

Learn from it and move on so you can do better next time.

But to help get you started on the right foot so you don’t feel overworked and underpaid, I’m going to give you a few strategies to figure out your rate.

Now, I know I said there wasn’t a magic solution to this, but there are some simple tricks you can use.

Some of these I’ve learned from financial experts like Ramit Sethi, who teaches even more advanced strategies like how to raise your hourly rate once you have a happy client.

For now, let’s keep things simple to figure out your base pricing.

How to Charge Hourly

I suggest everyone start with hourly. It’s the simplest option for you and your clients. Here are some techniques you can use to figure out how much to charge, and you can even use my freelance hourly rate calculator to make sure you’re making enough.

  • Drop 3 zeros: If you’ve worked as an employee, this is the easiest option. Take your yearly wage and then drop 3 zeros.
    • For example: If your yearly wage is $60,000, charge $60/hour. If it was $35,000, charge $35/hour.
  • Charge industry averages: Depending on your skills and location, this number varies. Do some googling, ask around to industry friends, and pick a price that’s fair based on what you discover.
    • Other fashion freelancers are your friends, not your competition, so meet them and don’t be shy to talk numbers. Chances are they’re dying to know your rate just as much as you are theirs.
  • This is not a perfect science! Yes, you need to charge reasonable rates, but that doesn’t mean competing with people on Fiverr charging $15 for a tech pack. I know designers who charge anywhere between $20 to $150/hour. Again, it depends on your experience, location, project, and client.

Pros and Cons to Charging Hourly

  • PROS:
    • It’s simple to plan your finances based on how many hours you work
    • It’s a comfortable option for many freelancers, especially when you’re starting out
    • It’s normal and understandable for clients
  • CONS:
    • You only have so many hours in the week and your income potential is capped
    • You can only raise rates so much before your client refuses to pay $xxx/hour
    • It’s laborious to track time for every email, phone call or meeting
    • As you get faster at doing the work, your rate doesn’t scale proportionally

How to Charge A Day Rate

This pricing structure is more common with UK freelancers than US ones.

I also see it being used more for temp work “onsite” freelancing, which I discourage unless this is the arrangement that you prefer.

If you’re doing a few days of onsite consulting, a day rate may be a great option. This is the only time I’ve ever used this pricing structure.

  • To calculate your day rate, multiply your hourly by 8 hours and adjust to a flat rate.
    • Example: $35/hour x 8 hours = $280. Your day rate could be $300.

Pros and Cons to Charging A Day Rate

  • PROS:
    • It’s simple to plan your finances based on how many days you work
    • You don’t have to track every minute and can just invoice how many days you worked
  • CONS:
    • If you do onsite days, an 8 hour day somehow always turns into a 12 hour day
    • Your leisurely morning dog walk and coffee shop stop (one of the reasons you started freelancing) can *poof* be gone real quick. If you’re just doing a few days of consulting here or there, this may not be a huge deal, but think carefully about signing up to do a day rate 5 days a week. You may not be creating the lifestyle you were imagining.

How to Charge by Project or Piece (ie one tech pack or one flat sketch)

You can earn more money this way, but it can bite you in the butt if you underestimate or don’t put your foot down against an abusive client.

Even almost a decade into my freelance career, I can still underestimated big projects, especially when working with new clients (I’ll tell you a story about that later).

Things get tricky and you have to know what questions to ask and be really good at clearly outline and managing client expectations.

You also have to make sure you look through any files you’ll be inheriting so you don’t wind up with a bunch of unusable Illustrator flats that have thousands of anchor points and aren’t grouped or joined.

Because if fixing or recreating that wasn’t part of your proposal, it’s a hard thing to bring up after the fact.

You don’t want to look inexperienced, so you wind up doing the work and resenting the project and the client, and that feels shitty.

Which, in a nutshell, is why I really recommend you start out hourly and move into project rates later.

But if you’re more advanced, here are some ways to calculate a project rate.

  • Charge based on estimated hours: If you know a tech pack takes you 3 hours, and you want to earn $50/hour, then you can charge $150 for a tech pack. Your client doesn’t know the rate or the hours, they just know a tech pack costs $150.
    • Be careful of setting an absolute flat rate for things like tech packs though. The time and work will vary based on design complexity. A tech pack for a basic t-shirt is going to be a lot easier and quicker to do than one for a fully lined piece of outerwear. Are you creating the flat sketches or do they already exist? Do you need to create the graded specs, or does your client have them done? In reality, you really wouldn’t want to have a flat rate for tech packs but instead offer a range depending on the design.
    • Remember what I told you about how project based rates are more complicated? Look at how many questions I had to ask – and that was just for a tech pack. And I didn’t even ask all the questions I should have.
    • If you are going to do project based, make sure your proposal is very thorough and outlines exactly what the client will get.
    • If the client is doing excessive revisions or being overly demanding, you’ll need to be prepared to pick up the phone and tell them the price needs to be adjusted (this can feel really hard, which is why hourly may be better).
  • Charge based on value: Maybe you’re really fast and can complete the tech pack in one hour. That doesn’t mean it’s only worth one hour of pay. You’ve worked hard to gain this skill, to get really good at it, and to be really fast. All the time, years, and energy you invested in getting better at this is part of what your client is paying for.
    • What is the value of that tech pack worth? It may be $150, or even $300. Don’t look at this as you earning $300/hour (which may make you feel like you’re charging a ridiculously high amount), but rather your client paying you a flat rate in exchange for an item that’s worth $300 to them.
    • Again, this is a more advanced technique and depending on the client and the type of work, it may or may not be successful for you, or you may simply not like it.
    • If you’re feeling overwhelmed or intimidated about this, don’t start here. Start hourly for your first gigs, and move onto project based later once you’ve tracked your time and know what things take.

Pros and Cons to Charging By Project or Piece

  • PROS:
    • The faster / more efficient you are, the more money you can make
    • You can charge based on value
    • Some clients like knowing a flat rate of what something will cost
  • CONS:
    • It can take time to develop skills to accurately assess a project and what work needs to go into it. Most freelancers tend to underestimate at first (I’ve done this and learned the hard way).
    • Scope creep (when the scope of a project creeps beyond the original agreement) is common and can create difficult conversations. Either you get abused (doing too many revisions, etc) or you have to raise the rate mid project

Whatever option you choose, set a rate you feel good about.

Don’t try to get the max wage possible right away, but don’t go so low that you resent the project and client.

Pick something in the middle and focus on getting really good at understanding your client, reaching out to get work, and closing deals.

You can always raise your rate later.

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