How to price your work

November 13, 2009 - By 

Work For Free or for full price. Never for cheap.

Download the wallpaper here

Posted In:  Design Downloads Ideas My Work
  • I couldn’t agree more, Nick. Nice wallpaper!

  • This is great, and 100% true!

  • I think it’s OK to do small consulting help for a few beers and that’s pretty cheap. Like the “buy me a beer” paypal button.

  • Excellent… great cast last night too. Awesomes.

  • I am. I’ll be billing you for this comment 😉

  • I work for cheap too.
    Good products at low charge 😉

  • Well I have been discounting my work for friends recently but after yesterdays live cast I am so charging full price from now on.

  • couldn´t agree more … just installed it on my mac .-)

  • Or as the old saying goes:
    “Good, Fast, or Cheap. Pick any two”

  • I make exceptions for friends.

  • Funny you should mention that.
    I just took a job ‘for cheap’ and now I’m kicking myself in the ass.
    Live and learn.

  • Once cheap ,forever cheap. We need always to be careful with the “really nice/cool clients”.

  • Between that wallpaper and this – – you’ll be set. Great tip!

  • I’d rather be “Less Expensive” than FREE. Why do people even think to ask a graphic designer to work for FREE or call a company and say we don’t have any money would you like to do a free pitch? I say no FREE work and no FREE pitches. I did a free job for a director and he always said if he sold this spot or got into this film festival he would pay me and give me credit. He never did shit except keep coming back for more FREE shit. No I live at home with my parents, 32 and living at home. I say no to free work and just say yes to making your own spec piece or 5 sec animation. Pay yourself first. Your time is valuable.

    • Free allows you to work on YOUR terms. Not your client’s. You can say, “I can do it for free, but under these conditions”. As soon as money is involved, they feel like they own you.

    • That is a good way build a relationship. I have just had a few sticky situations. Another time I got an email to design some boards for a company in Minnesota. They said it was a test to see if they liked working with me and that would lead to more paying freelance work. So I started the test and right from the start they started pushing for more 3D, more this, more that and pressuring me to give them stuff before the weekend. It turns out they wanted to take the FREE “test” boards with them on a presentation for a job they were trying to get in NYC. I think I is better to have a face-to-face relationship going first or know the people a little, then I would think about FREE.

  • Great example of “Free” work. Saw Joe Kosinski at FITC a few years ago. He talked about how he did this Saab spot – totally on spec just because he had a great idea and was inspired or whatever. They didn’t even know he was making it. When he showed them – they loved it and ended up using it.

    Doesn’t work in every situation but sometimes if you have a good idea you don’t always have to wait for someone to pay you for it. Of course it helps if you do amazing work like Kosinski.

    click on work>SAAB Blackbird

    • So he showed them the finished piece or just storyboards with some clips? If he did that whole spot prior to meeting with Saab, then he has one hella-bad-ass production studio (or access to one) somewhere. Just have a Mac Pro, C4D and a great HD cam isn’t enough to produce something like that. The video production in there is extremely well lit and professional, seamless. The 3D stuff of course you probably could do with just a small home studio but to me that looks like something that was created at a professional post-production facility.

    • Doh! Just noticed he is a director not a CG artist or video guy. So a whole team of people going on there (which makes sense)…….

    • Making SPEC spots have built people careers. I know a few designers who became directors because they made SPEC spots in their spare time. Joseph SPEC spot was all his. Now people just want him to do his thing. FREE work done for a client vs. a SPEC spot that is all your style.

  • One of my best friends owns a cafe & coffee place. I’ve done (and continue to do) all of his design work for free, and in return he gives me free food.

    So I’m working for free, but getting food in return.

    I think it’s the best of both! 😉 And yes, I do agree, Free, or Full Price.

  • Nice Touch

  • So simple yet so true. You’ve done it again Gorilla!

  • 100% true *thumps up*
    btw — and what is full prise of the poster?))

  • I’m sorry I missed it – is the livecast posted somewhere that I can watch it less-than-live?

  • where do i find this live cast everyone is talking about?

  • The bigger question is, what’s considered “full price” for which types of work? 😉

  • So what do you do when you can’t get any work except cheap stuff even though you feel like your work is good ? Not to be a smart ass but I have been out of a full-time job since July of 08 and heven’t been able to get much freelance work. The only place I can get any significant amount of work is from the place that pays the least. Hourly it’s a good rate but I only make it worth it because it’s fast. And I don’t get enough of it to make any kind of living. I’ve tried networking and haven’t had much success. Another note I am not available all the time because I can’t get enough work to put my daughter in daycare full-time. In fact I just lost out on freelance the other day because I am not available anytime they need. So again not to sound like a jerk but I have always heard things like this and tend to agree but what do you do when you can’t get work, do it all for free ?

    • I hear you Chris. It’s been a rough time with jobs, though things are slowly shaping up better it seems. I lost full time work in January, and have been freelancing since then. None of it really high end work just yet, but bill-paying work.

      The only answer really, I feel, is to just keep on doing what you can do to make the situation better. Tighten up your reel, put together some new personal work, take the jobs you can, tighten the belt, keep looking, and keep networking.

      5 second projects, a little personal work every day, its all a journey, really. Artists will never be comfortable because things can always be better/cooler/hotter/sexier.

    • I sympathize, Chris. The market, however, is depressed right now and the prices are coming down. Taking “cheaper” work to get by may be a necessity, but those clients will never come to you and give you MORE money than they did last time. Once cheap… Always cheap.

      If your looking to build a client base that will pay you your rate, giving discounts isn’t the way to do it. If you cant get ANY work at your normal rate, your rate may be to high for your skill set, or (more likely) you may need to go connect with more people and meet new potential clients. Keep rocking, Chris!

    • I have exact the same situation as you do, Chris. Can not afford day-care or babysitters, so have to do babysitting by my self for last 2 years. So I am not available for full-time. And even for freelance or one-time job there is only damn “internship-pay-for-lunch-and-bus” positions.

      As for Nick – its good and right to say “free or full price”. As long as you have to take care of you own and only. If you have kid, and no job you start thinking ’bout any kind of jobs, doesn’t really matter is it cheap or not. So yes, I DO agree with you, I’ve always the same to all my partners or friends, but sometimes life is not that simple…:O)

    • “….I’ve always SAY the same…” :O)))

  • I think the biggest question is:
    when did you start using helvetica here? haha.

    I totally agree with the sentiment, if it’s free no-one’s got shit on you. You’re doing it your way or they don’t get the work done. They pay you then its in their hands, and its usually when they’re not paying much that tons of changes are asked for because THEY DON’T VALUE YOUR TIME.

    I also empathise with the people who feel they need to start somewhere in terms of getting paid, we’ve all done it and took a couple of hundred for a ‘quick’ job that turned into weeks of nightmares, no?

  • @Matt. Yeah only about a dozen times… And who can forget the old classic “blah blah blah… you can use it in your reel…” – yeah thanks.

    On the plus side, sometimes bad clients teach you how to work better, and teach the importance of sign-offs etc.

  • Oh yeah, the principle made toyota the one. The engineers love working for the company voluntary till their death.

  • Sorry, one more… Sometimes it works out that you’re getting paid very little as you didn’t know how the hell you were going to do what you said would be a piece of cake. That’s what I do all the time. Not the greatest business model but it’s a great way of getting something learned when you know failure is not an option. If you do something that takes 3-4 days instead of one, you can’t charge 4 days wages to ‘sponsor’ your education. Not usually anyway.

  • You need to make and sell this as a poster. I would DEFINITELY buy a couple. This is perfect.

  • Preach on brother!

  • not for nothing but if your in a situation
    where you need to pay rent, bills and food
    your going to take whatever work you can get
    whether its up to your payscale or not. just my thoughts

  • Wow, this was just for me…….. I can soooo relate.
    This is so funny you would post a topics like this, because 2 weeks ago I agreed to edit two, 22min TV show Pilot, with a motion graphic intro and everything for the LOW LOW. But because he feels he paid me SOME money he thinks he owns me (Just like you said Nick)

    I tried so hard to communicate with my client to see what all they wanted and I even had a nice contract drawn up.
    I’m finding out I gotta do more consulting/bill collecting than post production.

    In this situation because my client was new to receiving a multimedia services he didn’t understand about Pre Planning.
    This was a lesson learned.

  • What do you guys think about this?


    The forming a standard and practices related to our industry.

  • Wow, didn’t think it would happen anytime soon but today I had to tell someone I knew I had to charge w/ them kind of expecting something for nothing. He was an artist so I think they understood when I told them just what you said when you are good at what you do; you work for free, or you work for full price, never cheap. He was down with my discounted friend price though after that, so thanks for the advice, had I not read this post I probably would have done it for cheap.

  • i want a Tshirt with that .. so i can meet the clients wearing it 🙂

  • whats the name of this font?


  • Eh, somewhat true. I can’t really relate in the sense of working in design. But as a musician, it’s pretty standard for students to be payed roughly half of professional rates. If the customer’s gambling on hiring someone with little experience, it doesn’t seem right to charge them professional rates.

    Then again, the point may not even be referring student freelancers in which case 😡

  • 100% True, Great wallpaper.

  • I don’t know that I agree with applying a simple set of rules to a really large and complex set of variables. It’s just not that black & white. It’s a cute ideal but it’s just not something to live by…

    I did some ‘cheap’ work for a major network 4 months ago. They’ve since been hiring me steadily without batting at an eye at my ‘full price’ budgets. It’s been great.

    Over a year ago I was approached by a DJ that wanted an identity, website, and forum developed. The budget wasn’t what I considered to be full price but I took it anyway. I’ve since been doing ‘full price’ work for all his friends and referrals.

    I’ve been freelancing off and on in print, web, and motion for nearly 10 years. I can assure you that every situation/project is unique and requires it’s own unique approach. Know what you’re getting into, access the ROI, and set the boundaries of your working relationship prior to doing any work. Cheap work can be a foot in the door if played right.

    • TP-Your view is by far the most balanced and realistic. That being said you have to think about all the (no offence) numb nut designers out there that are driving the market into the ground by doing cheap work all the time and not just here or there as part of a bigger more profitable picture. It is important to establish a good healthy client/designer relationship by being competitive while at the same time being profitable. The problem is that people (myself included) LOVE this work. As long as there are people doing what they love there will be folks out there taking advantage of it.

      I have done my fare share of cheap work an its been my experience that people don’t seem to value your work as much if it is priced low. “You get what you pay for” I’m pretty sure everyone knows this at this point.

    • I have to agree with tp. It’s very easy to sum up things in a pithy, clever line that looks impressive on the surface but fails to take into account the many shades of grey between black and white.

  • Consider you are a student or a recent grad. Would you work for free- nope because you need money for living, for full price – good, but an employer wont give you that much.

  • Your awesome image is making it’s way around the internet. So cool.

    Can I use the small JPEG in a short blog post? (I’ll copy it to my server, promise.)

  • I used this wallpaper on my political blog as excellent example of respecting yourself.


  • will you not object, if I shall do itself such t-shirt?

  • If i were not done the cheap work last year… i won’t get this bloody huge project from the same client today that pulls me up everywhere. And seriously, that happens with several clients, they were asking for cheap design and idea, now it’s nothing as they are growing bigger and they use me for the real project they have finally.

    I guess thats how paul rand started the whole stuff with UPS or ogilvy?. but some designers are just a bit bitchy, the work is just so-so but they charged very expensive, keep complaining along the progress, etc. Just because many of them did not think about the mutual relationship between client and designer in the future.

    and this statement only works out for few people. It’s better with ‘Cheap but with many conditions than free with many conditions’

  • Agree!!!!!!!!!…
    now it’s already at my desktop!

  • I agree with you completely, that’s why I made this to help people understand.
    Would love to know your thoughts and if you agree disagree.

  • Thanks a lot for writing your opinions. Being author, I am constantly on the lookout for unique and different solutions to think about a matter. I find fantastic motivation in doing this. Thanks

  • This week, a blog post ( – spanish) on the same topic, became trending topic (!/search/%23putasyperiodistas – also spanish) on twitter. The post quotes Camilo José Cela (spanish writer and Nobel Prize winner) who said, when asked to cut his price for an article (on my own, loosely translation) “journalists, as well as bullfighters and hookers, can bullfight on a festival or shag on a whim, but never cut prices”.

  • Wow, i wish that was the case in the part of Africa where i come from. No design school or boards to protect us graphic designers. We love designing but always exploited, i would do logo’s for under $10US and probably use $25US on transportation to my client, millions of times! But i agree with you. Thanks for the tutorials and everyday inspiration, i think you rocked NAB. Here in Zambia, we are huge fans.

  • I do slow increases in price, start little and bump up the prices as you go, that way you develop a friendship with new clients. I Always let them know up front what they should have paid me; this way they feel guilty not paying the correct amount for later projects. But i’m also still getting my feet wet so leads are what i’m really after.

  • this is really nice :). gives me idea how to apply my skills professionally. is it ok if i post this in my fb?

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