I keep my rates private and keep an editable rate card in PDF format that I change to accompany each project. Good article, thank you. I still think that keeping your rates off the internet and keeping it between you and client is the best way to go. Unless you are having some sort of a marketing deal then advertise all you want on the web!
Pros and Cons of a Public Price List
As freelancers, we can be very flexible on pricing. We can charge by the project, charge by the hour, increase our rates for rush jobs, decrease them for charities or work completely for free for our friends and family if we choose.
However, some freelancers instead choose to publicly disclose their prices on their website or brochures, eliminating some of the flexibility they may have on pricing. There are pros and cons to this issue. In this post, we’ll discuss some of the issues so that you can think about them before putting your prices up where everyone can see them.
Pros of Public Pricing
Here are some of the advantages of displaying your prices publicly:
- Eliminates negotiating. Just like how electronic stores put their prices on tags, you can put a tag on your services and eliminate the negotiating that freelancers sometimes have to deal with.
- Eliminates tire-kickers. Many freelancers draw up proposals for potential clients who really aren’t interested in creating a project, but instead are interested in seeing how much it would cost. Making your prices public means they won’t waste your time.
- Clients will know what they’re getting into. I’m sure most of you have presented a proposal to a potential client only to see their eyes bug out when they see the price. It’s embarrassing for you and the client when you are clearly not on the same page about price. Putting your prices on the site will eliminate the shock factor of some proposals.
Although these advantages exist in favor of public pricing, there are also some disadvantages to displaying your prices publicly.
Cons of Public Pricing
Here are some of the disadvantages of public pricing:
- Less flexibility. When publishing a price for a five page website or business card design, you lock yourself into that price and feature set. You get into a situation where you need to explain to your client that what they are requesting falls outside of the bounds of your prices, and you’ll need to explain why. This can sometimes increase time it takes for a proposal instead of decrease it.
- Cheap services. Usually (but not always) people who publish their prices are using that as a selling point, because they are less expensive than their competition. You do not want to position yourself as a “cheap” freelancer.
- Temptation to keep your rates the same. If your rates are printed in brochures or published on your site, you’ve got a couple more reasons to keep your rates where they are instead of constantly striving to earn more.
- Every project is different. Whether you’re a freelance consultant, designer, writer or programmer, every project is different and should be treated accordingly.
Ultimately, most freelancers choose to keep their prices private and quote per job, and for most freelancers that’s probably the right decision. However, not all freelancers are the same. You need to weigh the pros and cons to figure out whether or not to tell the world what you charge.
What About You?
Do you publish your prices? Why, or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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March 16th, 2010 at 8:33 am
DebMarch 16th, 2010 at 8:44 am
I keep them private. And even though I have a “base rate quote” price, I usually negotiate on a project by project basis in the end anyway, because every project comes with its own set of premises. I do a lot of agency work, and some of those agencies keep a price list on their website. This is convenient for ME, since if I can see what prices they offer the end client, I immediately know that they won’t be able to afford me and I can avoid wasting my time…
March 16th, 2010 at 8:46 am
Very nice and thought provoking.
I currently don’t have my rates posted on my site, but also have a editable copy for clients on each project.
I have been thinking of posting a range of prices to help keep away those “tire-kickers”, but still working on that. Until then, I will stay with providing pricing on a per project or client basis.
Thanks for bringing up a issue that not many freelancers talk or think about on a regular basis.
March 16th, 2010 at 8:48 am
I personally like to charge by the hour, my clients know that amount. What I do, is keep a very detailed work card that shows exactly what I did, and exactly – to the minute – how long it took. This has seemed to work so far. I have considered publishing standard rates for blogs, ecommerce, and content management sites, but I am not quite sure how much to really charge.
Thanks for the excellent article, it adds some perspective to business pricing.
March 16th, 2010 at 8:53 am
We quote per project, thus we don’t have rates on our website but clients have never complained about it and they probably use this as an excuse to nagotiate a bit (as you wrote)
March 16th, 2010 at 8:59 am
My projects are always so different a public price just doesn’t seem like a good idea for me.
Has anyone had success with setting a public price?
If so what kind of business do you do?
March 16th, 2010 at 9:43 am
I don’t have a detailed price list on my website, but a few months ago I decided to publish a price range, so potential clients can get a basic idea of what’s expecting them. Answering emails from low-budget clients can be quite time-consuming. Also, I have the impression that some people are more likely to contact you if they already know what to expect.
March 16th, 2010 at 10:02 am
I publish my rates, but highlight and bold the fact that the rates listed are only my starting rates and may not reflect the client’s actual project price; and that they should contact me for a free estimate to find out how much their specific project will cost them. So basically the rates I publish are examples of what it “could cost” not what it actually costs. I freelance more for personal joy than profit/gain so I feel it’s more honest to publish my rates in this manner.
March 16th, 2010 at 10:41 am
I used to list prices for EVERYthing, but I found it was a bit too much information to publish publicly. Now I just list starting rates for my most common services, and prepare detailed proposals with full details of what’s included, complete pricing, etc.
I’ve found it helps save a good amount of time as far as weeding out the tire kickers who are clearly looking for the cheapest solution. I’ve written countless proposals for people with a budget nowhere along the same lines of what I charge.
I’ve also found it helps a bit on my quote request form that I reduced the lowest option in the “budget” dropdown field. This also helps give a signal that the minimum rate for most of my projects is $X amount. I used to list “under $X” as the lowest amount, but now limit that to “$X – $X”). Not that some jobs don’t come in that are smaller than a full web site, and of course cost less than that minimum, but it’s the exception rather than the norm…
March 16th, 2010 at 10:59 am
I think if you have a service with definite scope and boundaries, then it’s ok to publish your rates. Publishing those boundaries would be advisable here too.
If you feel the need to earn more, you can always change and increase those prices too!
March 16th, 2010 at 11:23 am
Really debating article.. Your Cons are real, In i was working as free lancer i had some similar experience.
#Less flexibility. when comes to price much of the clients will become Tire-kickers. And when they become interested then the problem starts (that starts bargaining) After a some discussion we both agree on the matter about the quality of the service then they agree with my rates.. Later They are Happy and Am happy too..
March 16th, 2010 at 12:06 pm
After much internal debate, I decided to post mine, with a statement that they represent a range because every project is different. I finally decided to post them after reading a blog (sorry, didn’t keep the info so can’t refer) that gave advice to writers about shopping for editing services online. It was a bit snarky in tone, but I agreed with all its points so designed my site to cover all of those elements.
In the end, as a service buyer, I want to see prices while I’m shopping, so I figured that other buyers would, too. And because I don’t have a print brochure, I can change my rates any time I want to on the website.
MoMarch 16th, 2010 at 1:09 pm
Read my mind w/ the post. Nope, don’t currently post prices.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently though, because one the most deflating things is preparing a nice quote for a inquiring person, only to have them never reply back — even a reply of “too expensive” or “can’t afford that” is better than no reply — it makes you just want to post up the top-level prices that you want to charge so that next time you get an email, you know the person means business.
However, there’s always the possibility, down the line of leaving money on the table when a top-notch client approaches because they see these prices that seem top-level to you based on past clients, but very cheap to them
March 16th, 2010 at 1:21 pm
I post a downloadable pdf that states my price ranges for certain projects, but emphasize that these can change according a project’s scope and timeframe. I also encourage potential clients to take a look at it, then contact me for a free quote customized to their needs.
I agree that it helps eliminate the tire-kickers, and in the long run saves both parties a lot of time. I also tried to think of it from a consumer’s point of view. I like to get prices as soon as possible because when you request a quote, you never know how long it’ll take for someone to get back to you. Giving a range at least gives people an idea.
March 16th, 2010 at 1:23 pm
Good job discussing both sides of the question. Myself, I come down on the side of not, as I price each book design/layout project I do individually, based on a range of rates for different parts of the job and what each book entails.
March 16th, 2010 at 2:45 pm
I generally prefer to find out at the outset what the client’s budget is. If they have a budget set aside for web design/development, that already tells me a great deal about the client, if they don’t well, then that tells me another story as well. This way I eliminate the “tire-kickers” from the serious contenders.
The above are the only reasons that I have a ‘ball-park’ list of possible budget prices, which may turn out more, or less, depending on the client’s exact requirements when it comes time to actually buckle down on the projects specs. Asking the client what their budget is for web design, either directly or by first prompting a response on a quote request form is not the same as actually proclaiming your exact price for, let’s say, a five page website, I have to make that clear.
There are some design firms/freelancers out there that have the mistaken, and ridiculous, “economy”, “silver”, “gold” type packages on proud display, which is your typical self-limiting, non-flexible approach to pricing, and which is quite unrealistic and ends up doing our industry more harm than good, if not the designer/developer setting such an amateurish pricing policy.
March 16th, 2010 at 3:17 pm
Although I understand and appreciate some of the cons, I choose to publish my prices in general terms. I have found that doing so reduces the inquiries and wasted timed spent on clients who are simply looking for a low ball or “Craigslist” type price.
March 16th, 2010 at 3:52 pm
This post is something that freelancers face all the time and the pros and cons are right on the money. And Im sure there are more to be added. Personally I think that private maybe the best way to go. That way you have room to change prices w/o everyone knowing.
March 16th, 2010 at 4:54 pm
Nice summary of advantages/disadvantages. As others have said,public rates provide a nice filter and cut down on some of the early communication (and instruction) that leads nowhere. I’m all for respectfully and pleasantly introducing people to the world of editing, but going through all the information only to find that the person isn’t really interested in paying professional rates for professional service can be disheartening. I don’t currently post my rates (I don’t currently have a dedicated Web site), but I’m very quick to give basic range information and links to online information about industry standards. That seems to work well for all involved — I can get on with finding more appropriate work, they can use the resources I provide to find an editor who is a better fit, and a fellow copy editor who is more available or less dependent on freelance for a livable income can get the project.
March 16th, 2010 at 5:17 pm
We provide creative communication solutions to client challenges, so it seems to me that putting a specific price on the various elements of a potential solution before you even know what the challenge is commoditizes the primary value we provide — which is counseling the client about what makes the greatest sense given their specific situation.
March 16th, 2010 at 5:31 pm
I’ve been pretty open in other discussions on what my hourly rates are for various type of projects (print, packaging and web), and for a while I debated on putting together a rate card (and potentially publishing it) as well.
In the end I decided to put one with some general project pricing together (which allows me to revise pricing), but opted to keep it offline, and distribute as needed. It’s far from comprehensive, and some of the pricing is qualified with “starting at”, which (a) provides a bit of a baseline, and (b) doesn’t lock me in to a price. For the other “standard” priced items (mostly small ads and the like, which I know I can bang out with relative ease), I’ve built in a “fudge factor” in order to protect myself a bit from possible scope creep.
March 16th, 2010 at 5:43 pm
Since every project is different, and every client is different, I think it’s best to keep your prices private, as greater flexibility is always a good thing.
March 16th, 2010 at 5:43 pm
I am all for both sides. For example, I offer site hosting for a fixed price (public) and web design services for a negotiated (private) price.
March 16th, 2010 at 7:00 pm
Tim did a good job with this post.
I think that a case can be built for displaying rates and an equally valid case for not displaying them. I also think that what you do plays a significant role in this discussion.
My own experience is that when I displayed my very reasonable rates so-called potential clients took that as an invitation to ask for discounts. I still get those discount requests even without my rates on display, so I guess there’s no escaping bargain hunters.
March 16th, 2010 at 7:28 pm
I’m against publishing detailed pricing on a website but would not be strongly against giving an idea of price for some common services. If the client is a business, specifically a publisher, I would like to get an idea of the budget. In the past this has allowed me to take a different tack from doing a straight quote. Instead I would detail what the client can get for a given price.
This has allowed me to give very low prices for some work which has become very profitable. It also allows me to object if the work does not arrive on schedule or is not up to the expected standard and to warn that the extra work will cost extra.
The rate charged would also depend on how quickly my bill would be paid.
I recall being recommended by one publisher for whom I did a lot of work to a politician to produce a newsletter. I started at double my rate charged the publisher but several months later resigned from that job because, even though offered a further doubling of rate it was not a profitable job.
Rates are only a small part of the discussion.
March 16th, 2010 at 9:17 pm
I would love to read an article on pros and cons of using a budget range selector. For example
and so on…. This would be something in the contact form that prospects fill out or in the questionnaire that most designers send out.
March 17th, 2010 at 11:36 am
A similar debate on this issue is here:
Consensus seems to be that posting prices is useful IF you’re selling tightly-defined services, but lousy for entirely custom work.
Also, I’ve noticed there’s a reverse filter effect, too.
If you quote or post on the low side, you can turn off clients looking for higher-class pros. You want clients like that. Over time, it’s always better to keep moving up-market. There is no Wal-Mart business model for freelancing.
March 17th, 2010 at 11:56 am
Nice point about the reverse filter effect, Walt K. I hadn’t given that enough consideration.
March 17th, 2010 at 1:12 pm
To be honest, I do both methods. But what I do is I have 3 price lists, all based on my hourly rate. First is per item, then per project (in general terms), and then an actual project bid. I had it out based upon my meeting with the customer to weed out the lookie-loos and the actual people looking for work.
March 17th, 2010 at 2:24 pm
This has been a hard issue for me as well. Currently my website does not include my prices, as nearly everyone here has mentioned, each project is a little different. But the tire-kickers and low-ballers are nutting me up. I’m thinking about posting a general pricing, like website design costs four figures not three, and clients should not expect a low price on those. I’m considering posting a pdf or even web document that goes into detail of why a website costs what it costs. That way clients who don’t know anything about web design, can see how much work goes into it.
Right now I send a questionnaire to potentials and one of the questions is “You would like to stay within a certain budget of:” and they have to highlight one of my choices. A potential seeing the low numbers and the high numbers, usually clues them in to how much things cost. They either reply back, or don’t. Good way to sort through the time wasters.
March 17th, 2010 at 4:20 pm
Thanks for this timely post. I run a coworking space for freelancers and we’ve been talking a lot lately about picking clients and pricing.
March 17th, 2010 at 4:53 pm
I have to say this article couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’m in the process of redesigning my website, mostly for the sake of reorganizing some of the copy. One of the things I’m intending to do is creating a pricing page.
I think the best way is to use a “starting from…” approach, because this gives you a bit of both worlds: helps keep tire-kickers away and also allows you to have some flexibility and use the quote you think is appropriate. Or at least this is what I’m hoping to achieve! ;)
Great article and some great comments as well! I will definitely keep an eye on followups.
March 17th, 2010 at 4:56 pm
I agree, I think that is the best method to do it. I’m reworking my “faq” page and thinking of taking a similar approach, saying that sites start $X,XXX to weed out those pesky time wasters.
March 17th, 2010 at 5:23 pm
I kept my prices private for a long time and found that I was spending way too much time answering inquiries that didn’t pan out, probably because my prices were much more than what a lot of inquirers were looking for. For that reason I decided to post base prices on my site. Since they’re base prices they’re just a starting point and not a flat rate, but they give people a general idea of my prices and eliminate inquiries from people who expect to get a custom blog design for $50. It suits my business well.
KerstiMarch 18th, 2010 at 5:10 am
I represent a small group that occassionally makes use of professonal design services. I tend to need a ballpark figure so that the group can discuss what we should do – I will ask for a rough figure and even say I won’t have an answer for a couple of weeks and I find at least half don’t bother even saying no. I feel I’m being honest as a client but with the time wasting I get at my end price lists are so very welcome.
March 18th, 2010 at 10:18 am
@Barbara – couldn’t agree more – for services it makes absolute sense to provide a general range. Are you a 500-1,500 vs 10,000+ provides a client with a solid understanding of what they want to go after.
@Carolyn – I have argued that a public price list is extremely important for that particular reason. And research has shown that conversion rates are much higher when potential customers have an idea of what they are getting into.
@TimWasson – on the other hand, providing pricing does have a certain competition on cost vs quality feel. This is one of the reasons we don’t have a price list at ourenterprise asset management product page – even though it could help us.
The other main reason was listed in numerous responses – each job is a little different and providing uniform prices can be very difficult. It’s interesting to see a post designed for services is just as relevant to products.
March 18th, 2010 at 12:04 pm
Thank you for touching upon such an important issue. I fully agree with you. It’s not easy to decide to publish your quotes or not.
I think there is a solution: to publish hourly rate and to basic estimation on working hours. So when you evaluate the scope of work you can see that design takes X hours, html coding – X hours and integration – X h and the like.
What is more when your client wants to install additional options or do some extra work you will not have to explain him or her why you add ten. You just say “It will take 2 hours”. And the client understands that it costs $XX.
In my opinion it’s very flexible. You may vary prices adding or reducing hours. Such a system is very clear to customers, because they know what they pay for.
sebastian greenMarch 18th, 2010 at 5:39 pm
plumbers, electricians or decorators don’t publish their prices on adverts or websites.
Each job is unique and requires a unique quote.
March 23rd, 2010 at 12:42 pm
We publish ours. I can’t stand sites that make you contact them for a price – every time I’ve done this they’ve just emailed me a price with minimal or no discussion.
When I’ve had discussions with people about their rates, they’ve always something like ‘If you just want me to draw a dog it’ll take X amount of time, and if you want a more involved process, it will take X to X amount of time. And this is my daily rate’.
That’s something you can put on a website, even if every job is different.
March 25th, 2010 at 3:44 pm
We keep our prices off, precisely because all of the “Cons” reasons exposed before.
When is about a website project it would be not desirable publicly display your prices. But when it comes to designing logos or such, that is no so negotiable, is not so bad idea to keep the rates visible.
March 28th, 2010 at 9:25 am
I used to have the prices clearly listed on my old site, this came about after readinhg “don’t make me think” by steve krugg – which is a very good read by the way.
It states that not displaying a price will put most people off pursuing your services, how many times have you tried to buy a book or something and your unable to see the price, you just think ‘to hell with it’ and go elsewhere where you can see the price.
On the other hand, i had a client the other day say to me – “well you have a price on your website of XYZ” (which was supposed to be a guide price to an entry level service) and he then wanted all singing all dancing bells and whistles for the same fee.
from now on I will be putting some references to ‘prices normally start at’ or ‘a site for this person cost XYZ’ ,
its a toughy, I am still think you should always have a guide price listed.
March 28th, 2010 at 9:48 am
The key to avoiding a client wanting, as Phill says, “all singing all dancing bells and whistles for the same fee” is to phrase your price list so that people understand the variability of work.
Phil’s choice of “putting some references to ‘prices normally start at’ or ‘a site for this person cost XYZ’ ” is the right idea. I just state that my fees fall within a range, and that every project is different.
September 7th, 2010 at 1:45 am
Thanks Tim for initiating this captivating discussion!
There are strong pros and cons on the issue of publishing prices. What complicates this issue even more is that there are some clients who haggle, always trying to negotiate for less fee! It’s almost as if many people would like to hire freelancers but are not prepared to compensate them accordingly.
I think whether it’s best to post your base prices or not on your website really depends on your specific service and the niche you’re in.
In the writing niche – every job is different, and I prefer to price each job after knowing exactly what’s involved / required. I keep my price list private, and then I price each project as I get an inquiry. The downside to this is of course is that you get people making inquiries when they were expecting to pay less, and it’s a waste of time.
But, if you target your audience correctly, and do enough research, you should be able to have a feel of the appropriate prices for the various pieces of work, and that way you can easily give a quote as you get a job.
December 26th, 2010 at 7:19 am
Obviously this allows transparency but the thing is the price is not always going to reflect the product you recieve.
Mark ArmstrongAugust 21st, 2011 at 9:19 pm
Thanks, Tim. I’m a freelance illustrator. Your post was timely for me as well.
A couple of days ago, I read a post which argued for posting one’s prices; here’s the link:
The most compelling argument was the same one Phil Mckenny made in an earlier comment: When you yourself are shopping for something, don’t you find it irritating when you can’t find a price? Aren’t you inclined to walk away and find someone who’ll tell you what you want to know? I’d answer Yes to those questions, and I have a strong hunch most potential clients (looking for a freelancer) would do the same.
To date, I’ve never posted rates on my site. I intend to change that, and give pricing a shot. I think posting price ranges along with a list of variables and a cheerful “Please contact me to discuss your project” would be the way to go. It’ll be interesting to see what happens!
Great discussion, thanks again.
November 10th, 2011 at 12:32 pm
I think the best way to sort of meet this issue in the middle is to advertise a “starting at” price. That way a prospect knows relatively what to expect and you can explain to them what the starting price gives them and what extra features will cost. Great way to get them in the door.
January 7th, 2012 at 4:51 am
When I’m looking for a service I will generally look at lots of different websites to compare prices. If there isn’t a price list I usually don’t bother with the company because I assume that their prices are high. It is also a lot more effort to contact a person to find out their prices.
January 23rd, 2012 at 7:22 am
Blogs ou should be reading…
March 5th, 2013 at 4:27 am
Great post. I choose to keep mine private because each project is different. I do have my own private price list that I use to keep track of what I charge. I also try never to get a client a ball park range either. I will be implementing a FAQ section soon and I think this will help when it comes to weeding out those clients just sniffing around and not very serious, and also my terms and conditions so they are aware of how payment works before they get started.
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