Artists! Stop Charging per Hour (and I’ll tell you why)

Stack of Money Illustration

You’re doing so much harm to yourself as an independent artist by charging per hour. Artists get paid more if they charge per project.

It’s been a disturbing trend that’s grown rapidly in more recent years. It’s all over the internet and so-called freelance websites that I won’t bother mentioning really don’t help.

The problem is someone, somewhere spread the rumour online that artists shouldn’t charge less than minimum wage. That’s half-right. When you work for a company, don’t work for less than minimum wage because a company that pays less than minimum wage is kinda, sort of, illegal. So, of course at least minimum wage for a 9 to 5 job. That’s just common sense.

Freelance work, other hand, has very different math. If you want a guaranteed income, a specific salary, than independent freelancing is not for you. Getting a job at a company is the only way to get a guaranteed income from doing only one job. That much isn’t new. It’s always been that way.

Freelancing is another world. You have to do everything on your own. Your own boss, accountant, manager, everything. Freelancing means more work, sometimes for less total pay. You’re completely independent and you also have to self-manage customer-relations. It’s not a guaranteed income, and, more often than not, you have to work twice as hard to pay your bills. Welcome to the real world.

Not all is lost. Personally, I love freelancing. I can set my own pace, my own schedule. If I don’t want to take job, I have the freedom to say no. I enjoy full independence, and it works for me.

For freelance work, I charge a flat rate of 25$ an hour, and 10$ for corrections. There’s always corrections. Client change their minds. It happens. But, I charge 25$ an hour because I have 20+ years of experience and I work fast. I assess how long it would take for me to finish a project, then tell potential clients the total cost for the project.

Freelance means knowing what you’re worth.

Let’s say, I get 14 jobs to design business cards each. It wouldn’t take me more than a half an hour to design a business card. So, that’s 7 hours to complete 14 jobs. I tell clients 12.50$ for a business card design. Clients are happy to pay such a small fee. At 25$ an hour, the total pay for less than one day’s work is 175$, maybe more including the cost of corrections. If I charged minimum wage, I would get around 56$ (USD, more like 70$ as per Canadian minimum wage).

The secret to freelance success, though not really a secret, is to take on a lot of jobs at once and speed. Work fast, take more jobs, get paid more.

But, if it took me all day to design only one business card and I charged, say, 60$ for that one business card design, I would never get hired and end up starving to death. Charging more, working slower, you get paid less, and frankly, you’re ripping off clients. No one in their right mind would pay a whopping 60$ for one measly business card.

Of course, if you’re new, be prepared to start small. Take on small, quick projects. 10$ here, 10$ there. Gain experience, build your reputation and resume, learn to work faster. Portfolios rarely get anyone decent paying jobs. Resumes get you paid jobs. It takes time and work. It never happens overnight.

Keep in mind that clients have every right to say no, or offer less than you think you’re worth. You can always drop the client, but consider the possibility your work isn’t good enough yet. I know, a bitter pill to swallow, but that’s what it means to be a new artist. Time and work.

I would love nothing more than to live in a world where every independent artist is hugely successful and gets paid massive amounts of money just for existing. Maybe in a few centuries we can all live in that perfect world. In the meantime, first things first. Stop shooting yourself in the foot.

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