By Project or by Hour: How Should You Charge as a Freelancer?

Carolyne Njeri

By Project or by Hour: How Should You Charge as a Freelancer?
Bidding on a project on a freelance platform and not sure whether to charge per hour or per project? Every project needs a different pricing model. Here’s your ultimate guide.

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You are bidding on a project on Ureed.com. You get to the deliverables section – do you charge per hour or per milestone? Every freelancer has been there, wondering how to best price their services in a way that best suits their clients and the services they offer. But coming up with a pricing model isn’t all that cut-and-dried. 

Some projects may be too complex; some clients may come in with their ideas as to how they wish to remunerate you; and other times your needs may differ from project to project. This means that realistically, there should not be just one fixed price model for all your clients.

But before you dismiss one pricing model in place of the other, it’s important to understand how each one works and how they can impact your work process and your income.

Charging by the hour

If you charge your clients by the hour, it means you give your clients an hourly rate that they can consent to. Hourly charging is useful to clients because it helps them easily gauge your expertise against those of other freelancers. For instance, a client wouldn’t expect the same calibre of work from a $10/hour graphic designer compared to one who charges $100 hourly. 

There are several reasons why choosing this way of payment may be beneficial:

  • It works great for projects that run long, and where the scope isn’t definite. It would be difficult to wait to get paid at the end of a six-month long project (or after milestones that are far and apart), especially if you’ve been putting in work regularly. This also goes for projects whose workload isn’t clearly defined- you wouldn’t be able to price the project accurately in its entirety.
  • You get paid for exactly the amount of work you put in. This doesn’t need too much explanation, it’s proportionality at its best. When you’re working with new or nit-picky clients, charging by the hour works best because it ensures your rate of compensation matches the time that you spend, something that isn’t so easy to dispute.
  • It relieves you of the stress of pricing. Imagine this, you’ve been assigned two articles by 2 different clients. One is an instructional blog about cleaning makeup brushes and the other one is on the working of the musculoskeletal system. Although it’s apparent that one blog would be simpler to write than the other (assuming you’re not a biology major), it would be a bit challenging to set your price for the harder one because you’re not sure how much time and effort it’ll take. But if you charge hourly, you are paid as per the work you put in.  

Some downsides:

  • You’ll earn less if you work quickly. The faster you meet your deliverables, the less hours you spend working, the lower you earn. Clients also dislike this payment model because they think some freelancers will drag their feet on purpose to earn more money. So in cases where the output value is higher than the time you put in (in projects with fast turn-around rates), this pricing model may fall short.
  • Your skills may go unrewarded. Since this method focuses mostly on the time you put into a task and not the value of your output, your expertise may take a back seat.
  • Chances for conflict are higher. Sometimes clients don’t understand the complexity of the tasks they put in your hands. If you take longer than they expected and your fee goes outside their budget, you put yourself at risk of a dispute.

Charging a flat rate (per project)

In this method, you assess the length and complexity of the task vis a vis your skills and charge an all-inclusive rate.

Advantages:

  • You can forget about tracking hours. Since the time you put in isn’t of central focus in this payment model, you won’t have to keep track of your working hours for you to get compensated.
  • You won’t lose money for working quickly.  You won’t be penalized for being fast and effective at what you do.
  • You attract more clients. Some employers are weary of hiring freelancers by the hour because they think the employee will lengthen the project life cycle in a bid to get more money. Also, since the amount is agreed upon upfront, you remove the element of surprise for your clients, so they are more trusting.

The flip side:

  • Scope creep is real. Once you’ve agreed on a price, it may be difficult for you to renegotiate if your employer keeps increasing your scope in the project or requesting too many revisions.
  • Flat rates can be scary. If you give your total service fee upfront, it may sound too high to your client, compared to an hourly rate (even if the hourly rate may end up being more expensive in the long run).

How do you choose?

As we’ve seen, both methods have their pros and cons, and are suitable for different kinds of projects and clients. So how do you decide which method is best for your next project? Here are some tips:

  • Check the complexity of the task

A straight-forward project that you can easily plan and envision would be great to charge a flat rate. But when the client’s expectations aren’t all that clear or when the job is too technical or lengthy, a per hour rate would be more suitable. Both models require you to be sure of the kind of work you’re going to be putting in.

  • Consider your earning potential

In some instances, charging a flat rate may leave you feeling short changed. Because it’s not always possible to accurately judge how draining a project may be on you till you start doing it, charging a project fee will put a cap on your earning from the get-go. But if you can be able to predict the hours it would take for you to complete a task, you can multiply that by your hourly fee in case your employer insists on a flat rate.

  • Define deliverables early on

When you know what is expected of you from the beginning, you can be able to set a pricing model that suits you and your client. During the brief, make sure you get as much detail from your client as possible.

  • When possible, seek ways to maximize your earnings 

It may be easier for you to get price progression if you charge a lump sum for your projects instead of an hourly rate. Even a 5-dollar increase in your hourly rate is conspicuous, which may not be received well by your clients.

The choice lies with you…

There are many proponents of each method of payment, with both camps citing benefits of their model of choice over the other one. However, we’ve seen that given the circumstances, one method of pricing may be more beneficial than the other. In the end though, the choice of payment model that suits you and your method of working best is ultimately up to you. But before you decide, make sure you have a deep understanding of the workload, your clients’ expectations and the set timelines.

Ureed.com is home to many professionals like you enjoying unparalleled success from our wide consumer base and our cohesive platform offering you endless options for pricing, communication and projects. Register today to kickstart your career.

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