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Calculating Freelance Web Developer Rates

You need a freelance web developer or are thinking about freelancing yourself, but you have no idea where to start when it comes to rates. Should you pay or charge by the hour? How much does this stuff cost? You ask around, and you can’t get a straight answer.

That’s because freelance web developer rates vary based on experienced, location, and expertise. Some developers charge $20,000 per website, while others scrape by at $30 per hour. It all depends on the developer.

The trick to figuring out a web developer hourly rate is figuring out the services you need, and venturing out into the field to determine how much it will cost you. Whether you’re a freelance yourself or you want to hire one, you’ve got to ask yourself what you need done, and what you can realistically afford.

What Type of Development?

Do you need ongoing maintenance? Do you need someone to build a website from scratch? Ecommerce websites that sell online might have more needs than brick-and-mortar shops, and rates will adjust accordingly.

  • Website from scratch — Building a website from scratch is likely to be more expensive in the short term than adding on to a website that already exists. Note that it could cost more to add a content management system, have someone code in HTML5, or to be responsive on mobile devices.
  • Ongoing maintenance — All websites need ongoing maintenance, and you should be prepared to have a freelance web developer on hand to help with the creation of new pages, any issues with hosting, URL changes, and integration with marketing tools.
  • Design needs — Sometimes freelance web developers also offer design services, such as image creation for blog posts and other website pages.

Typical Freelance Web Developer Rates

There’s a wide array of rates. A new website can cost anywhere from $2000 to $20,000. An experienced freelance web developer might charge upwards $150 per hour, while a newbie might charge $30 per hour. But what do you need?

The trick is to determine your needs and set your budget first. Determine what work you need done, and decide on how much you’d be willing to pay for it. For example, you might decide that you need a 5 page WordPress website, and that you’d be willing to pay $800 for it. This will give you a basis to work with, and even if it the designers and developers you want appear out of your reach, you’ll be able to have some sort of starting point, and can adjust accordingly.

It’s also a good idea to ask any friends and colleagues for insight. How much did they pay for their website? Try to collect as much information as possible from real experiences.

You Get What You Pay For

People want to get a good deal, but everyone knows the best goods come with a substantial price tag. If you want high quality, or can provide high quality to your clients, your rates should reflect that.

When a company hires a freelance web developer, it’s typically a lot cheaper than hiring an employee. Freelancers and those who hire them should keep this in mind when it comes to rates, and not shy away when rates seem high.

For example, a freelancer might charge $10,000 to build a website from scratch, delivering it within three or four months. If an employer hires someone to do this in-house at a salary of $80,000 per year, plus benefits, this employee might take three months to build the same website, which winds up costing you $20,000, which is twice as expensive. That doesn’t include the benefits you have to provide that employee, either.

Finding Developers

Finding high quality, trustworthy developers is half the battle. If you’re searching for a freelance developer, here are some sources to turn to:

  • Your connections — Hands down, your connections are the best places to look for a freelance web developer. Who built their websites? Who do they use for ongoing maintenance? Who do they recommend?
  • Stack Exchange — Stack Exchange is a community for developers of all kinds, and tons of freelance developers hang out and exchange tips in this community. It’s a great place to tap if you have a new project and want to get the word out.
  • Guru — Guru is a freelance website that specializes in freelance developers. It allows you to post your project and your budget. It’s a good option for those on a tight budget as many freelance developers on Guru are inexpensive.
  • Toptal — Toptal is a newer freelance platform that connects the best developers with clients in need. Unlike Guru or other freelancing sites, Toptal focuses on the best of the best, only accepting 3% of all developers who apply.

Testing the Waters

Many want to understand freelance web developer rates before they hire a developer, but you may need to test the waters to understand how your rates work out in the field.

  • If you’re looking for a freelance web developer, find a few developers and get some quotes. Find a few different developers, explain your project, and ask them for a quote. How much would they charge to get it done? What would their process be? This is the best way to figure out the going rate.
  • If you are a freelance developer, test out some rates and see how clients respond. Setting rates is tough, and sometimes the best way to learn is through experience. It’s also a good idea to ask other freelance developers what they charge, and join up with some freelance communities to learn more.

Understanding Freelance Web Developer Rates

Asking about typical freelance web developer hourly rate is much like asking how much it costs to pay rent. Rent depends a lot on budget, location, and size and quality of the home. Web developer rates depend a lot on project, expertise, and quality of the freelance web developer.

16 Things You Should Consider Before Going Freelance

Many people dream of being a freelancer: setting your own hours, working from home, and never having to work for a boss again sounds like perfection.

The grass is always greener on the other side, however, and going freelance can be a difficult transition. In this series of education and career interviews, we invite long-time freelancer and entrepreneur Thierry Blancpain, founder of Grilli Type, to talk to us about the hidden struggles of being a freelancer or a consultant, and how to overcome them.

If you’ve been thinking about making the jump to freelance, read this.

The Pros and Cons of Becoming A Freelance Consultant

I worked as a graphic design freelancer before I even went to design school. I was never really a full time employee, but I’ve been a freelancer for a long time, and now have also experienced life as a co-founder and boss. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1. Working from home, or by yourself, can be lonely

I worked from home for a long time, but ended up paying so much money to coffee shops that I realized that I could just rent a studio space for that money. Working from home can be isolating and lonely — you don’t have colleagues to talk to, and you have to keep yourself motivated.

Find a place where you can interact and stay in touch with people.

Find a place where you can interact with people, or set up regular dates with colleagues in the field to keep your mental acuity sharp. Sign up for event newsletters and meetup groups to stay in touch with people. Conversation can spark creativity and ideas, and being out in public can generate more client requests.

2. Learn how to create your own structure and schedule

Especially when I didn’t have a deadline, it was sometimes hard to not just go out for drinks with friends and then stay out too long. Working for yourself means it can be hard to get up at the same time each morning.

The best thing I learned was to set a consistent schedule and work regular hours so that I could differentiate between work and play hours.

Ironically, you might begin to miss the rigor of a schedule. So create your own.

Who knew that I’d want the rigor of a schedule again? But remember: there’s also beauty in taking a day off if the right alternative to work presents itself. So stay open to serendipity!

3. Plan ahead for creative “hermit days”

Consider setting up one day a week without any client communication and meetings. I used to mark all Tuesdays months ahead of time as such. Those days help you get things done and move projects forward markedly. Make sure to tell your clients ahead of time, though.

4. It’s up to you to learn how to plan ahead

You need to find new clients months before your old projects are actually finished. Both acquisition and ramping up projects takes time, and so if you have a project that’s supposed to start in September, it will often start in November. Plan accordingly.

5. Planning is important enough I’ll say it again: plan ahead

You will need around 20% of your time for administrative tasks. Plan and offer projects accordingly. I add a blanket 20% admin cost on top of anything I offer my clients. Meetings, phone calls, packaging up files for them, etc. The more corporate your clients are, the higher the number. For a bigger company I would add something more like 30–40%.

Your clients will take up more time than you think. Plan accordingly.

I had a client who loved to call me every day, because for him what I did was all his company was at that point, while for me it was a huge distraction from my other work and clients. And it was also a distraction from actually working on his company’s branding. So make sure it’s worth your while.

6. As soon as you can, prepare for rainy days

As long as we’re talking about planning, your first extra bit of profit should go towards a Rainy Days fund, not your next fun vacation. You should be able to survive a few weeks of sickness or a doctor appointment in case something bad happens — to you or your loved ones.

You’re not “making it” as a freelancer if you can’t sustain yourself in between clients.

Being your own boss also means that you need to build your own safety net.

7. Pricing projects is an art

If you don’t ever lose a project due to pricing you’re probably quoting too low — unless you’re so good that clients will pay anything to work with you, of course. Strive hard for conversations about the value you’re adding to a client’s business, and not about just the money they pay for your work.

8. Don’t “hope” that you’ll get paid — you need to make it happen

I luckily never had major problems with this, but some people get clients that don’t pay on time or at all. Make sure you deal with them properly and professionally, but be clear that you’re not a bank loaning them money. Just because you’re a designer doesn’t mean that you can’t also be a business-minded person.

9. Make clients pay for extras

Negotiations or changes in the scope mean that you also need to talk about your fees. Make clients pay for extras. If they need something tomorrow they will have to pay an additional fee. If they want you to work on a weekend, make them pay an extra 100% on top of your hourly.

Why should your clients respect your soft boundaries if they don’t have to pay for crossing them?

Why should your clients respect your soft boundaries if they don’t have to pay for crossing them? Projects often become much less urgent if that urgency costs extra.

10. If you’ve never managed projects, you need to learn how to.

If you’ve never managed projects, you need to learn how to. As a freelancer you’re also a project manager, account manager, secretary, accountant, and more. Find the tools to help you get all of those roles done quickly. I use Harvest for time tracking and Slack for team communication. Selecting the right tools might seem like a waste of time, but if you find the right one, you can free up huge chunks of your time.

11. Legalese: Invest early on in a good contract

Invest early on in a good contract. Make it as restrictive as you can, and then be happy to make it less so if a client asks you. I for example had a stipulation in mine that I can cancel any project after I don’t hear back from the client for two weeks and then invoice them for any work that I’d done up to that point.

In many jurisdictions the party writing the contract is at fault for any unclear or lax portions, so be clear and be tough. Talk to freelancers in your area about this — and consider shelling out for a lawyer — to find the right way of dealing with your clients. Contract-writing is also very much about defining the way you want to work, and that of course is always an important topic.

12. Be clear about how reachable you are, and how and when you aren’t

Manage your communication expectations with your clients. They should know when you are reachable, and when you aren’t. There’s nothing more frustrating than not knowing how long someone will take to get back to you. Clear boundaries are the best form of professionalism.

Be clear about how reachable you are, and how and when you aren’t. A friend of mine for example does not do any phone conversations unless it is really necessary. Instead he is always reachable by email during office hours. He finds that clients too often just want to chat a little bit and everybody loses focus because of it. So unless something is incredibly time-critical or best discussed in a back-and-forth of a phone call, he just doesn’t do it. Another friend only offers phone calls from 1 PM to 4 PM.

You don’t need to agree with either of this, but be aware and clear about how you communicate with your clients. What will your preferred modes of contact be? When will you take meetings? When won’t you?

It’s often best to set up a clear structure with your clients, especially if they are not paying you for full-time work. Clear boundaries and articulation of when you’re available can be really helpful!

13. Communicate, communicate, communicate:

With all that said, always tell your clients what’s happening. Don’t be a black box. Having an open, honest line of communication with your clients builds trust that is essential to our trade.

14. Be on fucking time:

Your work can be less than amazing as long as you reply to people in a timely manner and are reachable. We all have bad days and we have all designed projects that don’t hold up to our best work. If you deliver on time people will recommend you again and again.

If you deliver on time people will recommend you again and again.

Being on time is one of the most important factors for how clients judge their designers. Most clients really don’t know good design either way, so they will judge you on how you communicate with them instead. Of course you should still design great work. Just do it on time.

15. Be very clear about what you offer:

As a designer, you could “design websites”, or you could “bring brands into the digital age”, or you could “help clients communicate with their customers”. Think hard and long as to how you want to portray your work, and try out different approaches before settling on yours.

Think hard and long as to how you want to portray your work, and try out different approaches before settling on yours.

It’s better to be more specific about exactly what you offer than to be vaguely promising something that will result in confusion and disappointment. You should also be clear about what you don’t offer.

16. Learn your client’s language:

Last, but definitely not least, learn to speak your clients’ language. Learn a bit about technology, about business, or if you’re working for a petting zoo, maybe about goats. Who knows. But only when you speak your client’s language can you actually understand their needs fully, and communicate their business to their potential customers.

Freelancing can be an amazing way to work, but freelancing also means that you run your own business. Treat it as a serious business and plan accordingly.

Freelancing can be an amazing way to work, but freelancing also means that you run your own business. Treat it as a serious business and plan accordingly. But most of all, enjoy your life: what I really love about the freelancer lifestyle is that random hour of sun-bathing on a beautiful summer day, that way too long lunch with friends, that day off when projects are slow and you can make it a three day weekend. And then working hard when I’m in my studio.