One of the more challenging aspects of working as freelancer can be determining the value of your services. Thanks to the internet it is easy to determine what’s considered “normal” for most services.  However, any freelancer, especially those new to the business, might be afraid of scaring away new customers with sticker shock or just want to undercut the competition to get their foot in the door. Seems like a good idea, but it can easily come back to haunt you.

Is it a hobby or a business?

Once you land a client with your bargain price, you’ve set the bar low for any potential repeat business.  Now that they’ve gotten the sale price, they’re not going to want to pay the regular one, ever. Unless you’ve got the market cornered, they’re going to expect to be able to get that price somewhere else.

This is not to say the occasional discount, pro bono or barter job has no place, especially for someone looking for to build a portfolio.  But you can’t survive on good will, so it’s important to respect your skill set enough to charge a fair amount for your time and skill, especially when dealing with a potential repeat customer.

Is this a job or hobby?  If you set the bar too low you’ll end up practically donating time and skills that could be going toward jobs paying a fair rate, and you will warp your customers’ expectations for what they can get at a low price.

So how do you figure out what’s normal?

There are a couple quick and easy ways to get an idea of what the standards are in your industry. There are many online forums dedicated to specific industries and crafts, while other popular sites like Reddit have sub forums about nearly anything you can imagine, including job types. Posting in places like this can quickly get you some answers from others about how much they charge.

One thing to be cautious of, however, is on large forums you’ll almost certainly be getting info about markets all over the country and sometimes the earth, many of which may not have the same demand or competition as the one you are working in. To help narrow the info down, find a local competitor, act like a potential customer and request a quote. Seem devious? Don’t worry; any company worth anything shouldn’t be paranoid about giving an honest estimate to anyone who requests one. Comparing the info you get from local vendors to the national average can give you a solid range within which you can comfortably set your own rate.