Advice Requested ASAP...freelance offer

Hi everyone,

I just received an offer to do some freelance work for an ID firm. They are offering what seems to me a very low level of compensation. The package is this:

A few weeks guaranteed work in their studio, at $15/hr. for 8hrs. a day.

Now, I’ve been out of school a little over a year. During that time I haven’t held a junior industrial design position, but I have had one ID internship in addition to working as a commercial artist at a firm, so I’m not a complete newb. In addition, my ID skills are pretty solid.

I’ve heard that a freelancer should ask for $25-$50/hr. in compensation. As a Junior Designer, I would make $34-$42k/year judging from my experience. That’s $17-$21/hr. plus some benefits.

It seems to me it would be fair to make a counter offer for $25/hr.

Thoughts? Suggestions? I need to respond to them within the next 12 hours.

Considering you could work at a manufacturing plant with just a high-school diploma for that amount (or more!), I’d say that countering for $25/hr isn’t out of the question at all.

I would look at it a little differently. If it is somewhere you want to work and it will really build your portfolio. I would consider just taking the amount offered since you do not have a great deal of experience and the more experience you get the easier it will be to find a good paying job.

If it is something your doing and it is not really somewhere you want to go then ask for the money. But be warned in this economy more then likely they will just ask someone else. There is very little leverage in this economy.

It is true that you could make that same kind of money working as waiter but you went to collage so you don’t have to. My personal belief is if you are going to work might as well do something you like. I like doing design more then how much I am getting paid. For experience I would just take it and try to work out cost latter. For example if they like you they might hire you full time.

Before you decide what your rate ought to be, I think you need to do some math. $15 is insanely low. More like $30 - $100 depending on experience, level of service, expertise, etc.

Things that factor into your rate:

  1. The cost of software and how frequently you’ll need to update. If you need creative suite, SolidWorks, and Keyshot to do your job, and if you need to update them every other year, you must factor in ($5k + $1k + $2k / 2) as an annual expense, and factor it into your rate. This is not profit.
  2. How many hours do you expect to be billable in a week versus looking for work? In other words, there is some overhead associated with being a freelancer. It may take 15-20 hours a week to snag 30 billable hours - or none. Unless you can count on working 60 hours a week every week, that sales and marketing time needs to be factored into your rates. In other words, don’t base your rates on 2000 hours a year. You’d be hard pressed to ever hit that target. More like 1200-1600 hours.
  3. Salary. Look at what entry level engineers at your level make and use that as a target. I know a lot of designers play the starving artist role and drag the average down. Don’t be that. As much as people will like to pretend you are a crazy artist and try to take advantage of you, don’t reward that kind of thinking. You are a trained professional in a skill-based occupation. Repeat that to yourself until it’s internalized. Also remember you will be paying more in taxes (this is 1099 income) than as an employee (W-2 income), so figure you’ll need to bump up that number by 5-10%.
  4. Health insurance. Expect to pay $200/mo or more. You aren’t a student anymore, so assume you will carry this while you freelance.
  5. Office related expenses - rock solid reliable high speed internet, a good calling plan, hardware (like the computer you’ll need to replace every 3-5 years), office supplies, etc.
  6. Marketing expenses - business cards, trips to visit clients, trade shows (within reason), etc.

Once you’ve done that, do the math. This is more than you asked for, and you’ll have to decide how it does or does not apply to your situation. Good luck.

It’s a few weeks right? Not the sane as setting up a full freelance operation so dont worry about overheads and the like b

If you are doing nothing now, $15/hr is better than nothing. What a yearly salary is is irrelevant. Think of the opportunity cost, your portfolio and long term.

If you can ask more, sure maybe try. But weigh that with them saying no and not working. I’m all for fair wages but hard to determine that not knowing your situation and the client. Again, work is better than no work.


In the short term, I second Kuchinsky. If after that time is up they wish to extend the arrangement, ask for more but be ready to walk. It’s also possible they really like your stuff, are trialing you, and are prepared to offer you grownup pay at the end of the arrangement. You should still do the math exercise. Consider it part of your professional education.

FYI, design firms typically charge anywhere from $75 to $150 an hour for their services, with some perhaps charging less and some charging more - it also can depend on the specific service being offered. Like a freelancer, design firms must spend money on equipment, facilities, etc in order to provide the level of service they provide, so it isn’t like the difference between wages and rates is up for grabs. The $40k or so an entry level designer should be earning (midwest dollars) probably works out to 1/2 or more of the entry level designer’s billing rate (on the $75 end), once salary, payroll taxes, insurance, equipment, and senior staff mentoring that designer are taken into account - not counting all the other stuff that goes into the enterprise (sales staff, equipment service contracts, legal, accounting, etc).

I understand the view that “somework is better than none,” however, I also think I could do myself a disservice by accepting below-market wages for someone of my skill level. I would undermine my professionalism to accept that amount.

I do love design, but I don’t work at a firm because I love design, I work at one to get a paycheck. I do non-profit design work, and my own projects, but when I’m employed by someone, I and all workers have the right to expect a fair market wage for their work.

That said, I plan on countering with $25/hr. I think it’s a fair deal considering that the only overhead I have are travel expenses and my own insurance. If they don’t accept it, that’s alright. I have some money saved up, so I can live without this particular job. It would also give me more time to prepare for the job interviews I’ve been setting up.

Just to give you an idea we pay our interns $15/hr.
I think you can counter with $25.

One of my worries coming out of this recession, not just with our industry but all industries is businesses trying to low ball people on compensation because they know a lot of people are looking for work and are in some cases desperate. But also think of it this way, if you take the job and do a good job it could lead to more work from them and then you can charge more.

Good luck

I also cosign Richards post.

Take the gig at the low rate, but let them know upfront that if this short engagement of a couple of weeks, your rate goes to $30. Essentially you are offerin them a trial period at a discounted rate. Dot pass on the experience. My first gig was at $10 per hour an I’m doing allright now :wink:

I’ll third the motion, with the important thing being upfront that at the end of x time frame the rate goes up.

Yes, a tricky but key point in the conversation. You have to have it up front though!