So often, I write about the details and observations I’ve had while running a freelance web design business. It seems like so many web designers have taken this path that I tend to forget about those who haven’t.
The truth is that being a freelancer isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. And it’s not necessarily the right fit for everyone. The lifestyle is very different compared to having a steady job with a traditional employer.
A lot of people have found this out the hard way. Freelancing can seem like an ideal career and a sign that you’ve made it. Yet, that depends greatly on your personality and how you like to work.
Today, I’m going to share some reasons why you might not want to jump onto the freelance bandwagon. Don’t worry – this isn’t intended to be a downer. It’s more like a realistic look at what it takes to live this life.
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There Can Be a Lot of Uncertainty
Whether you’re just starting out or are a grizzled veteran of working for yourself, uncertainty is often the only thing you can count on in a given day. Steady clients can be hard to come by and it seems like you are always at the mercy of someone else.
That dependence on others may seem a bit counterintuitive. But when people ask me about being my own boss, I tell them I’m not. Rather, I have dozens of bosses who I need to keep happy. Each one with their own personality, taste and monetary value to the bottom line.
It’s a constant juggling act – one in which you never know when one or more objects will fall from the sky and knock you in the head. Depending on how your business is set up, uncertainty can be spread throughout every aspect. It affects your daily schedule, when you get paid and how aggressive you need to be in booking new clients.
Yes, it is possible to reach a certain level of stability. But it can take several years of making the right connections and building a great reputation to get there.
responsible for every part of a project. And that goes well beyond the design and code. It also encompasses all of the grunt work that goes along with running a business.
Tasks like accounting, marketing, sales and support are all on your plate. Maybe you can hire help for some tasks, but freelancers often work on tight budgets. Therefore, you might be stuck doing things that have nothing to do with web design.
If you’re not prepared for the great responsibility that comes with the job, freelancing may not be for you.
get away? It’s not easy for those of us who work on our own. Yet, taking time off is important for both physical and mental well-being.
There are multiple challenges involved. First, working alone often means not having someone to take your place during an absence. This means that, even if you do manage to get out for a bit, you are likely lugging a laptop along and are glued to your phone for the duration.
Then, just because you’ve left the office doesn’t mean that your clients will stop sending you work. From my experience, most people respect the fact that you are away. But there are always one or two that don’t.
And there is always a chance of something breaking. Such an emergency can lay waste to your plans of rest and relaxation.
Put this all together and you may have a hard time getting out of the office.
new skills. This often requires a time commitment that extends past regular office hours. Nights, weekends or early mornings may be the only opportunities to expand your horizons.
And, if you’re interested in taking a formal online or in-person class, there’s also the matter of cost. Some employers will willingly pay for continuing education. Freelancers aren’t so lucky. This means either paying for it yourself or making due with whatever free resources you can find.
risks. Depending on your life situation, going off on your own may not be worth the potential pitfalls. And the stress involved with running a business can be a major turn-off as well.
Thankfully, our industry provides several different paths for us to choose from. It’s up to us to determine where we’ll be happiest and then make the most of the opportunities we have. For some, that will be as a freelancer. For others, a different, yet equally rewarding journey is the better option.
We wouldn’t exactly call it an unbiased source. 99designs is a huge freelance design portal, with a core business model that generates roughly $60 million a year through designers logging in and taking jobs through the site. Even still, a new report from the company offers what looks to be an unprecedented view of a large swath of the freelance design industry. It surveyed 10,000 designers across 42 countries, 84% of whom have an account on at least one online freelance platform (the survey was hosted primarily on 99designs).
We looked through an advance copy of the report to spot the trends. What we found paints a picture of freelance designers as a potentially overeducated group that treats freelance as a full-time job, just worked during odd hours.
Most freelance designers are dudes . . . but not in the U.S.
Sixty-eight percent of freelancers surveyed worldwide identify as male. That’s a clear majority, which is perhaps not all that surprising. Then again, attempts to quantify gender in design can be opaque. If you look at the data for North America, however, women actually represent a slight majority, of 51.33%.
Designers are educated, but perhaps too educated
Forty percent of freelance designers have a college degree in a design-oriented field. Nine percent have an advanced degree. But here’s the big catch: Only 15% of respondents said that a formal design education was necessary to their career. Fifteen percent! That’s nothing! Most thought education was either unimportant, or didn’t have an opinion one way or the other (though if you’re saying you don’t know if college matters to a job or not, that seems like an opinion unto itself).
A vast majority of freelancers hone their craft on YouTube
99designs believes one reason there is so much ambivalence toward higher education is that 42% of designers reported being self-taught in some way or another. A vast majority—74% of all respondents—said they’d learned skills by watching YouTube. It makes sense, since YouTube offers so many clear demonstrations on how to pull off tricks in Photoshop and other popular software. A third take online classes. And a mere 18% of people do ongoing in-person training.
A lot of freelance designers are working parents
Thirty-one percent of designers are parents with a dependent under the age of 18. More than half of those designers, or roughly 15-20% overall, are the primary caregiver in their household. That means nearly one in five or six freelance designers is staying home with their kids while designing on the side. Also related: twenty-one percent of the designers polled work with a spouse or domestic partner.
Most freelance designers are treating it as a job
The most surprising finding is that only 17% of freelance designers report doing it to earn more income on top of their day job in design. Most are working a ton of hours outside the normal 9-5 working hours, as if it’s a second job. But in fact, it appears to be their main job. I say that because nearly 40% of respondents report freelancing 41 or more hours a week. Another 35% of people were freelancing between 20 and 40 hours a week. That means only about a quarter of people are really all that casual about freelance design, putting in less than 20 hours a week. Freelance design does not appear to be a side hustle—just one done at off hours.
In any case, 42% of all respondents still report that they freelance for the flexibility and freedom, while 17% do it for the creative freedom. That sounds nice, but something tells me it also adds up to a whole lot of creative people who could use a 401(k) and health insurance.
In just 4 months and 14 days since we have started charging for our product and about 13 months since our online video editor went live, we have hit an important milestone, we have hit ramen profitability.
As of mid October 2019 we are at $5000 in monthly recurring revenue, VEED now pays for two full-time founders (myself and Tim) and two part time developers (Mate and Veljko… Love you guys)
“Ramen profitable means a startup makes just enough to pay the founders’ living expenses” – Bad Man PG
We have hustled pretty f****** hard to get here and learnt a LOT along the way. There were a couple of moments where we thought it was all over, like the time we ran out of money and had to get contract work, or the time when we were kicked out of our office.
Oh and time our first two developers quit working for us immediately on the same day. But through all these drastic highs and lows, we have continued to move forward and grow.
Ramen profitability is a huge milestone, but also marks the start of the next big phase of our startup journey as we are moving towards finding product market fit and starting to scale our product to thousands of monthly paid users.
In this post I am going to go through and describe our journey as to how we got to where we are right now and document the main milestones and lessons we have learnt along the way. As bliss as our progress might have seemed from the outside, it has been a real grind with many ups, downs, failures and fuckups. So here goes…
The Backstory – $0 MRR
To start, I think its important to set the scene. In 2014 online video was hailed as the new BIG thing, everyone was banging on about it. We both could see a cultural shift accelerating. We were watching more YouTube than TV, we were flicking through Instagram more than magazines and we were not alone, all our friends were doing that too. Quality user generated content was winning in a big way.
The fact that you can shoot high quality videos with a smartphone and distribute content globally free of charge was changing how we were consuming media and in its wake creating a new generation of celebrities, influencers and publishers. In turn inspiring even more to create. Brands started to take note and the old model of creating two blockbuster TV commercials a year to connect with your audience started to become less relevant.
At this point, I realised that most video editing software was designed for making films and TV shows, not short snappy social media content. After searching, I found no editor that was powerful, yet simple enough, that would allow you to construct a narrative or tell a story. We thought there is definitely a gap in the market, but we were not sure what it was just yet.
We thought we were a great team to solve this problem. I was a recent grad from Central Saint Martins, I had directed music videos for Sony music, had experience working in advertising and branding agencies and a bunch of startups too.
Tim worked on a research project at King’s College London and built an automated video editing platform that used AI and Natural Language Processing to summarise news articles and turn them into short, bite-sized informational videos (the project was called VEED)
Tim and I did some research and really liked how Giphy’s gif maker worked and thought it would be super cool to make something similar for video editing. I started designing, Tim started coding.
When we messed – $0 MRR
After Tim graduated from King’s College London, we then applied to his university accelerator and got a place. We had the designs, an MVP and were ready to hit the ground running. Tim still had the veed.io domain name, and thought it sounded like video so we used it.
We had limited runway, just enough to cover 3 month of the 12 month program. So we thought that we could win some cash by entering pitch competitions. So we changed our idea from simple online video editor, to automated video editing….
We got really good at winning pitch competitions, like REALLY GOOD. In fact, we won cash at pretty much every competition we entered. We got flown to Dubai to present it at a conference, a VC firm gave us free desk space because they thought we were onto something and we netted tens of thousands of pounds in prize money… crazy right?
During those 6 months we won thousands in grant funding, we were balling and everything was going amazing, so with the money we hired two talented students to help us build this highly anticipated award winning product. From the outside, it might have looked pretty rosey. This is how you run a startup right?
The product seemed like a GREAT idea. The BIG problem was all of the people who said we were doing so well were and awarded us prize money where not our target customers. After that we have built the products MVP, we have spent months trying to sell it with no interest, we got close a few times, but it was clearly not going to work.
So we had a product no one wanted and with about 6 weeks runway left. We got the team to rip everything apart and pivot back to our original idea, the product we had wanted to build from the start – a simple online video editor.
It was horrible, the worst summer ever Tim and I have ever had, we were broke, our startup was not working. To make matters even worse in those last 6 weeks, both of the students we hired had quit and walked out on the same day, a week later the VC firm that gave us free desk-space kicked us out too. It must have been pretty obvious we were crashing hard.
So Tim got a contract Job and sent me half his wages every week so I could keep running the company. Tim would meet me in the office at 6am every morning and then headed off to his contact job for 9am and I would continue hacking and marketing till later in the evening. Fortunately, we managed to launch and get some early users with our MVP.
A few weeks later, while eating a hot dog on London Southbank, I got a cold call from a recruiter offering me a contact job too. We both were tired, drained, and needed a break and some cash too, so I took it.
This is the part where the easy thing would be to give up. We could have easily just fallen back to getting paid well through contracting. But we did not want to give up that easy, we understood the mistakes me made and knew how we could fix them.
Winning awards is not the same as running a company
Build stuff your users want
Validate with your users before building
The co-founder relationship needs to be strong
Know when to pivot
BETA – $0 MRR
Tim and I were working weekday mornings, evenings and weekends and after a few months it was paying off, we were talking to users and our startup was growing. As we were getting paid pretty well while contracting, we thought it would be a good idea to hire two developers to keep VEED moving at a good pace.
We searched high and low and where SUPER lucky to eventually find Veljko and Mate. We have learnt a lot from our previous failed hires and vowed to never make the same mistakes again.
Traffic was increasing every week and just 4 month after everything came crashing down, we had built VEED to 20K monthly active users. As my contract job came to an end I moved back onto VEED full time with Veljko and Mate. We were building fast, iterating on product and growing at a good speed and Tim was working all hours too and kept company’s runway topped up.
It is possible to have two jobs
The only time a startup fails, is when your let it fail
Talk to your users and iterate fast
First Paid Users – $200 MRR
I received an email that recommended we apply to join the next cohort of well known startup accelerator.
Tim and I thought that there is no harm in filling out the application, so on a train ride home to see my mum, a few days before the deadline, I filled out the application.
To our surprise a few weeks later we had a phone interview, that went well. Just 4 weeks later, we were in Mountain View California interviewing for a place on the program.
Essentially, we got rejected, and from our rejection email feedback, we believed we got rejected for not having any revenue. So we added a $5 pay wall that weekend and converted our first 20 paid users. We then emailed them and asked them to reconsider.
They said no..
Unfortunately, as this weekend was so mad, we did not have time to appreciate the huge milestone that we just overcome. We had always dreamed of making our first monthly revenue online and now we had it. What was even more shocking is that we found 20 users that weekend to pay for our buggy video editing app.
You need to charge your users early to learn if this is a product they will pay for.
By charging users, you will understand where the value is for them.
Rejection is not a bad thing.
It is not always easy to not see the value in something you have built.
Summer 2019 – $3000 MRR
We returned back on London in mid June, doubled our prices to $10 and got our heads down talking to our paid users. We quickly worked out that for our paid users adding subtitles to videos and also automatic subtitle transcription were by far the most popular features. With this knowledge, we worked hard on making those features amazing.
Since we started making money, we began getting a lot of inbound investor interest. Additionally investors we previously spoke with also started to get super keen. Ultimately we decided to not take any investment, we did not want any distractions and though the lack of runway would make us focus hard to getting our product to profitability.
But we wanted them ourselves, so we have built them anyway. We also changed a lot of our development processes to enable us to move much faster and speed up our lead times to deliver features and bug fixes. All this allowed us to hit 2oo paid users.
In August, we had realised that at our current growth rate we would run out of money in the next 3 months yet again. So we doubled our prices again to $20 and something CRAZY happened.
Users continued to pay for our app
Churn fell by 40%
New users drop by only 10%
Following this, we had our best month yet and best of all, we were projected to reach ramen profitability on the exact same week our personal funds would run out.
As counterproductive as putting prices up feels, charging $20 for VEED brought in a different and more serious type of user, they need the product and they are happy to pay for it and have different needs to the $5 users we originally had. Things started looking up for the first time in ages.
Finally overtime, our product matured and stability got better, we believe this is also a leading factor in how we reduced revenue churn to from an embarrassing 40% to less than 10% in just a few months.
Put your prices up, again and again.
Don’t build features for the sake of it, it is a waste of time.
Try to avoid unnecessary distractions like investors.
October 2019 – $5000 MRR
October 17th, 2:02pm – $5K MRR, after everything we have been through to date it does not feel real. Altho we have pretty much made every mistake in the book many times over and I believe we will continue to keep messing up too, but our trajectory suggests we are not going to have to go back to contracting now. We are really excited to continue building our product and now can also see a path to really accelerate growth.
Getting your first company off the ground takes longer than you think.
A profitable companies don’t rely on anyone else.
How do we run VEED on $5K Mo?
Tim and I pay ourselves about $1666 each and we pay Mate and Viljko the same. In not sure how everyone else spends their money, but this is a breakdown of how I spend my money.
$600 Rent $200 Bills $200 Social Life $100 Eating out $100 Travel $100 Maybe a new pair of trainers or something..
It’s not a lot, I cut corners where I can; I pack lunch, ride my bike to work (much nicer than the tube), make the most of free drinks at events before going out 😉 But we are all so happy to be working on a product we love, it really does not matter. We are filled with excitement and push hard for growth.
We have free cloud services for the next 8 months, but will easily cover this by the end of next month too. All other bills come out of our personal accounts right now.
We really hope this blog post was valuable. We would love for other early stage founders to read and share this so others do not make the same mistakes we did. Join our mailing list if you would like to get update from us as we build our VEED and as always, feel free to drop us an email if you have any questions.
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Project rates are often the ideal model for freelancers—it removes the stress of having to associate and justify every single hour to a task. Once you’re confident with your ability to estimate a project, move to project rates as quickly as possible.
To estimate the size of a project, break it down into tasks and add up the number of hours they usually take.
To estimate the size of a project, start by breaking it down into smaller tasks, then add up the number of hours those tasks usually take. Multiply this by your hourly rate and add in a markup you’re comfortable with. Do not show this breakdown to your clients, only use it for yourself to feel more confident about estimating your time.
Only show clients a summary of your pricing, otherwise, they’ll get stuck in the details. An hourly rate of $100/hr sounds like a lot more than $6,000 for two weeks of work.
What’s great about project rates is that with experience, you’ll become more efficient at producing better work. This means you can charge the same or more for a project without investing more hours. You’re not paid to do work, you’re paid to bring value to a business.
Don’t show clients your cost breakdowns, they’ll get stuck in the details.
This week we surveyed our design community about pricing to give you a crystal clear idea of what freelance design costs in 2019. The result is a graphic design pricing list below that will help both freelancers and businesses looking to hire one, by giving a fair starting point.
After all, the best design jobs and contracts start from a place of mutual respect and value – so the last thing independent designers should do is shy away from talking about the numbers.
A Couple Disclaimers
We created this graphic design pricing list by surveying over 209 freelance designers.
Our audience skews toward experienced and skilled, so the pricing in this guide is reflective of working with a great designer.
Our audience is remote and international, which also plays a big role in pricing.
With those things out of the way, let’s get on to our graphic design pricing list!
First up, logos.
How Much Does a Logo Cost in 2019?
Branding and logo design are often the first design service a company buys. But contrary to popular belief, a logo is not the same thing as a brand. So one thing to keep in mind is paying a higher price often means you’re getting more. Usually, a brand identity project is more valuable because your designer will not only come up with a logo, but actually think through the entire visual aesthetic of your company.
So based on the survey date above, we think $1200 is a fair starting point for logo design services. There are ways to get logos for much less but, as detailed previously, we’d be very careful with such “bargains.”
How Much Does a Website Homepage Cost in 2019?
A homepage (or landing page) design project is a type of web design job that is commonly the second step companies take when looking to enhance their brand. It’s a more time-consuming job, so the price range is starting to get larger. Depending on the complexity, you can expect to pay anything from $500 for a simple teaser to $5,000 for a full-featured landing page introducing your product (think Basecamp’s homepage). That’s why our graphic design pricing list recommendation is starting with a budget of $1900.
How Much Does a Full Static Website Design Cost in 2019?
Website design jobs are the most in-demand type of design contract we find. They’re also one of the hardest jobs to price on our entire graphic design pricing list. Asking how much one should cost, is like asking an architect how much a house will cost. It all depends on specifics, so usually a straight answer isn’t easy. Still, after analyzing the survey results, we think that you’re going to need to budget at least $4,000 for a predictably great result. This assumes a basic website, that has a homepage, a basic page template, and 1 or 2 additional layouts. Beyond that you’re looking at a lot more, so keep this in mind.
How Much Does a Mobile App Design Cost in 2019?
Mobile app design jobs and contracts are a more specialty type of design job. Often, they’re simpler projects but require a higher-end skill set. For example, mobile apps frequently require a closer attention to aesthetics, UX journey maps, and visual details than websites. These factors mean that even with less pages or less content, mobile apps are not cheaper than other projects on our graphic design pricing list. In fact, this is the only category where the highest price ($15,000 ) is NOT the least answered by freelancers. Due to this, before you start down a mobile app design project, we recommend a minimum $5000 budget.
How Much Does a Web App Design Cost in 2019?
Web app design jobs (also commonly titled simply UI/UX) are in a pricing range of their own on our graphic design pricing list, with a lot of designers charging $5,000 or more. The reason is: there is no such thing as a “small” web app. Unlike a static site, a web app is constantly evolving. That makes requirements harder to pin down, and planning for unexpected new features a must. Lastly, designing a web app usually requires a UI/UX designer which means a dual skillset: someone who can make something look good AND work great. All of this explains why this is the most expensive category.
We recommend a starting budget of at least $7,000 but you’re probably looking at $10,000 . Honestly, $15,000 or even $20,000 is nothing out of the ordinary so plan accordingly.
How to use this Graphic Design Pricing List…
These survey results are by no means exhaustive, and every project is different.
The best way to use this graphic design pricing list is as a starting point for your next proposal or job post.
Part of the service a freelance designer provides is scoping out a project and figuring out exactly what you can afford and how much you should pay for the best results.