What should I charge?

What should I charge? This question comes up a lot.

Here’s are some pieces to the puzzle that might help determine what to charge a customer. Each one has to work with the others.

  • What is your time worth?
  • How fast are you?
  • Do you want the business relationship to be long term or short term?
  • What is the current market rate?
  • How much experience do you have?

What is your time worth?

A person out of high school working at a burger shop will put a lower price on his or her time than a professional manager that is making big bucks. Be careful not to undersell the value of your time.

How fast are you?

You have to realistically look at how fast your can create web pages or write a program. It takes a new student a much longer time to figure out a basic CSS design than a seasoned, five-year CSS expert. And, the expert will have several templates ready and waiting so he or she can create a basic site in minutes. Literally.

Even something as simple as typing speed plays into this figure. Let’s say you can only tap out 30 words per minute on a good day. And, that’s using English words. It might drop down to 15 words a minute when you start typing code…

Now compare your output to another person who is able to type code at 60 wpm or higher. Who will be the most productive? The 60 wpm will be able to generate four web pages or more for every one the 15 wpm typist can write. If you have your skill set down (CSS, XHTML, design, some JavaScript) and have a few web site templates in your personal library that you can build from you will be able to finish normal tasks much quicker than someone that doesn’t. The faster you are the more you can charge. Time is money for both you and your client.

Do you want the business relationship to be long term or short term?

This will help you determine how to charge. If you want this to develop into a long term relationship you may want to charge a flat rate for a set number of pages. Later additions and changes could be billed at an hourly rate. A common error though is to charge to little in order to “buy the business”. After awhile you will find yourself doing lots work and the first question, “What am I worth?” will be nagging at you. It’s always harder to raise rates later than to bill a little higher in the beginning.

Should you charge by the hour or by the project? A short job is usually best by the hour. Longer projects could be billed by a flat rate. Also, if you are newer to the business of web site programming and design you might want to charge a flat rate for a set number of pages.

What is the current market rate?

This is the question that most people are really asking. But, these numbers are only valuable if they seen in context with the other questions listed here. Most professional agencies charge between $100 – $200/hour. A complete, professional website normally runs $1,500 on up depending on how complex it is. The keyword here is professional. Also, keep in mind that these rates are what the agency charges, not what the web programmer gets paid. The agency or company has to pay salaries, utilities, and rent out of this money as well as show a profit.

I usually recommend to people just breaking into the market to charge between $15 – $50/hour depending on their skill level. Once they are established they can charge the higher rate. Established could be roughly defined as a person that has at least 10-15 working web sites that they maintain.

How much experience do you have?

As you continue to work in the field and learn more skills and techniques you will be able to charge more. Experienced people have built up a toolbox of code and techniques that allow them to build and maintain sites/programs quickly and easily. Also, a web developer/programmer that can build a shopping cart or a web page that can be maintained by the customer without needing a programmer is a lot more valuable than one that can only create static web pages that simply display information.

If you can think of better ways to do the routine things quicker and easier you will be even more valuable. For example, one of my students started work at a web design company and put together a framework of code that allowed him to created complex web sites very quickly. Each web site had the same basic structure, but by adding different graphics and modifying the CSS code he was able to create unique sites in an hour or so (once he had the framework built.) All the other employees took several weeks to accomplish the same amount of work.


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