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Why do you charge so cheap?

1 March 2008

Articles, Freelancing

Why do you charge so cheap?
Choose your language / Elige tu idioma:englishespañol

I have recieved many comments about this topic, even recieved emails blaming me of degrading the design industry… “your work is great, WHY ARE YOUR SERVICES SO CHEAP?”

But, do i really charge that cheap?

I earn about a 400-500% of the salary of an employed graphic designer in any company of my city, and i also work when, how and in what i want to.

If my services are cheap… what happens with this employees? The design companies get a lot of money, but that’s not disloyal since it’s the client who pays it.

Who says i’m cheap?

Usually rich countries companies, that have a partial vision of the business, they don’t take in to account why i am “so cheap”:

  • When they see the quality and quantity of my portfolio they think that SOSFactory is a studio, but no, i’m freelance, this way i have minimum expenses, and that’s why my hour-price ratio is pretty good.
  • I live in Spain, the life level is lower than in in the USA. So with a smaller salary, i’m really very well paid… but if i lived in the Philipines? I’d be millionaire.
  • They don’t think in the work path. I have a business plan, i started charging 50US$ per logo, 3 years later they were 300-500US$… in 3 years they’ll be 1000US$.
  • Because i do my best in every order, and i know that quality sells by itself, without the need to invest even a cent in publicity.

How much should i charge?
They always refer me to the designers ethic code, the one that tells you what you have to do in every moment… But what happens if i don’t have many clients but i have bills to pay?, Will the code author come to pay them?

Codes are fine, they help to understand the profession… but only you can price your work.

Why i don’t charge more?
No soy buddhist… or fool, i’d love to charge more, if i don’t do it it’s because i don’t have clients that pay that much. I’ve always said it, my work is worth as much as my capacity to sell it.

I think long term, every time i have stable clients that exceed my work capacity, i rise the prices. If like me, you star without any economin resources, you have no option but to work cheap… but always giving the best of you… the good ones rise, the bad ones will always be cheap.

The educator mith?

When you say you’re cheap because you have no clients, the answer is always the same… you have to educate the client, explain the importance of the design, that good designs cost money… that things are obvious for them in any other profession.

And i say… if every time a client offered me a pittance to design i invested 10 minutes explaining all that, i’d luckily work 1 hour a day.

No sir!!!, i’m a designer, not a teacher, the ones that don’t appreciate my work aren’t welcome. Lucky me, i’ve been working hard for various years and i can allow me to do that, but when you’re staring many time you have to do it.

Who degrades this profession?

  • Those companies that subcontract me, they charge 600-800US$ for every character desgin, of which i take 300US$… and thankful, because unfortunately the seller is more important than the product itself.
  • Those “american” companies that the only american thing they have is the name, that subcontract companies in the Philipines, with 40 people in a 40m room to whom they pay a miserable ammount while they get a lot of money.
  • The “fast food” of design, those mega-companies where what matters is quantity and not quality, where there’s no passion for design, and what matters is filling their pockets making garbage.
  • Those websites dedicated to design contests, those websites where designers bid for projects in horrible conditions, where we reduce our prices as much as we can and more to get the job while the site gets the bigger part of the pie.
  • The design “schools”, where what matters is getting the maximum possible ammount of people in a classroom (as long as they pay the fees), to later on give them a “designer” degree and find out that they have been wasting their time and money, since all a designer needs in passion for his work, the rest is on the internet… and free!!!
  • Mediocre designers, the ones that are designers because they have to do something in their lives.
  • The defeated ones, those who dedicate to complain about how bad are our works valued instead of working to find solutions.

But wait!! i’m not blaming these of anything, i simply think that in this business there’s space for everybody… it’s out fault, designers of vocation, if we were brave enough and mount our own business, leaving the mediators behind, we’d all earn more… the client would pay a reasonable price and would get a good product, and the designer would have a dignified and profitable job.


(only if you are passionate and are prepared to give everything of you)

Abandon the mediators as soon as possible, mount your own business, work hard and cheap if you need to… every time you have more work than you can do (during a reasonable time) rise your prices, if you’re good you’ll rise in a short time, and then you’ll start enjoying this profession.

Until then they’ll tell you that you’re cheap, you don’t valorate yourself, that you degrade the profession, but you’ll laugh on the inside… because you know it’s only a matter of time until you get the possition you deserve.

This post was written by:

- who has written 58 posts on SOSFactory Blog.

My name’s Sergio Ordoñez I´m illustrator, graphic and web designer. A selection of my work is included at SOSFactory. If you want to support this blog, please be an active member: tweet the posts, participate in the discussions and the exercises :)

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  • Juvesatriani

    “my work is worth as much as my capacity to sell it” words I ever heard from a talent guy like you..:) GBU

  • Cased

    Your from greece and you speak english and spanish and design the best ive seen in along time. Very impressed and I read your F.A.Q’s and you speak the truth man. Real talk!

    • Sergio Ordonez

      Thanks buddy but I’m Spanish :)

  • Isis Marques

    This post is one of my favorites ever. A realistic and true vision of a raising professional.
    I’m a “school” designer, I’ve been studying since 2008 (and before, 2004, I was gratuated in Education Sciences), but I agree that everyone needs to start and the most important is to have talent and passion to study and grow by yourself!
    I’ll launch my new portfolio in a few days, eventually I’ll need partners, hope someday we can produce things together! =)

    Thanks for all the content you share.


    Hello Mr Sergio, this article is the best I have read in my life, concerning my career as a freelance graphics designer. My area of specialization is logo design and I am from Nigeria. Here, in the local parts actually, people have a problem with valuing abstract things like services. But they still understand its to some extent and are ready pay, but not so much at all. I have learnt from your article that I dont have push them all away and reject their offers. I should rather focus on more works, portfolio, results and clients. Thanks.
    Victor, Nigeria.

  • Rudee Root

    “the good ones rise, the bad ones will always be cheap”

    Unfortunately, this is not true.

    Artistic quality is NOT an indicator for survival, commercial skills on the other hand, are.
    As surveys from organizations of graphic designers and illustrators in many european countries show, an average budding illustrator will stay in business for a maximum time stretch of 4 years.

    Additionally, most of your premises mentioned above are false:
    “i’m freelance, this way i have minimum expenses”, for example, is a naive fallacy.

    If you faithfully add costs for insurances (for health, old age pension, legal expenses), reserves for contingencies, hard and software, rent, etc. you have to admit that you would have to bill expenses similar to the expenses of a normal employee in a studio to earn enough money to stay in business for more than the above mentioned 4 years.

    Actually, your system of cheap work w/out the possibility to accumulate reserves and w/out copyright stake holding resembles the “work for hire” system in the US.

    The funny thing is, even “work for hire” depends on several rules (—>, which you ignore in your self imposed system.

    It’s 6 years since you wrote this article and –as far as I can see– you do not live in cheap Spain anymore but in rather expensive Germany, just as I do (still without kids, is it? — they DO change everything, as they take away the most valuable asset you have: time).

    I’m highly interested if all you wrote above still reflects your point of view NOW.

    RR (a freelance illustrator for some 25 years now).

    • Sergio Ordonez

      Hi there,

      thanks a lot for your comment, I will try to clarify my point of view.

      I’m not an artist, I’m a technician that do what client’s order me to do in order to promote their products and services. This said, if my commercial skills are not good to sell my own services why should anybody hire me? We are here for selling not for creating art, being good means being good at everything, producing and selling. Nowadays internet offers much more possibilities (social networks, youtube, art communities, blogs, virality, bigger audience…) so it’s easier to sell and this is the reason why there is more competition, so now, even more than 6 years ago, it applies.

      Not sure which surveys are you refering to, I can tell you about my personal experience: I have been in the business for more than 10 years. Most of the people that started in the same time as I did are still active.

      I’m not comparing the cost of BEING freelance with the cost of being an in house designer. I’m comparing the cost of HIRING a freelance in comparison with the cost of hiring a design agency. I work for from home, I don’t need a secretary, I don’t need project managers, I don’t need representatives, I don’t need advertising… it results on a more competitive price. Obviously my resources are limited, I can’t produce a tv commercial.

      Regarding the “work for hire” US system… I’m not in US, I created my own system, I’m not infringing any law and it’s fair for me and for my client, so fair enough.

      My place of residence doesn’t change the fact that there are millions of workers from 3rd world countries that get a good salary even charging a few dollars per day. Hopefully in the last 6 years my business was good enough so that I can live wherever I want, not only cheap Spain nor reasonably cheap Germany, I have been living even in very expensive Sydney.

      I agree on the last point… kids take away time but being freelance or working for a company is irrelevant here. Being freelance you have much more flexibility at time to manage your time but if you (and for your family and friends) don’t have discipline it can be a mess.

      The message on this article was that you don’t need to charge as much as a design agency to make a good income… it’s good for you and your client. Actually design agencies still resell my services… it’s worth just in case you have a project that big that it can’t be handle by just one person.