How to Price Your Freelance Projects

How to Price Your Freelance Projects

TL;DR: If you’re wondering how to calculate hourly rate as a freelancer, the formula is straightforward:

  • Add up all your expenses, including overhead costs like rent and utilities
  • And day-to-day living expenses such as groceries
  • Don’t forget to factor in your estimated tax obligations
  • Once you have a total, divide it by the number of hours you plan to work each month in average. This gives you your minimum hourly rate.

The rest of this article will provide more nuanced advice on setting your freelance rates.

Determining how to price your freelance projects is one of the most crucial decisions you’ll make as a freelancer. Get it wrong, and you could either scare off potential clients with high rates or undervalue your skills and time, leading to burnout and financial instability.

So, how do you find that sweet spot? In short, you’ll need to consider several factors such as market research, your overhead and living expenses, and the value you bring to the table. You should also factor in your availability and how much time a project will consume.

This article aims to provide you with a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the complex world of freelancing rates effectively. We’ll delve deeper into all these aspects and more, providing you with practical insights drawn from my own experience.

Research Freelance Rates

Before diving into numbers, it’s essential to first clearly identify the specific services you’ll offer as this directly impacts what to charge for your work as a freelancer. Different services often have different market rates, so knowing your niche is key. Once you’re clear on this, you can start your market analysis.

Ziprecruiter, Indeed and specialized reports like the Front-End Developers on Upwork cost can help you understand the freelancer hourly rates associated with your specific service offerings. Additionally, engaging in online communities such as Reddit’s r/freelance and LinkedIn groups focused on freelancing (e.g. one, two, three) can offer real-world examples of what your peers and competitors are charging.

These resources will help you tailor your rates according to your skills, experience, and the value you provide. In this way, you’ll not only learn what the market is willing to pay but also how to better position yourself within it.

Factor in Your Expenses

Another key aspect in figuring out what to charge for your work as a freelancer is to consider all your operating expenses. This includes things like software subscriptions, hardware maintenance, and even co-working space rentals if you use them. Don’t forget to add any costs related to professional development, like courses or certifications that keep your skills up-to-date.

You also need to take into account your living expenses. This includes rent, utilities, healthcare, groceries, and any other monthly obligations you have. It’s essential to calculate these expenses in detail so you can set a minimum acceptable rate (M.A.R.) that ensures you’ll not only survive but thrive.

Remember, all these costs need to be covered by your freelance earnings. Make sure to factor them into your hourly or project-based rates.

Don’t Forget About Taxes

When you’re self-employed, you’re responsible for handling your own taxes, unlike traditional employment where it’s usually deducted from your paycheck. It’s crucial to set aside a percentage of your earnings for income tax, social security, and any other obligatory contributions. Consulting a tax advisor specialized in freelance or entrepreneurial income is a smart move.

Your tax obligations will directly influence the minimum amount you need to charge as a freelancer. Failing to consider taxes when setting your rates can result in financial difficulties down the line. Therefore, always calculate your rates with a tax buffer to avoid any unpleasant surprises during tax season.

Your availability plays a significant role in determining your freelance rates. Unlike a 9-5 job, freelancing often involves irregular work hours, and your earning potential depends on how much time you can dedicate to client projects.

First, figure out the number of days per month you’ll be available for work. Take into account weekends, holidays, and any personal days you’ll need. Once you have a rough estimate, you can calculate your daily rate by dividing your desired monthly income by the number of workdays in a month.

For example, if you’ve calculated that you need to make $5,000 per month to cover all expenses, taxes, and desired savings, and you’re available to work 20 days in a month, then your daily rate should be $250.

Remember, your availability will fluctuate due to various factors such as project deadlines, family obligations, or even health issues. Therefore, it’s essential to review your availability periodically and adjust your rates accordingly.

Figure Out What You Need to Survive

survive as a freelancer

So, you’ve researched the market rates, taken your expenses into account, and even set aside a portion for taxes. What next? It’s time to focus on survival expenses, the bare minimum you need to keep the lights on and food on the table. This can include essentials like rent or mortgage, utility bills, groceries, healthcare, transportation, and even the cost of maintaining your work equipment.

To get an accurate picture, list down all your fixed and variable expenses for a month. Add a buffer for unexpected emergencies or fluctuations in expenses. The sum will be the minimum you need to survive, and you’ll want to earn above this amount to have a comfortable living.

Don’t underestimate this figure. If you’re asking yourself how to properly price your freelance projects, not taking survival costs into account can result in your rates being way too low to maintain a decent quality of life.

Choosing a Pricing Method

When you’re figuring out what to charge for your work as a freelancer, choosing the right pricing method can make all the difference. Whether you’re calculating your hourly rates or considering a per-project rate, your pricing strategy can greatly impact both your income and client relationships. Here are three principal methods to consider: hourly rates, per-project rates, and value-based pricing. Let’s dissect each one briefly to help you make an informed decision.

Hourly Rates

Charging by the hour is perhaps the most straightforward approach, particularly for those who are new to freelancing. You simply bill clients for the time you dedicate to their projects, making it ideal for work with a variable scope. This is also the only way to work on platforms like Toptal.


  • Easy for both the freelancer and client to understand.
  • You get paid for every hour you work, making it fair compensation.


  • Clients on a budget may find hourly rates less appealing.
  • Doesn’t necessarily reflect the true value of your expertise.

Per-Project Rates

Usually most suitable for projects with a well-defined scope. This method helps you and your client set expectations clearly, making budget planning simpler.


  • Simplifies budgeting for both parties.
  • You’re protected from scope creep if terms are specified beforehand.


  • Risks of undercharging if you misjudge the complexity of the project.
  • May deter clients who have smaller, simpler projects.

Value-Based Pricing

Allows you to set your fee based on the unique value your services will add to a client’s project. While potentially the most lucrative, this model is generally better suited for established freelancers or companies rather than newcomers.


  • Can yield higher earnings for highly specialized skills.
  • Enables building value-centered relationships with clients.


  • Harder to justify the cost to clients, as the value is subjective.
  • Risk of pricing yourself out of opportunities if you overestimate your value.

Payment Upfront and Retainers

freelance money

As a freelancer, one of the most pressing issues is securing your income and establishing a sense of financial stability. Payment upfront and retainers can be instrumental in achieving that goal.

Upfront payment is essentially a prepayment system where you collect a percentage of the project cost before beginning any work. This not only helps in cash flow management but also gives you a sense of security and commitment from the client. However, it might deter some clients who are not comfortable making an initial investment before seeing any work done.

On the other hand, retainers are like a subscription model for your freelance services. A client pays you a fixed amount in advance for a set number of hours or services over a specified period. Retainers are excellent for establishing a regular income and fostering long-term client relationships. Yet, they can limit your availability for other, potentially more lucrative projects and might require renegotiation if the scope of the work changes.

Both upfront payments and retainers can be particularly effective when used in combination with other pricing methods like hourly or per-project rates. This approach offers you the best of both worlds – financial security and the flexibility to take on diverse projects.

Special Cases: Charging for Rush Jobs and Scope Creep

How to Charge for Rush Jobs

Sometimes, a client will approach you with a project that needs to be completed urgently. For such projects, you may want to charge a “rush fee.” This fee compensates you for the additional stress, longer work hours, and the need to potentially delay other client work. A typical rush fee can range from 25% to 50% on top of your usual rate.

Dealing with Scope Creep

Scope creep is when a project extends beyond its originally agreed-upon objectives. When this happens, it’s essential to communicate with your client and adjust your pricing accordingly. Whether it’s an hourly rate or a fixed-price contract, any extra work should be compensated. The most professional way to handle this is by using a revised contract or a written agreement that both parties sign, acknowledging the change in scope and price.

Re-evaluate Your Rates

If you’ve been freelancing for a while and feel it’s time to increase your rates, the best way to approach this delicate subject is by testing it out first. Pitch the new rate to new clients and see how they respond. If you find that you’re still winning clients and your quality of work justifies the price, you may consider rolling out this new rate to your existing clients, accompanied by a clear justification.

How Often Should You Re-evaluate your rates as a freelancer?

A common practice is to re-evaluate your rates annually, but this can vary based on your industry and how quickly you’re gaining expertise. If you’re in a fast-paced, highly specialized field, you may need to reconsider your rates every six months. Your freelance business isn’t static – it’s a dynamic entity that grows and evolves. Market rates, inflation, and your increasing skill set are just a few factors that should trigger a rate re-evaluation.

Additional Tips

While the above steps offer a comprehensive guide to setting your freelance rates, here are some extra nuggets of wisdom that can serve you well:

  1. Be Transparent: Clearly outline what your rates include and don’t include. This helps set client expectations and avoids misunderstandings later.
  2. Learn to Say No: If a project doesn’t meet your minimum acceptable rate or doesn’t align with your skills and values, it’s okay to decline.
  3. Have a Contract: Always have a signed agreement that details the scope of work, your rates, deadlines, and other project specifics. This not only protects you but also sets professional expectations for your clients.
  4. Negotiate: Don’t be afraid to negotiate your rates. Most clients expect some back-and-forth. Just be sure to know your worth and your lower limit.
  5. Periodic Discounts: Offering limited-time discounts can be a good way to attract new clients, but make sure this is sustainable and doesn’t undervalue your work.
  6. Keep Records: Document how much time you spend on various tasks. This can be enlightening and help you quote more accurately for future projects.

Understanding how to set your freelance rates is not just a matter of mathematics but also a blend of market research, self-assessment, and clear communication with your clients. It’s a dynamic process that evolves as you gain more experience, skills, and understanding of your value in the market. No formula is one-size-fits-all, but the steps outlined in this guide should set you on a path to fair and profitable pricing.

Additional Resources

  1. Freelancers Union: A great platform for freelancers to learn about legal aspects, market trends, and other freelance-related issues.
  2. Bonsai Rate Explorer: This tool offers real-time data on what freelancers are charging in various fields and geographies.
  3. Breaking the Time Barrier” by FreshBooks: This free eBook offers invaluable insights into value-based pricing.
  4. Freelance Rate Calculator: An online tool that helps you calculate your hourly or project-based rate based on various parameters.
Author headshot

Nick Trayze

Software Engineer, Toptal insider

Nick is a freelancer with over 10 years of experience, having contributed to nearly a hundred different projects across various industries.