Freelance Consultant Rates: How To Work Out Your Hourly, Daily or Project Rate

One of the main things people ask before they go freelance is how to work out their freelance consultant rate.

Setting your freelance consultant rates is difficult. Set your day rate too low and you have to work longer and harder to make a decent income. Set your day rate too high and you risk putting off potential clients and not seeing you have a full portfolio of work.

There are several strategies you can take to find an hourly rate, day rate or project rate that your clients are happy with and enables you to make a comfortable income.

Before You Set Your Freelance Consultant Rates

There’s a few things you can do to get a good idea of what to charge as your rate before you start to take on freelance projects:

  1. Get comfortable talking about your rate: There’ll be situations where you’ll have to negotiate with a client on your fee. You have to get comfortable at discussing this with them and not be afraid to push back on a price to get your true worth from a project. Negotiating with clients on your rate takes confidence, but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll be more comfortable having that discussion with them.
  2. Ask other freelance consultants what they charge:  You’re probably nervous about sharing how much you get paid with other freelancers. What if you’re charging too much? Too little? What if others copy or undercut your rate? Sharing what you make with other freelancers can have a huge impact on your rate. If you’re new to freelancing and try to set your rate without knowing what other similar freelancers have set theirs at, you will probably price at a low rate to play it safe. This pushes rates down and means that you won’t earn as much as you potentially should.
  3. Ask an HR professional what the going rates are: I’m luck enough to have a friend in Soraya, who is a freelance HR consultant at Love HR. She gives great advice on what others are charging for similar projects, so I can always ask her when I’m not sure what I should set my rate at. Don’t be afraid to ask any friendly HR contacts you have, or get out there and make a friendly HR contact if you don’t have one already.
  4. Ask the client for a budget: Although you shouldn’t use this as the basis for your rate, you can use the budget set by a client as a figure to get started with. You can either negotiate this figure or use it as a benchmark for future projects.
  5. Set a benchmark: Read books and articles related to your industry that contain information about pricing. Some freelancers do talk about their rates online and that is a great place to begin. Also check forums and networking sites in your industry, as posting for advice on these sites can lead to you getting lots of helpful advice back on where to set your benchmark.

Pricing Strategies for Setting your Freelance Consultant Rate

There are several strategies you can take for setting your freelance rate, each with their own benefits and disadvantages:

  1. Time-Based Pricing
  2. Project-Based Pricing
  3. Value-Based Pricing

How do you work out a daily rate of pay?

Let’s break down the three different ways of calculating your freelance rate.

Time-Based Pricing

Time-based pricing is a rough way to work out your day rate, although it is different for every freelancer depending where they are in their career, their skills, demand for their ability, state of the job market, demand for freelancers, and more.

Time-based pricing is also how professional services businesses work, as a lot of the work output is directly proportional to the amount of time that goes into producing it.

This is also the easiest to manage, which is why it’s so appealing for most people who are new to freelancing. You work an hour, you invoice the customer for an hour.

The simplest way to work our your day rate using a time-based pricing strategy is to add a third to the salary you were receiving before. This is to account for the fact that you are covering your own HR, finances, sales, marketing, IT, offices costs, and anything else that is normally taken care of for you in a company.

In England and Wales there are 252 working days in the year, assuming that you work 5 out of 7 days.

Once you have this worked out on an annual basis, take off 20 working days from the total. This equates to a month of work (including weekends) and accounts for time off for holidays, sick days, and a few days where you might not have work on.

Obviously, adjust this amount if you think you might not get that much work in or want to take a few more holidays that year, or if you’re very confident or feel that you are worth more (one of the main reasons that people go freelance!).

So, if you earned £30k in your job, adding a third on equals £40k. Dividing £40k by 222 days equals just over £180. This would be your day rate.

Oh, and make sure you always add-on VAT to this (20% in the UK), so £180 per day excluding VAT, £216 including VAT.

There are a lot of rate calculators out there, with most of them basing their formulas around giving you a steady stream of income that you can live comfortably on.

This is why as someone new to freelancing, hourly rates are the only way to go. This is how I started and still often do price my projects this way.

Other more experienced freelancers may say that there are other ways of charging more, but you need to be comfortable with what you’re earning and charging. Time-based pricing gives you a sure and steady freelance rate to work from.

As you become more efficient, you can raise your rate and so charge clients more money for working similar hours. And as you become a better freelancer, you can eventually start using day rates, and then weekly – or move on to the freelance pricing models described below.

The Problem with Time-Based Pricing

If you are charging hourly, then you will always be limited to making only as much as the hours that you can work.

You effectively give yourself a price ceiling that can only be raised by working more hours.

If you want to scale your time-based pricing strategy, you need to a) hire employees or b) switch to a product-based business model – both of which bring whole new levels of time, money and experience.

Project-Based Pricing

This strategy involves estimating how much time and resources a project will take, then giving the client a project fee based on that estimate.

One of the benefits of taking this approach is that the client can have a fixed costs in their mind, which won’t spill over if the scope of the project stays the same. With time-based pricing, any extra time spent on a project will incur extra costs.

You may find that you’ll win more business this way, as you’re working to the client’s budgets.

The benefits for freelancers means that you can avoid some admin work (tracking hours, progress and daily reporting) and if you;e efficient enough and give good estimates, you get a much high per hour rate (without the client even knowing)

A project-based pricing strategy takes experience to set, as there isn’t really a simple recipe and you’ll need examples of other project costs to understand what you should cost new project at.

Once you have built up some experience, you’ll have a ready-made list of old bids and project costs that you can use to compare with news projects come in, to make sure you’re pricing in the right area.

The Problem with Project-Based Pricing

The main issue with project-based pricing is that you need very accurate estimates of how long a project will take and setting the price appropriately.

If you get that wrong,  you could put potential clients off from your high prices, or end up working a lot more hours than those you are paid for.

You should always expect projects to take longer than the plan and always include a contingency for any changes to the original project brief that the client might ask for.

If you choose project-based pricing as your model, allow for surprises.

Value-Based Pricing

There is a more strategic way to set your freelance consultant rate. Looking for the value that the project will bring to your client’s business and charging them and right rate based on that value.

Value-based pricing as a strategy is often used where the value to the client is many times the cost of producing the product or service.

For example, the cost of producing an e-book is around the same no matter  what content is found inside it. But the price of those ebooks differs depending on the perceived value the readers think they will get.

Say a client wants you to build them a mobile version of their site that will bring them in £100,000 in extra sales a year. Charging them £10,000 or even £15,000 would be reasonable charge, given the added value and income it will bring to their business.

As my good friend Stephen Davies, a freelance digital health consultant, says:

“Your job is to help a client improve its current situation by using your skills, knowledge and experience. Your value shouldn’t be judged (and thus costed) on how many hours you are prepared to work but on the outcomes of the work you’re doing.”

The perceived value depends on a few factors: the alternatives open to the customer (using competitors’ products or services, adding a manual work around, or simply doing nothing at all.

Using value-based pricing, you can charge at a perceived value, rather than the time it takes to actually complete the project. However, in order to be successful with this pricing strategy, you have to know your client’s business, their costs, and the alternatives available to them.

The Problem with Value-Based Pricing

The main difficulty in using value-based pricing is that the client will want to pay different prices between agencies or freelancers, between regions or  countries, and even for the same freelancer in different scenarios (depending on whether the freelancer is available now or later when others are available), so that a highly accurate value-based price for a project is pretty impossible to get.

Despite being difficult to get a value, any sales messages you use should consider the value a product or service brings to the client, which will enable to you to set proportionately higher rates.

Alan Weiss has written extensively about value-based pricing and gives excellent advice on how you should go about it:

Many consultants fail to understand that perceived value is the basis of the fee, or that they must translate the importance of their advice into long-term gains for the client in the client’s perception. Still others fail to have the courage and the belief system that support the high value delivered to clients, thereby reducing fees to a level commensurate with the consultant’s own low self-esteem. “

Ultimately, Weiss believes that freelancers, not clients, are the main cause of setting their freelance rates too low.

You need a very solid reputation in a niche industry to consistently use a value-based pricing strategy. It takes decades of experience to get there, but once you do, a switch over to value-based pricing is extremely lucrative.

When To Raise Your Freelance Rate

  • If you’re at capacity, raise your rate: Your time has become limited, so in order for a client to work with you they have to meet the higher rate. If you keep raising your rate when you’re at capacity, you’ll eventually scale up your rate across all your clients and projects, upping your total freelance income in the process.
  • If the client has a short deadline, raise your rate: This is known as a “rush job” and demands a premium in top of your normal rate. You have to drop what you’re doing for other clients or prioritise your work, sometime working evenings and weekends, to deliver the job. The client should pay the price for this.
  • If you learn a new skill, raise your rate: You should always raise your rates as you get better. Learning a new skill means you can also expand your offering as a freelancer and clients don’t have to hire two separate freelancers to get the same job done.
  • If you’ve freelanced for another year, raise your rate: The experience gained over that year is worth more than you might think – and you can charge accordingly.
  • If you don’t like working with a particular client but need the income from the project, raise you’re rate – a lot: This way, the client can pay a premium for your services, which balances out the negative side of working with a client that you’re not fond of.

When To Lower your Rate or Work For Free

You can always raise or lower your rates depending on the client and project.  Here are two good scenarios when it is beneficial to lower your rate – or even work for free.

  • Portfolio Pieces: If an instantly recognisable brand comes along that might not have pots of cash available, but do incredible work and would be a delight to work with, you should consider lowering your rates. If they can’t afford your normal rate but you can take this project on at a lower rate, then you should ask to see if you can use this project as a case study for your portfolio. I took this approach when working with LOCOG – the organising body behind the London 2012 Olympic Games. I was approached to work on their website and produce some digital content for a day rate below my normal fee, but the brand name was too big to turn down and has opened the door to many more clients ever since I completed the project
  • Charity Work: I do a lot of work with charities and happily work for free or at a reduced rate for them. I often find this kind of work most rewarding, and the clients are usually more appreciative of your efforts compared to for-profit clients. But remember, a lot of charities have a lot of resources resources, so should pay full rate for your service. They’ll often get your best work out of you if they pay your full rate, so don’t be afraid to charge charities as you would any other business.

Tips on Calculating Your Rates

Here are my top tips for calculating your freelance rate:

  1. Get comfortable talking about your rate
  2. Ask other freelance consultants what they charge
  3. Ask an HR professional what the going rates are
  4. Ask the client for a budget
  5. Set a benchmark

Ready to set your freelance consultant rate?

Everyone has a different opinion about what model is best, what works and what doesn’t when setting their pricing strategy. Some people insist that hourly or weekly is the only way to go. Others insist that “value-based” is the only way to go.

The best way to figure out your own pricing strategy is to decide what works for you though experience and go from there.

There’s definitely going to be some trial and error while you figure things out. You may under charge for a particular project or charge too much and lose out on a new piece of business, but that will give you the experience to set the right rate next time.

What other strategies do you use to set your freelance consultant rate? What has worked well? What hasn’t worked and you’d recommend avoiding? Let us know in the comments below.

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12 thoughts on “Freelance Consultant Rates: How To Work Out Your Hourly, Daily or Project Rate”

  1. Value based pricing assumes that the client has assessed the value of the project. Unless they are themselves doing the job for a client up the chain they often have no idea how much it’s worth to them. They should, but they often don’t. Perhaps a usage-based fee?

    And VAT. What are the rules for charging? Do you have to be VAT rateable first? Charge anyway until you are?

  2. Ref the time-based pricing method:

    This starts with 252 days, then subtracts 20 days for other things, leaving 232 days, but the figure used in the calculation is 222. What happened to the other 10 days?

    Also, 222 billable days a year, for almost all independent consultants, is a hopelessly over-optimistic estimate. A much more realistic target would be around 150. The rest is non-billable sales, marketing, admin etc, and of course holidays.

    Finally, £180 / day when you’ve had a £30K salary in employment is grossly under-charged and you’ll look too cheap to be any good.

    A pretty good rule of thumb is daily rate = between 0.8 to 1.2% of annual perm salary (where perm salary includes bonus, car allowance etc.), dependent on experience and reputation.

  3. Regarding the question of setting consulting fees on a simple daily rate basis, I would recommend as follows:

    Step 1: Estimate what YOU would expect to be able to get per annum in perm employment, including cash benefits such as bonus, car allowance etc., but excluding things like pension, private medical insurance etc. Don’t be too modest about this. You are presumably good at what you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be a consultant! Note that this may well NOT be the same as what some manager in any given client company might be paid.

    Step 2: Determine or estimate the annual value of all your overheads and business expenses, excluding VAT (but note that ‘assignment-related’ expenses should not be included in this calculation but should be billed as additional to the daily rate charges). Include any pension contributions, healthcare premium etc. in these overheads.

    Step 3: This is often overlooked! Calculate a profit or mark-up to provide contingency against the risks of running your own business, also to give you some cash to invest in your business. The risks include market downturns, bad debt, long term sickness, tax investigation, litigation, tax hikes etc. Don’t forget you’ve got no notice periods, no redundancy payments and no sick pay! The profit should typically be 15% to 25% of the total of Step 1 and Step 2 above.

    Step 4: Add together the outputs from 1 to 3 above, i.e. Personal Income + Overheads + Profit. This sum total is your target Sales Revenue / annum.

    Step 5: Estimate the number of days a year on average that will be spent on chargeable work. As an independent consultant, you’ve not only got to allow for holidays and a few sick days, but also for the fact that you will almost certainly have to spend a vast number of your working days on non-chargeable activities such as sales, marketing, admin and professional development. The result is that over the long term you can only budget for about 12 chargeable days a month, i.e. about 140 to 150 a year. Note that many people grossly over-estimate the number of chargeable days a year.

    Step 6: It follows that you’ve got to generate your revenue target in the number of days that are charged, so divide your Sales Revenue / annum target by 150 chargeable days (or 140). This is your daily rate and you can round it up to say the nearest £10.

    Note that this rate is exclusive of ‘assignment-related’ expenses and VAT.

    Note that it’s going to be considerably more than the daily pay of a perm employee and so it should be, because you’re running a business with overheads and considerable risks. Also you should be providing a very large return on investment! Most consultants under-charge. Resist all attempts by potential clients to compare your rate with that of perm employee. It’s like comparing a Rolls-Royce with a Ford Focus, both motor cars, but with very different costs of manufacture and very different benefits.

    Good luck.

    • Hi,

      I am looking for an idea about how much I should charge a client for 60 min .
      I run my own business in luxury shopping for men image.
      My target are business man and above.

      Thank you for your help.

  4. Random question….As a consultant, can you charge for being asked to ‘familiarize yourself’ with a system? It makes smart business sense yet when asked to familiarize yourself, is that considered billable time?

  5. I like the tips provided! As a new freelancer starting my business up with my first clients, it’s valuable articles like this that give me the guidance and ideas I’m looking for.

  6. Really interesting article so thanks for publishing, although it has become even more interesting with the comments adding to the debate and might be worth an update to the original content taking this all into account? I was a little surprised with the number of days being used in the calculation, as the comments refer to a figure more like 150 days (plus taking into account business expenses and contingency) it does give a widely different figure at the end. Still, price is one of those things that is always debated and there is no rule to follow, only guidance to take into account.

    Just a thought to add. I do like the pricing mechanism of the Diamond market… “as a rule of thumb men should spend 2 months gross salary on an engagement ring” it’s ensured that the price of diamonds has stayed at a constant premium level for the last 50 years and is always considered a luxury purchase. If only there was a “consultant is paid xx% more than a permanent employee”…

  7. This is really useful – thank you so much for taking the time to post it. I am starting a freelance business and had calculated my hourly and daily rates and thought it was too much! It is really comforting to know that I had taken everything into account and come out at the “right” result!

  8. Compared to articles and advice by branded resources such as Inc, Entrepreneur & this is an excellent article and excellent advice from an unexpected source

  9. This is my go-to post for setting my freelance rates and is also one I share with my followers on Twitter and any friends and colleagues.

    I like how it’s broken down. I can totally justify my day rate to myself aftr going through this process.

    Thanks for your hard work on it.



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