Alternatives to hourly rates for web design?


I've made this clear in some of my other questions, but for the sake of getting a more diverse viewpoint I'm asking a separate question.

I'm 14 years old, but really passionate about web design. I personally think that I have the ability to run a business that specializes in more simple HTML- and CSS-based designs, with some basic Javascript and jQuery understanding.

I'm entering high school this coming fall, which means I'll have to balance my jobs with my school work, which won't be too hard given the current situation of my school, but that's beyond the point (let' just say I'm not homeschooled).

I've come to realize that charging hourly rates would be something of an impediment to my success, since I won't be able to actively keep track of my hours due to school work and such.

I want to explore some alternatives to charging hourly rates beyond a simple estimate for the whole project.

Pricing Web Design Rates

asked Jul 2 '11 at 06:30
147 points

2 Answers


Even when you don't charge an hourly rate, you still need to know how many hours a given project will take you to complete. While charging by the project means the customer doesn't need to know the breakdown of the time spent on the project, it is still important that you know the breakdown.

Simply put, at the conclusion of a project, you'll want to be compensated fairly for your time and effort. If a project takes you 100 hours to complete, and you want to earn an average of $15 per hour, then the customer would have to pay $1500 for the work. If you don't want to bill by the hour, then you need to be really good at estimating how long a project will take you, and work from there.

Using the same example, before the project starts, if you think it will take 100 hours, bill the project for 120 hours (20% buffer is fairly common) and you should be ok. If, however, you completely missed the target, then you're going to be eating the difference.

I would suggest that until you are confident that you can estimate your project timelines really accurately, you stick to hourly billing, or small component billing (that is, you break up the project into lots of little pieces, each of which will only take you a couple hours to complete). As you gain experience, you can start switching to project-based billing.

In regard to your question about counting time, Basecamp has a time-tracking tool, as does Quickbooks. There are many others available online - or just build your own.

answered Jul 2 '11 at 07:06
4,692 points
  • For time tracking, my company has had a great experience with Toggl. It has a free plan too (so does basecamp). – Tom Harrigan 13 years ago
  • 100 hour project fixed price is more billed like 500 hours ;) I mean, 120 hours is a decent assumption BEFORE the customer comes with his changes in the middle, and they ALWAYS do. – Net Tecture 13 years ago
  • @NetTecture good point. To the OP: make sure to sign a written contract over what is expected, and that the customer will have to pay extra for significant changes to that contract. – Sean Patrick Floyd 13 years ago
  • @NetTecture no doubt about it - once you figure out how long the ORIGINAL requirements will take, multiply by a few (anywhere from 2 to 20+) to account for changes, then add 20% to that final figure. This was why I suggested that using anything other than hourly billing before you have experience will come back to haunt you - experience will teach you how to calculate that multiple. – Elie 13 years ago


What a joy to see a young entrepreneur with enthusiastism and confidence. I look forward to seeing some of your designs. Remember that there is no shame in mentoring with an experienced designer. think of the martial arts tradition where people mentor with their "teacher" for decades.

Also to note-- building and designing a site are two interrelated but distinct things. You can design as a member of a team -- working with the programmers for the customization of a CMS, writers for the content and

I agree that in your situation billing hourly will not be a good option. You can not charge a customer for your own time learning. And the 'estimating skill" that others reference will come with time -- and by making lots of mistakes!

You have a couple great choices:

  • "Project Bid ": Compare the project to those you see on freelance sites as a guide for what you should bid.
  • "Open Value ": When I was getting going in a new area of expertise and I was looking to build a portfolio and customers I let the customer choose their own price. I gave them proposals and bids that allowed them to write in their own price. Yes it takes a leap of faith, but I was always pleasantly surprised. I think you will be too.
  • Sub-contract with the client-facing professional. This will providing you tangible experience, Decrease your exposure. And due to your age-- might be legally required depending on where you live.

Good luck in launching you new endeavor!

answered Jul 6 '11 at 01:37
Joseph Barisonzi
12,141 points
  • Thanks for understanding my situation, Joseph. You've given me some very interesting options to think about, especially the Open Value. I actually have some questions about Sub-contract. Could you maybe elaborate on that a little bit. Anyways, thanks so much for all your advice. :) I hope that in my time on these sites, StackOverflow specifically, I'll be able to find something of a mentor. – Purmou 13 years ago
  • Sorry for bothering you again, @Joseph, but would you mind elaborating on Sub contract? – Purmou 12 years ago
  • @Purmou Contact me via my website available on my profile. – Joseph Barisonzi 12 years ago

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Pricing Web Design Rates