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Mockups considered free, or just the price of doing business?

 4:05 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

On to my next website, and this time I'm carefully tracking time for tasks. Ya, first time I've done this in 10 years building websites. I think that's the main reason I'm still a part timer.

But anyway, I took the text from existing home page and properly formatted it, made new banner/header, background image, cleaned jagged edges from logo, and introduced a different better nav bar (non-functional).

All PS work and layout totaled 5 hours. This is just a mockup, that I will probably allow upt to 3 design modifications (on my end 3 changes at 2-3 hours a piece). So I could possibly have 14 hours just into the mockup. At $10 an hour that's a precious $140, but obviously the customer won't want to pay for the parts they aren't going to be using.

So, do you write off the time spent on mockups?



 5:11 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

$10 per hour? Are you in the USA?


 5:20 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Yep, Michigan even.


 8:41 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

10 years building websites? Don't mean to hijack your thread, but $10/hr is less than I pay my interns. And I'm not even in the US...

Give yourself a raise!

As a freelancer, you should value your time to include every waking moment. When you get up to make coffee, you think and plan your customers' project. While stuck in traffic, you envision a new design concept. When watching TV at night, you see a cool transition in an ad, and spend the next couple of hours creating a mockup in Flash for possible use in one of your sites...

Where am I going with this?

The 'hourly rate' that you charge your customers should include all of your research and development activities. Pretend for a minute that you 'work' 8 hours a day (billable), and that an average of 4 hours each day in addition to this is dedicated to perfecting your skills (whether implicit or explicit). Your 14 hours now become 21... Do you feel that $140 for 21 hours of work is a fair remuneration for a professional webmaster with 10 years of experience?

Obviously: the customer is taking advantage of you, because you're letting him... Nothing is free!

I don't know what to tell you, because you'll have to first change your mindset - know that your time, skills and experience are worth something. Whether 50 or 100 an hour is more like it for the quality of your work I honestly don't know, that's up to you.

Finally: the client does not "use" the wrapper on his sandwich, nor does he use the time his mechanic spent to diagnose his brake failure, he did not use the bathroom the last time he went to the movies... Yet, he fully accepts that he has to pay for those things. They are part of the price!

So, yes - charge it, charge it all...

Sorry for shouting at you, but you hit a nerve...


 9:43 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

My last site (still not 100% complete), I probably came out to $1.60 and hour. Bad job, scope creep doesn't even begin to define the problems.

As for the 10 years... 4 of those 10 years has been part time, freebie, portfolio builders. 6 of those years have been professionally employed with more freebie portfolio builders on the side. The professional side has given me experience in every technical facet of development, deployment, management, disaster recovery and maybe some other things that I didn't find tangible, except for pricing obviously. So don't look at the 10 years as a complete independent developer. Good experience, but under someone elses management umbrella. I'm no design phenom, but I have solid practical skills.

I'm trying to move forward with the business side in mind. It's been said many places, many times, that web dev skills are only small part of this gig. Keeping business in mind and shooting for $10 an hour seems pretty generous. Nobody is going to pay $50-$100 an hour for html, css, php, mysql and a decent sense of site design for user experience. At least not anywhere around my neighborhood.

So I should flop the customer with a $500+ estimate for a 5 page brochure style site with an upgrade or two? When they start laughing, do I laugh with them?


 10:43 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Since caribguy brought it up, maybe the next time you visit the client you could kick a pipe loose in his bathroom. Then explain that there's a leak in there, and maybe he should call to get the plumber to come out -- shouldn't cost him more than $10.00 an hour, right? Oh, and maybe the plumber can also finish the Web site for that same $10 an hour...

If the customer laughs at you, walk out, and let him get a $10 per hour Web site elsewhere. You, meanwhile, should immediately raise your rates to between five and ten times that rate. You may find that you get better, more-organized customers that way, as well... and can afford to have fewer of them.

Basically, in addition to short-changing yourself at that $10 rate, you're setting yourself up to "get no respect" by pricing yourself just slightly above the burger-flippers at Mickey-D's -- and a lot cheaper than plumbers.



 10:56 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'd up your rate to at least $40 an hour. Just my opinion.


 11:05 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Stop making excuses for yourself! YOU are the expert, train yourself to come across as a self-confident professional, and your new clients will start taking your word as gospel (as long as you actually deliver what you promise).

Remember, you are not competing with high school kids that need pocket money. 'clients' - I use the term loosely here, who are looking for cheaper than dirt are not worth pursuing. Brush up your presentation, you seem articulate enough, wow your prospects with your expertise in many fields: from database design to dynamic website programming and standards-compliant design that follows industry best practices. Offer business analisys, banking on 10 years of expertise designing succesful online sales tools. Give advice on social media, upsell yourself. - php, mysql, css doesn't mean a thing to the average shop owner or small business. They want to hear how you can help them get more business.

In order to make them trust you enough, you'll have to learn to speak to them in words that resonate and maybe juice it up a little. Your sales skills suck, and you'll have to learn that part too. Unfortunately, that's part of being a one-man shop.

Maybe there's a community college near you that teaches presentation skills, public speaking, self-marketing? Whatever works for you, but first you have to believe that you deserve the better clients...


 11:46 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Most of my mockups are created on a regular legal pad with a ball point pen. That's the free one. Everything else is billed.


 11:52 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I agree totally with all 3 posters above me ..( Tangor had n't posted as I was writing :)..so ..the 3 above Tangor :..edit ..actually I agree with Tangor too ..mockups in biro on legal pads that take you 5 minutes ( one time ) can be free ..bill the rest ) ..I dont have "website clients" ( now ) ..

I dont actually make my living off the net as such ( if the intarwebs went away tomorrow ..I wouldn't be broke ) ..

But .."on the side" ..I do also make sites and sell AD space ..( mostly direct ) ..and thus do understand "clients" ..and how cheap they can be ..

So ..

And this may sound harsh ..but..

If you accept the position of door mat ..people will wipe their feet on you ..

I would be ashamed ( and would not do so for that reason ) to pay anyone $1.60 per hour for what you can do ..wherever they / you are ..

And would not consider paying $10.oo per hour ( considering where you live .. and your costs ) something that I could do either ..

Up your rates ( or mow lawns ..or clean apartments for money .."grunt work" ..gets better paid than you do ..for no grey cell work ..even in hard times ) ..and you'll increase your respect for yourself ..and your "clients" respect for you ..


 1:29 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Ok, got it! Mockups not free.

Thanks for your time and replies! Now if I only had the ****s to charge... Although, I don't think I could charge $100 an hour. Maybe $40 for database work or crazy back end coding (going forward), but layout too?

I've often thought of billing projects following a price scale. basic layout (cough) $10/hr, through database work, application style coding and the like ?/hr. Then breaking the project down into segments and pricing accordingly.

I guess while I have some good skills, I can't put myself up with the art/layout geniuses who walk on water. For $100 an hour I feel I should walk on water. Most people don't understand the toil involved in backend coding, but they can see the value in high end, trend setting magazine quality layouts. I am not trend setting.



 2:37 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I don't think your problem is deficient technical skills or inferior artistic talent. I perceive that it's due more to lack of self-confidence. Anybody with a copy of Dreamweaver can make "artsy" Web pages. But someone like you could probably go in and cut the resulting page size down by 50% and make it serve dynamic content as well. And believe me, some of the same people who promote themselves as 'walking on water' give their clients back-end code that is laughable...

See that's what it is... A lot of these guys don't really walk on water, they just *tell* people that they do. And it's the consistently telling, and not the doing, that earns them the big bucks.

C'mon, quit taking $10 an hour for skilled work -- I mean, sure the economy's bad, but you could make that much cleaning motel rooms. And continuing to accept jobs at that rate will only perpetuate your under-estimation of your own worth. The current minimum wage in the U.S. is something like $7.25 per hour -- and that includes workers with a 4th-grade education level. I'll bet your Web sites are quite a bit more than 30% better than any that these workers could build...

Maybe re-read that best-selling business classic (disguised as a children's book) titled, "The Little Engine Who Could" -- "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can..." :)



 3:50 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I was just starting to think that, Jim. You guys are talking dead serious about about price and I can't even get myself to entertain the idea; like reading a fairy tale knowing full well it's not real.

I do have my problems though, my turn around time isn't good taking on things in a part time space. It takes me 3 times longer to do anything compared to projects I've worked on during time off from work, where I have more flexibility to devote large stretches of time to tasks that require it. Stopping before a safe breakpoint can leave me a few steps back the next day, while I catch back up - on the back end anyway.

Thanks again. I guess you truly become what you think you are in some cases.


 4:17 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I am still a part timer (the day job has great benefits ;))

I am selective in what work I take. I always pad delivery dates and estimates by at least 50% so I can come in cheaper and faster than the client expects.

I am not afraid to reject work, usually based on vibes from the client, nor am I unwilling to "fire the client" when they go sideways on me. I only rarely negotiate fees, and usually live to regret it when I do (but I do have a soft side that gets me in trouble).

I originally set my rates at the value of my day job plus 50%, which a decade ago put me in the $40/hr range. My rates are significantly higher now, and my skill set is greatly expanded as well (thanks WebmasterWorld!)

I support all that others have said. You are doing a highly technical job that is way above the ability of the average person. Don't devalue yourself. Time is the only non-renewable resource. If you want to design/work for fun/free consider donating your time to a non-profit. If you are doing it for pay, then demand fair pay or walk away and spend you time doing something fun.

Life is too short to squander the limited time you have. That is real. Working for minumum wage is the fairy tale.


 7:20 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Nobody is going to pay $50-$100 an hour for html, css, php, mysql and a decent sense of site design for user experience. At least not anywhere around my neighborhood.

You would be surprised. I charge 35 to 40 GBP per hour for what I do here in the UK. That's like $50 upwards in the US. My clients expect to pay this because they know what plumbers and others trades charge for their time. Last time I had a major repair done in a garage I was charged 45 per hour for the mechanic's time. Are you worth as much as a mechanic?

Another way to look at it is that getting one job at $60 per hour is much better than six at 10. Maybe you don't have to work so hard. ;)


 9:06 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Let's back off on the beat up, kiddies. An honest question was asked and several honest replies came forth, as well as recommendations regarding worth of work; but the testosterone of some versus testosterone of others is not within the query.

OP: do your work, but do place a value upon it, perhaps a bit more than you have in the past. More specifically keep your mock up to paper for conversation with new clients FIRST rather than expending real code time production. The scribbles on paper are (generally, in my case and probably everyone else) is free. Actual CODE for demo COSTS for labor production and that, I think, is your question: what do I charge. That answer is YOUR REGULAR RATE. And, as others in this commentary have stated, you're a bit... er... really LOW BALL and should rethink that.

I know Michigan. You're screwed in so many ways in that part of the USA... but the internet is NOT Michigan only...so it might be wise to take a larger world view. As does any Michigan company these days. I know. I code for some there...and I am in Texas. Reasonable rates for the work done.

And NEVER give more than one active mock up. Which I think was your original question. Work is work. You need to be paid for it. Remember the legal pad and a pen. THAT can be free. CODING is not free. Ever.


 11:30 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Let's back off on the beat up, kiddies.

No one is beating anyone up. All we are doing is offering good advice. It should not be interpreted any other way!


 1:18 pm on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Works for me... after all none of you suggested short or pissant rates, right? OP asked for advice on what to charge for freebie and got everything off the board. Me, too. Mine was a bit bit more realistic, but what do I know?


 1:53 pm on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Somebody asks should they write for free with their right hand or for a pittance with their left because they sell their labour dirt cheap anyway ..

Don't be surprised if some of us point out that none of those options are going to keep them simultaneously fed , happy and respected by themselves or those that they are working for..

This isn't just a Q&A board ..it's for discussion ..and discussion of rates isn't marked as off limits / off topic in the charter..

No one was dissing the OP ..each of us gave our own view in our own way ..yours may differ from mine or BDW's or Jim's or any other posters..the diversity of viewpoints and the insights that can come from reading and posting in threads ( and not just to their participants ) ..is what makes this place worthwhile ..

[edited by: Leosghost at 2:00 pm (utc) on Feb 12, 2010]


 1:59 pm on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

OP got his question answered, and a little dose of raw but honest advice that a bunch of members here felt he needed. Hopefully this will help him realize that the work we do is 50% professional webmastering and 50% attitude.

In a few years, as his personal assistant pours him a Kopi Luwak I hope he'll remember this thread :)

What may be pissant rates to some are nothing but fair to others. Dreams and inspiration are not made from 'realistic'

Written at the same time as Leosghost


 3:53 pm on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

OP got his question answered...

Indeed I did, thank you!

It's going to be hard, but I will try to up my rate. There has been a lot of encouragement and ideas. Somewhere between my day job rate and day job +50% maybe, like willyb. If it makes customers run, then I went too high. I just can't afford to let too many customers run when they are so hard to find in the first place. But we'll see. I still have a day job.

Now a plumbers job? Ya, Many plumbers and pipe fitters in my family. That is a tough road. This website stuff is easy in comparison; fun, and for folks just getting started, it's quick to get good at, and there is no testing or licensing involved. That's why I have a hard time charging. Anyone can do the web stuff. I'm proof of that myself.

I will remember this thread, but under more realistic circumstances of making out my mortgage check from money made on my own. That's all that really matters to me - doing it on my own.

Thanks again!


 7:23 pm on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

RE: "Free mockups" - covered well here, as a freelance provider, here is my take on it.

People looking for work have been trained by the Internet to look for "free," if they can't find free, expect quality for very little or free. There are scores of e-books out there instructing how to "work it" so you can get work for free, or very near to it. You can spot these right off:

"Should be a simple job for someone who knows what they are doing" - playing on your ego to prove yourself.

"Before I accept a contract, I want three mockups" - very likely which will wind up in the hands of the one they select to do this job, you get . . . nothing.

"This shouldn't cost more than $100" - even if in reality it's $1500 of work.

The problem, really, is that there are many "providers" out there for which it's not a business. It's just extra beer money, or they work out of their homes for extra money, they don't have to follow the ethics of those trying to run a business. They have no overhead, no business expenses, and their only directive is to make that $50 at all costs.

Many buyers are looking for these types of providers. Their words say "I want a professional" but the words between the lines say "I want someone 'hungry' who is willing to undersell their talent to my advantage."

Here is what a high rate per hour does: it weeds out these types of buyers. Sure, you will get less inquiries, but they will be serious ones who are more likely willing to pay what it's worth.

The second bit of advice: do not negotiate price. When you propose a project, one of two things happens. The buyer accepts your pricing based on your comprehensive proposal that justifies the pricing in every way. If the buyer begins to negotiate price, it's is a clear sign that they are seeing how far they can manipulate you. Reduce the price because you fear losing the contract, and the message is clear: you can be "worked." The project will continue on and will have various scope creeps. Add this feature, add that feature, and it shouldn't cost me any more, which is supplemented by an insulting jab: "this shouldn't take long if you know what you're doing."

Overall, buyers feel that are in control because they are stringing you along with the dangling carrot of being paid. Take away that control by sticking to your guns, and let go if you have to. If you lose the project, you're likely better off.


 9:16 pm on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

If you lose the project, you're likely better off...

Very true words, and yet a very hard lesson to learn.


 3:46 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

So last night I listened to a random podcast on the subject of web development. The guest of the show was Mike something or other, founder of site point.

Long story short, he had some insight on why I and every other web developer sucks, and then went on to talk about his 99designs site. A contest site, where customers post project requirements and the designers submit complete designs and mockups to compete for the money. He said he was turning the web design market on it's head.

I checked out 99 designs, and right away I found folks posting completed logos and site layouts, that are very very good. All to win a small contest prize.

So now what? Cloud sourcing is the way of the future. It has already destroyed the photography market for good using the same model as 99designs.

I still appreciate all the advice, but the days of charging a good hourly rate for design work are quickly fading.

I actually had built up quite a bit of confidence after reading all the encouragement in this thread, but today it is gone and indeed, mockups are free. Or at least to be expected. Thanks 99designs...


 4:15 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

re 99designs...

I don't work for "prizes". I work for pay.

From no-spec.com (I really, really recommend you spend some time on that site) - "...a logo in isolation is like lipstick on a pig. It needs to be treated as part of an overall brand identity strategy, not picked off a shelf."

Or, go back to this old WebmasterWorld thread [webmasterworld.com]. Spec work will never be able to address the real issues needed by a client.

Be clear about what you are providing, and make that clear to your clients.


 5:26 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

I have actually referred people to cloudsourcing sites. There is a market for them, a market I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.

Like willybefriendly says, you cannot design a logo or website template separately from the company's corporate style. I am unable to have a 'meeting of the minds' with potential clients who ask for it - if I can't convince them otherwise I'll gladly refer them somewhere else.

Choose your clients wisely: the ones who understand the value of your work are the ones who you can make happy, create a lasting business relationship with, and will often become your best source of referrals...


 5:53 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'll try to stick to the high road. Gets discouraging though.

I've seen no-spec. This problem is much greater for photographers and no-spec is promoted quite heavily in the photog community. Doesn't help much though. Amateur photogs fall all over each other to have a picture show up in a magazine or a popular website. Their payment is their 15 minutes of fame. There are even business models where photogs actually pay for the chance to have a photo published. I'm sure there are just as many designers that would work quite hard for bragging rights alone.

Oh well. I'm going to forget I ever seen 99designs.


 6:18 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Amateur photogs fall all over each other

Not unlike amateur designers ;)

A professional knows that 15 minutes of fame won't pay the bills. Also, they're expected to deliver consistent high quality work - not a one off lucky shot - even under difficult or unforeseen circumstances.

Because they're able to deliver, professionals (photographers, designers, plumbers) can and should demand to get paid a fair rate.


 6:53 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

True, true. My anger and frustration always gets the best of me. One of this guys mantras for 99designs is that folks even in lesser developed countries should have the same access to design work opportunities. So he's done nothing new. Just a new spin on exploiting poorer nations at the expense of workers in developed countries.

This guy is quite young as well. Hasn't even been around long enough to develop the callousness needed to be truly greedy and ruthless, and yet he has created another brutal environment for developers to fight over scraps - all with a big smile on his face.

I'm off to add compelling reasons of why customers should choose a professional webmaster to my website.


 8:05 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

For the last few years there have been loads of easy options for putting a DIY website online. I thought this would eventually affect my ability to earn a living but the bottom line is that I am now in my ninth year of doing this and busier than I have ever been.

To me this indicates that there are enough pragmatists and professional business people still around who realise that if they need a website that works they need to get it built by people who have a clue about what they are doing.

This 39 message thread spans 2 pages: 39 ( [1] 2 > >
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