How do I set my rate as a freelance web developer?
I don’t like vagueries. I like to give hard answers. This can be difficult to do with rate because there are so many variables. Still, I find the reason most people don’t want to give hard numbers is that they don’t want to be wrong.
I have no problem being wrong.
Is the graph below, showing rate frequency for web developers, 100% perfect? Almost certainly not. But it gives us a very strong approximation. And perfect doesn’t matter because we’re only looking for a starting place. The whole reason we want to see averages is that we don’t want to be way out of line with other industry professionals (at least until we’re in demand enough to start charging whatever we want). And a strong approximation serves that purpose splendidly.
A couple of things to consider:
- I’m only taking full-time freelancers based in the US into consideration. This significantly raises averages because it reduces the number of amateur and ‘Upwork-level’ freelancers in the mix.
- This is based on project frequency averages, not freelancer medians. This means that freelancers that work more will be more heavily weighted.
- The averages come largely from data, though I also consulted experts in the field.
Front End Developers most commonly earn ~$600-900 per day.
Back End Developers most commonly earn ~$700-800 per day.
For starters, let’s take a look at the red line. As I’ve said before, as freelancers with a job-skill, we never want to accept less than $30/hr, even if we’re just starting out. Are other freelancers going to? Of course they are. Let them take all of the worst clients, we don’t want to get caught in a race to the bottom.
Next, let’s take a look at the difference between front end developers and back end developers. Back end developers are in lower supply, so they are less likely to charge low rates. Front end developers have more competition, driving an increase in low-cost and ultra-low-cost freelancers. However, by using existing back end architecture, like CMSs, front end developers can create entire websites for clients, turning their service into a product. This creates an opportunity for front end developers to charge higher total project rates in a way that back end developers, who are very often paid hourly or daily, cannot.
Finally, let’s look at the rate frequencies and what they mean. Currently, web developers are very highly in demand as even the most technologically resistant companies create and update their online presence. This means that web developers, even more than other freelancers, should not give in to pressure to try to underbid each other. There has been a creeping fear in the industry due to the rise of overseas development talent, but local developers automatically have numerous competitive advantages and should not try to compete with overseas developers on price. A rate of $80-100/hr is a well-accepted average for both back end and front end developers and higher rates, especially for front end developers, are often not considered exorbitant.
- Most freelancers, especially new ones, are too cheap.
- Price is only one potential competitive advantage you can have over your competition and it’s (pretty much) the only one that can affect your livelihood. This means that it’s probably the very last way you should try to provide more value than other freelancers in your lane.
- If a client can’t afford you, it doesn’t automatically mean your services are worth less than you’re charging. It’s more likely that this is just not the right kind of client for you.
If you’d like more information about rate you can check out my comprehensive freelance course, where I talk more about how different clients think about rate, mistakes to avoid, and how to defend your rate if a potential client raises an objection.