Don’t rely on an hourly rate to choose your designer

At Chalkbox, we bid on a wide variety of projects—from comprehensive initiatives, such as new brand identities, to jobs that are smaller in scope, like designing brochures.

The vast majority of those bids include a fixed project fee, because we feel that’s the best way to operate. Not only does it make it easier for our clients to budget, it allows us to do the work the way it needs to be done. We don’t worry about “billable hours.” Instead, we focus on how we can best serve the client.

It’s not uncommon, though, for someone to get in touch with us and ask only for our hourly rate. Usually, it’s the primary measure they’re using to evaluate their design options. But even if they have a small budget, that’s a big mistake. Below are two reasons why.

If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.

1. A low hourly rate doesn’t guarantee a low project cost.

There’s a famous quote about this approach: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.” We’re not saying that designers with low rates are amateurs, of course. But what do you know about the quality of their work? Or how long it will take them to finish your project? Those things are just as important (if not more so) than the hourly rate.

Let’s say you want to redesign a few brochures, and your budget is $500. One designer estimates it will take him 10 hours at $50 an hour—a far less expensive rate than that designer you stopped talking to when you found out she charges $100 an hour.

You get your revised brochures, and, well, there are a few issues. The layout isn’t quite what you envisioned, and the color scheme is all wrong. You need the designer to make revisions—and that’s going to add to the hourly total. Before you know it, you’ve spent $700 on your $500 project, and you’re still not entirely happy.

2. A high hourly rate doesn’t necessarily mean a high project cost.

Now let’s say you choose the designer who charges $100 an hour. She spends an hour learning about your business—not just about this particular project, but your goals, your audience, your overall needs. Those details all inform her work redesigning your brochures, which takes her just three hours.

You’re thrilled with the results, and although you’ve got a few minor tweaks, they only take an additional hour. Even though this designer is more expensive on an hourly basis, the total project is right on budget, and your business has exactly what it needs.

A fixed project fee provides the best of both worlds.

Compared with hourly billing, a fixed project fee gives you more cost certainty while allowing you to consider other factors—such as the experience and skill of the designer, whether you will actually like working with them, and so on.

And as you’re considering those factors, at Chalkbox, we’re considering how to complete your project (and exceed your expectations) while staying within your budget. We evaluate things like the deliverables, the time and research required to create them, and what you want to spend.

If you don’t know your budget, or don’t want to say, that’s fine, too. Some people worry that if they say their budget is $10,000, our proposal will magically work out to that amount. But our goal isn’t to get every last dollar from you. It’s to ensure you get what you need at a price that works for both of us.

That’s a lot easier to do when you stop focusing on hourly rate and start focusing on something far more important: The value you get from your designer.