Tips to Figure Out How Much a Freelancer Might Cost

You’ve got a project that’s the perfect fit for freelance talent. So, how can you figure out how much it might cost to engage a freelancer to get it done?

While cost will always be a primary consideration when finding talent, it shouldn’t be the only one. The goal should be to find the best talent for a project so it’s done well, on time, and on budget.

With that in mind, the budget you set aside for a freelancer will depend on factors such as what you need done and the skills and experience needed to get the results you need. Here are some tips to help you determine how much your project may cost.

1. Expect to pay more for more experience and in-demand skills

The skills and level of experience your project requires will largely dictate how much you’ll pay the freelancer with the right expertise. The more senior and niche a freelancer’s skills, the narrower the pool of talent, which allows them to command higher rates.

If you’re adopting a new, cutting-edge technology, there may be a bit of sticker shock, but know that investing in a high-quality, future-proof deliverable can often save you more in the long run.

For more information about finding a freelancer for your next project, check out Upwork’s Hiring Resources.

2. The scope of a project plays a big role in cost

Complexity and cost go hand in hand. A freelancer with the chops to take on your high-visibility, mission-critical project will likely charge a higher rate, and you’ll also need more of his or her time.

But project scope can affect a freelancer’s quote beyond their set rates, too. What a project costs is a direct reflection of the time and effort required—not just a calculation of “hours x rate.”

Sometimes, a freelancer may submit a quote that reflects a different rate than the one on his profile. For example, a writer with an $85/hour rate might submit a quote that reflects an $65/hour rate to refresh outdated content because it’s lower effort. That same writer might submit a quote with an $100/hour rate for an article that requires extensive research and interviews to write.

Pro tip: If the scope seems too much for one freelancer to handle, you might consider scaling up to a freelancer agency for more in-house support and coordination.

3. Freelancer rates are not the same as employee salaries

It might be tempting to do some quick math and calculate what you think a freelancer’s rate should be based on a full-time employee’s salary in a similar role, but freelancer rates are based on a different set of criteria. Freelancers’ rates assign a dollar value to the knowledge they’ve picked up, the skills they’ve developed, and how they translate that into your project’s success. They also have additional expenses such as computers, office equipment, health insurance, and taxes.

Rates are likely one of the first things you’ll consider when reviewing proposals or inviting freelancers and agencies to your project, but don’t let a higher rate keep you from seeing the value a freelancer can offer.

4. You may pay a premium for short timelines or quick turnarounds

A project’s timeframe can also impact scope—and possibly the rate you pay. In some cases, a shorter turnaround time may increase the overall fee or hourly rate. This could be because the freelancer may need to work longer hours or push back on other opportunities to meet your needs.

Note: If you need to meet a last-minute deadline, those tight parameters might narrow the talent pool available to take on your project. Starting in advance can help ensure you’re not paying a premium.

5. Set milestones to help estimate (and control) project costs

When scoping a project and estimating costs, milestones are a very helpful way to break a big project into smaller deliverables—and smaller costs. Milestones are smaller deliverables or phases of a project that are paid for incrementally over the course of a contract. They can also help to keep a project moving along smoothly, give freelancers financial incentive to stay on task, and can keep both client and freelancer on the same page.

Learn how to set clear expectations and help your project succeed.

6. A freelancer’s location might affect rate, but not necessarily quality

If a freelancer doesn’t need to be local or in the same time zone, there may be lower rates to be found based on factors such as market demand and lower costs of living. For example, the cost to hire an iOS developer in California’s Bay Area will be higher than a developer with the same skills overseas, who can offer a more competitive rate for the same skills.

Note that you may need to factor in hidden costs such as language barriers and time zone logistics, but skills generally aren’t location-dependent.

Remember: You get what you pay for

When deciding on what to pay a freelancer, ask yourself: How important is the project? What, if any, are the consequences of delays or errors? Know what your deliverable is worth to you and weigh that against the expertise you need. Remember, cost is only one factor when considering freelance talent and agencies. The peace of mind you’ll get when your project is knocked out of the park on time is priceless!

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