In his blog post, Paying Not To Be First, Jonathan Fields discusses why paying more for a service is better.
He makes a fair point: you’re paying more for a service because you are paying for the individual’s experience.
Reading this reminds me of a few things I should share about web designers and other freelancers. Remember, I base this on working in the field for 10 years; I’ve seen my colleagues do a lot of interesting things.
In his post, Jonathan has the “you get what you pay for” mentality. Bear in mind that this is often true. However, it can be equally false.
There is no set rate when it comes to web design and little in the way of pricing standards. I’ve seen new designers charge sky-high fees and experienced designers continue to work on the cheap. Never assume that high fees mean you have a quality designer. Years back, I was hired to do some updates to a law firm’s website. It didn’t look very good and was poorly coded. I was mortified to find out that they had actually paid $10,000 for this badly made, 10 page website.
So before assuming you’re getting quality, do your homework. Get referrals (and contact them!). Look at the designer’s portfolio. Use search engines and run variations of their name or business with the words rip off, scam, bad, terrible, and suck. Remember, that high price tag may be from someone fresh out of college or who just learned some HTML and decided to hang up a shingle. I’ve seen it before and I’m sure I’ll see it again.
There is a flip side to this pricing thing. Cheaper still isn’t always better either. I’ve seen people who want to only pay $3 or $5 a year for a domain, and end up having a headache later because that cheap price tag came from a terrible registrar. To be fair, not all cheap domains are from bad registrars. But there are also some good registrars that come with a higher price tag. If you can’t afford to shell out the extra $10 a year for a domain, maybe you can’t afford a website or even to be in business. You don’t want to lose your domain because you went with a cheap, fly-by-night company or even a big name with a reputation for poor service. Again: do the research.
Lastly, I disagree with Jonathan Field’s belief that experienced people don’t charge an hourly rate. Most professionals do: lawyers, doctors, accountants, web designers, programmers, and more. For one thing, many clients expect this; they are comfortable with the hourly concept because it is familiar. For another thing, this means we get paid if the project runs long. We can’t always predict client behavior and some like to continue to add to projects. Personally, I like being paid for my time. Conversely, I don’t like charging clients for work I’m not actually doing. I’m not going to bill for a giant project if its just a 5 page website. Some of us are fine getting paid by the hour, but we’re wiling to charge hourly rates to reflect our experience. For my part, while I may charge a higher hourly rate, with me you sometimes get a lower price because I work fast due to that decade of experience. This can be true of other designers, writers, artists, and programmers.
So remember: pricing isn’t always a great indicator of quality. Heck, I’ve seen some name brand, expensive clothing fall apart after one washing (and I was following the instructions!). Do your research and see what you turn up. Pricing is just one criteria. Don’t use it as the only one.