Entries from June 2011

Freelance Matters | Estimating and Billing

June 9, 2011


The most frequently asked question I get when it comes to freelancing is how to estimate and bill for work. I wish there was an easy formula but clearly there isn’t. I’ve avoided answering this question because it’s taken me years of trial and error to figure it out for myself and find out what works for me. But I’m finally going to share with you all how I handle estimating and billing.



I’ve found that most designers work under a flat or hourly fee. I prefer flat fees – this means rather than charging per hour for my services I’m charging one established rate for the project. That way the client and I both know what to expect. However, I do have a disclaimer in my contract that should a project go beyond the scope of what was estimated or if we go through excessive revisions the client may be charged at an additional hourly rate.

I get asked this all the time. Only you can put a monetary value on your experience, talent and time. It’s tricky to be objective but I’ll break it down:


The scope of the project: Even though I don’t charge an hourly rate I think about things like “how long is this project going to take?” Again, my experience plays into knowing how long it takes me to design a logo, a 100-page book or a wedding invitation.

Experience: Because I’ve been in this field for 10+ years I’m probably going to charge more than a college grad right out of school. A client isn’t just paying for my services – they’re paying for everything that has lead up to me being the designer I am today. They’re not just paying for a logo – they’re paying for my expertise.

A friend told me this story – it goes like this: some guy went up to Picasso as he was enjoying dinner in a Paris cafe. The guy asks him to draw something on a napkin as a keepsake. Picasso does a quick little sketch, hands the man the napkin and says “That will be $6,000.” The man was flabbergasted and exclaims “It took you 2 seconds to draw that!” Picasso responds “No, it took me 40 years.”

Now, I’m not trying to compare myself to Picasso but this story always comes to mind when someone emails me asking for an estimate for a “really simple and easy” project.

Time:This is simple economics of supply and demand. The more in demand my services are the more expensive my rates are. If my schedule is more open I’ll charge less in order to secure the work.



This is the ol’ project management triangle. It’s a good model to consider when estimating a project. The rule is that a client gets to pick two from this triangle. I personally never like to sacrifice “good” – if a client doesn’t care about quality it means I’m not the designer for him.

Along with estimating a fee for the scope of a project I also give my clients a timeline that helps describe when certain tasks will be complete. This not only helps to keep the project moving forward but it also gives the client an idea of what the design process is like. Estimating a timeline goes hand-in-hand with my current workflow (see my to-do matters and project management posts).

Sometimes if I really want to work on a project I will tell a client upfront that I am open to adjusting an estimate as needed to fit their budget. Or I will work out a trade. Other times, the price is the price. If a client can’t pay for my services that’s okay – it just means we weren’t a good fit for each other.

• I have a few trusted friends who are also designers that I will discuss actual dollar amounts with. I think it’s important to discuss but it is also sensitive – so make sure you know and trust the people you discuss the value of your work with.

• A friend of mine gave me a book called Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook Pricing & Ethical Guidelines – my prices conflicted with some listed in the book but it’s a great resource for project scopes, typical market value and contracts & terms. If you are a freelance designer buy this book.


I get asked a lot about billing and it’s pretty easy. I hear a lot about designers being stiffed for their services and it’s yet to happen to me. I like to credit my clients for being awesome stand-up folks but I also think the way I bill helps.

I request a 50% deposit up front unless it’s from a client that has a billing department. But because I’m usually working with other freelancers or brides that’s usually not the case. I also don’t require deposits from repeat clients.

Balance Payment:
I get my final payment after the project is complete but BEFORE I deliver final files to a client or send something to print.

Payment Plans:
I know how it is to be on a tight budget so oftentimes I’ll work out a payment plan with clients. Usually it’s the estimate divided in thirds and paid out over 3 months.

Billing Tools:
I use Freshbooks to keep careful track of my expenses and income – I highly recommend this software. I also have an accountant who handles things like my taxes and tells me what I can and cannot write-off.


If you all have any more questions about estimating and billing please leave them in the comments section. If you are a freelancer I’d love to hear what works for you when it comes to estimating and billing.

Related posts:
• Freelance Matters | Project Management
• To-Do Matters
• Money Matters

Liz’s Durham Rental #2

June 8, 2011

Fabulous Friends
Left: Liz snarking in Durham. Right: Me growling in OKC. Typical Liz & Kathleen expressions captured by the web cam.

Have you all met Liz? If you’ve been reading ol’ Jeremy & Kathleen for a while you are probably already know that at one point I almost renamed this blog Liz & Kathleen: Fabulous Friends, Great Taste. But if you’re new here, check out the Liz archives.

So Liz recently moved from her 1-bedroom duplex in Durham to a larger 2-bedroom space. It may or may not be because her Oklahoma boyfriend is moving across the country to be with her. (awwww!) So with a new move came new challenges. The kinds of challenges Liz thrives on – like getting rid of even more stuff and rearranging her mid-century furniture to perfection. I love how Liz transforms any space she’s in with her perfectly art-directed vignettes – she makes it look so easy but it’s a talent y’all. So today I’d like to share a few shots of Liz’s new place with you.




Liz: My new big-girl bed that I LOVE.

You’ll notice the nightstand on the left is much shorter than the one on the right. That might be because it’s a stool.


View from the bed. Where the magic happens. Don’t you just feel like a part of the magic right now?!

My stand mixer finally gets to sit on the counter. Ah, counter space.

All photos by Liz Fabry. If you want to see more of Liz’s space follow her Flickr stream here.

Pesto Potatoes

June 7, 2011



I’ve found that if I go to the gym in the evening, before dinner, I spend my entire workout thinking about food. I mentally go through my pantry and fridge to take stock of ingredients on hand. I imagine various food combinations until an idea captures my attention. And when I’ve got a recipe in mind I visualize each step, from washing and chopping to boiling and baking.

So last night, in spin class, I started dreaming about dinner and this is what I came up with. The maple caramelized onions paired with the garlicky pesto was my favorite part – an unexpected combination of flavors was something special. It makes me want to explore more sweet & savory flavor combinations – any ideas for me?


Pesto Potatoes with Maple Caramelized Onions
6 small/medium Yukon gold potatoes
1 large yellow onion
1 tbs. maple syrup
1 big bunch of basil (I used Thai basil here)
1 handful of walnuts
4-6 cloves of garlic
3 tbs olive oil, divided
4 eggs
salt and pepper

I used this recipe to prep my potatoes. From there I sliced an onion and began caramelizing it in a cast iron pan. If you’re unfamiliar on how to do this basically you heat the pan with just a little oil over medium heat – throw in your onion slices and drizzle the maple syrup on top. These are going to cook for about 10 minutes – the goal is to get them nice and gooey and browned.

Once the onions are cooking down add your potatoes to the same skillet and smash them (I used the bottom of a glass to do this). I cooked each side of the potatoes for about 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, make your pesto by throwing the washed basil, garlic cloves and walnuts in a food processor. Drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When this is done fry your eggs using your favorite method. Serve by scooping your potatoes and onions into a bowl, top with the pesto and throw the egg on top – season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4.

1 Year Freelance

June 6, 2011


I can’t believe it’s been a full year since I quit my 9-5 to work for myself. I remember on my first day of self-employment my head was swimming in a cocktail of fear and potential. I was wearing a romper with bare feet and potting plants for my office in my backyard. As I was getting my hands dirty with soil a man working for the city came by to examine the abandoned house next door. He asked me about the feral cats living in the crawl space. He then advised me to paint my detached garage and informed me that my shoulders were uneven. He told me I needed a massage and he’d be happy to give me one. I politely declined, went inside and locked the doors.

Since then, I’ve spent this year navigating the bumpy waters of freelance life – from getting clients, efficiently managing my projects, and keeping careful account of my finances to constantly pushing myself as a designer and honing my craft. I’ve gone from finding my niche designing wedding invitations to calling it quits and focusing on small business identity and design. There has been lots of stress – the kind that gently gives me the nudge I need to keep going and the bad, typically irrational, kind that leaves me in a heap of tears. There has been an equal amount of joy too – like the projects that make me excited for Monday. And of course, writing and signing my own paycheck is always fun.

I love being a designer but if I’m completely honest, when I review this last year of freelancing, I can clearly see that what sparked the most passion in my life wasn’t my career itself but sharing the journey of it. I found the most joy in documenting, designing and sharing the details of my life – from my design process to what I’m wearing and eating to the big things like the Nepal / Everest Base Camp trek. Sharing my experiences here is what makes me the happiest.

So a year later, I’m still swimming in excitement (mixed with just a little bit of anxiety) about what’s next. My shoulders are still uneven and I probably do in fact need a massage, but I feel like at least my head is on straight.

The first year:
• Month 1
• Month 2
• Month 3
• Month 4
• Month 5
• Month 6
• Month 7
• Month 8
• Month 9
• Month 10
• Month 11

Vintage Flora Wedding Invitations

June 3, 2011







Here are some wedding invitations I custom designed for Megan & Paul.

Megan, an art historian and artist, contacted me after seeing some of my other invitation designs. She was especially inspired by Elizabeth Blackwell’s “A Curious Herbal” as well as vintage French ephemera such as vintage soap and pharmacy labels. Megan and Paul are having a casual & intimate wedding celebration at Megan’s parents’ home in the beautiful English garden. All of these things inspired me greatly when designing Megan and Paul’s invitations.

A unique idea we had was to include the details card on the RSVP – you simply snip off the details and return the RSVP.

I used a combination of vintage Flora illustrations with typography to help reflect the French ephemera look. We printed these in 2-colors on a textured, cream paper. The bride & groom were thrilled with the final result.

Other custom invitations:
• Sam & Rob’s Earthy Art Nouveau invitations
• Stephanie & Max’s Aqua and Emerald Letterpress invitations
• Carmen & TJ’s Modern Topography invitations

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