Pricing Environmental Graphic Design

Hello everybody, I just submitted a quote to create two outdoor wall size graphics and two indoor wall size, exhibition style graphics for a local sports & rec center. The design concepts will be a mix of stock photography that I will source, illustrations and background designs. All graphics are due within a month, which I consider to be an aggressive timeline for the scope of the project. Along with these graphics, I was asked to create a brand style guide. Is $4,550 a reasonable fee for all of these deliverables, or is it too much? The person collecting bids said that my quote is triple that of others…triple? What do you all think?

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Unless you’re willing to lower your price.

Is that including the stock images etc?

What is involved in the guidelines?

What’s your day rate? Does that equal final figures?

Without knowing the full scope or work, it’s tough to say.

When you say “wall size graphic,” one person might envision, for example, just a large stock photo with a headline and logo reversed out. While someone else might envision more of a painterly mural with layers upon layers of art that tells a story. Even with your description, I could envision a relatively simple solution or a more complex solution.

The same could be said for a brand style guide. Are they looking for a guide that would just specify a font family and different colors (cmyk, rgb, pms) or are they looking for something more complex that might include details like how to use the branding elements in a way finding system?

We have a forum rule against discussing specific prices: Forum Rules (Sixth one from the top)

First, believe it or not, according to U.S. federal law, it can be considered as price fixing to discuss with competitors (in this case, other designers) the specifics of how much to charge.

Second, it’s sort of a nonsensical question given that a price in a big metropolitan area will differ dramatically from a small town in the country. Prices differ even more between countries.

In addition, lots depends on your experience, how much profit you need to make, the value of the service to the client, the complexity of the job, your expenses, how long it will take you, and about a dozen other variables.

It’s up to you how much to charge. Nobody here can tell you.

Without looking at actual numbers and just your ratio of three-times-higher, my best guess for your discrepancy, based just on my personal experience, is probably production method. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had quotes and orders have been ping-ponged around trying to work with the production costs - a paper type or spot ink gets discontinued, or a vendor changes their pricing, or nobody told them we had to charge for the labor time it takes to drill a hole in every single one of 10,000 one-inch tags - you get the idea.

So if your production methods weren’t predetermined by the client, the competitors might have quoted a lower-cost material, or even just quoted the design work. There’s also the possibility that they have access to a lower-cost production method or discounts that you don’t for the same product and can cut costs that way. Or, as you mentioned, you might be marking up higher than they are - but your margins are something you need to talk to your money people about, whoever they are. If you’re working solo, then I guess it’s on you to do the math.

In short, if the client says you’re charging more, you should to check with the client or job brief and see if it’s because you’re offering them more or not. As an example, cars can sell from a couple hundred to a couple hundred thousand dollars - and those can all be fair prices, depending on what car is selling for what. I can’t tell you if you’re charging too much or too little, but you can probably figure it out if you ask the right questions. Hopefully that helps you figure it out somewhat.

I think creative people often have a problem where they negotiate themseleves down once they’ve arrived at a price or underbid the job rather than add in extra to account for unexpected delays or costs.

I think you might find this video beneficial, there’s an exercise Chris does when he breaks down how to build a bid:

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^^^^ It always takes longer than you think it will.

One caveat I have with Chris Do is that his advice comes from the standpoint of a very successful agency. Although I don’t disagree with what he says, I’m just not sure his advice is always realistic for most people.

For example, in the video, he starts out estimating the base cost of a job at around $5,000, but by the time he’s finished adding in all the additional charges — all of which are legitimate for his situation — he’s tripled the quote.

Chris Do’s clients are people who want the best, people who have the money to pay for the best, and people who expect to pay good money for the best. Most everyone else — especially freelancers — work for clients on a tighter budget. They’re not necessarily looking for the best. They probably wouldn’t recognize it if they saw it. They’re a bit naive and they’re trying to save money.

In addition, there’s always someone who will underbid. To a naive client who can’t really appreciate the difference, that lower bid will typically get the job.

The trick is, I think, listening to Chris Do’s advice but recognizing that he’s working at a level that will rarely be encountered outside an established and successful agency. Yes, designers tend to underestimate both time and cost. It’s important to always remember that getting the job is secondary to making a good profit from that job. At the same time, it’s equally important to realistically assess the situation, the client and the likely competition when coming up with that bid. In other words, nobody starts out making top-dollar bids on medium-budget jobs.

You have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. If you can drop the price then do it - but if you think it was fair sometimes you just have to let the job go and move on.

Its likely they’ll go with the lowest price and from my experience they will be short on delivery. 9/10 times the person comes back with the tail between the legs asking for help fixing the mistakes the other person did and then left.

When I was freelancing I would ask - “what’s your budget for this?” I would then calculate what I could reasonably do for that amount and prepare a job proposal.

It often surprised people but they appreciated that they would not be paying over the odds (in their eyes) and that there would be no nasty surprises when the bill came in from me.

Sometimes they would not be happy with “this is what you get for that money” and either up the budget or reconsider the job parameters. I walked away from a few jobs where they said “as cheap as possible”.

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The cheap as possible route is common. That’s where I contact vendors and check out substrates etc., methods of production to reduce the cost.

But of course you need to know the parameters, indoor/outdoor/sizes/durability/etc. Once you have them, cheap as possible could be $1,000,000, or it could be $500.

Either way - you need to work out beforehand if it’s worth your while even quoting.

I usually give people the ballpark figure based on initial discussions and see where they are at.

I often get someone wanting a €70k print job done for €60k. If we can do it for €60k the job is ours. The kicker with that is that we promise the print vendor or whoever is doing the job more work their way.

And it’s usually negotiable with vendors to do it for lower than they originally quoted.

You’re right in that Chris has positioned himself as such that cheap clients don’t even attempt to engage him, he talks about how he does that it in a little bit of depth here:

I think there are definitely parts of this and other things Chris says, that people can apply and emulate in their own business and be super sucessful.

you have that the wrong way around.

Wow, thanks so much for your responses, everybody! I’m already loving the community support in this forum. I realize that I didn’t give much detail in my initial post, so here a little more context; I’ll start by responding to Just-B:

@Just-B thanks for letting me know the rules about discussing specific pricing on this forum; I don’t mean to break the rules!

As for experience, I’ve been designing for a little over two decades and have worked with lots of companies covering most aspects of graphic and web design. I have art directed and managed teams of designers as well. Around five years ago, I decided to go the freelance route in order to better manage work and home responsibilities.

Now, details on the SOW for this project:
@Kaegro My role in this will be purely design. The client has already selected a signage print shop, so the print production and material expenses are not included in my quote; just design.

@Steve_O when I mentioned “wall size graphics” I was referring to graphics that will cover two facing walls on a long hallway inside a sports & rec building. The walls are 12 ft. tall x 45 ft. long. These walls will be covered with acrylic panels, and while each panel will be installed separately, all will show a continuous design, one wall with a history timeline that will include copy, photography (stock photos I will have to source and which cost is included in my quote/excluding premium stock) and iconography weaved in to the design, the other wall with same design style but with a sports theme. Then there is an outdoor mural wall to design by the entrance, an aquatic sign to design for the pool area and a smaller wall with minimal design, mainly text around their core services. Along with these signs, the client wants me to create a brand style guide because they do not have one. They recently had an agency redesign their logo. I am not sure what the back story is with that relationship, but I was surprised to learn that the agency did not even provide a simple logo style guide! So the guide I’ve been asked to design will include everything that plays a role in the look and feel of this brand – logo usage, typography, color palette, imagery, etc. I will likely be collaborating with a copywriter who will write about the company’s mission/vision/core values/brand voice/tone, etc.
I’m estimating that this job will take me well over 40-50 hours, so I’m thinking my pricing is adequate…but I wanted to get everybody’s take on it.

@Smurf2, I’m now reconsidering this job, thinking about walking away from it, since the client feels my pricing is three times the amount of other bids.

@pluto I agree 100% regarding pricing. Thanks for sharing Chris Do’s video!

I hope this helps clarify my initial post!

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Based on your description, I don’t think your estimate is out of line at all. Stick to your guns. You probably won’t get the job because they’ll go with the low bidder, but the client will get a third of the work. Not the same work for a third of the price.

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It sounds like most of the work is for murals… one-time projects. Is a style guide necessary for that?

Oh no, don’t do that. It’s a fair quote. It’s okay to be rejected, and often very informative. Plus, they may intend on awarding it to you and are saying you are higher than the others as a negotiation strategy in order to get price concessions. It may be a bluff. If it was me, I would counter by saying “Do you have a specific budget in mind you are trying to meet, because I can suggest changes in the scope of the design so you don’t exceed your target.”

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Great advice, Steve_O. I needed some perspective on this to know that I’m not going crazy, ha!

@Mojo The style guide is in addition to the murals and indoor signs I’ve been asked to do. The company recently redesigned their logo and wants a full rebrand, hence the style guide that will be used on all print and web communications.
As for pricing and negotiating, what I did was since the client said my quote is three times higher than other bids, to please black out names and final pricing on other quotes and share them with me so that I could see if our services are comparable. I’ve yet to hear from the client :wink:

This touches directly on the point I was trying to make about the Chris Do video @Pluto pointed to. One needs to factor in all the time and costs in order to make a profit, but doing so runs the risk of quoting a price that seems out of line to the client given that others will underbid the same job with a claim of doing what seems to the client to be the same quality work. This is really one of the big problems in working with naive and inarticulate clients, which brings up what @Mojo is saying below.

Yes. There’s a certain amount of salesmanship involved which relies on establishing a rapport with the client in which the proposal can be presented in such a way as to educate the client about what’s being offered and why the extra cost might (or might not) be worth it. This rapport is also useful in getting under the surface of what the the client asked for as opposed to what the client really wants and needs.

For example, one might factor in everything and come up with a price quote that’s quite high. But just maybe the client was not anticipating anything as complicated or pricey as what you might have initially inferred from a less thorough initial conversation or exchange of emails. Maybe the client really doesn’t need or want the higher-end work.

Conversely, the client might be expecting top-quality work, but does not understand that it costs as much as it does or why that extra cost is worth it. In this case, the client will likely go with a lower bid and be disappointed with the outcome.

There’s really not a good formula for dealing with this (Chris Do, by the way, excels at it). It’s a matter of asking all the right questions, listening intently, and negotiating (often on the fly) in a way that reassures clients while letting them know what’s really being offered at different price points. This is why clients typically don’t speak directly to the creative staff at ad agencies — instead, the client relationships are handled by the account executives whose speciality is doing what I just described. (Most designers really suck at it.)

For example, one might say, here’s what I can do for one price, here’s what I can do for something a little lower and here’s what I can do with my lowest price. This gives prospective clients a choice and provides context in which clients can analyze whether or not what you’re offering is in line with their needs. It also provide some context for clients to consider your bid in relationship to the quotes from other bidders.

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What do you think is wrong about it?