Pricing can be tricky – for beginners, well-experienced artists, and artists in between. When it comes to large scale projects (murals, windows, big menu boards, etc.), should you charge by the square foot or by the hour? This is a very nuanced topic because most artists do it completely differently! I asked four of my friends to come on my show to debate about it. I wish I had listened to this conversation before I ever got started on large-scale projects.
Let’s Meet the Debaters
Hayley Berry of Type Affiliated is based in Provo, Utah in the US and is known for her lettering work, sign painting, and murals.
Jesi Machete of Cabin Calligraphy is based in Ontario, Canada (south of Toronto) and does a lot of on-site big-scale jobs.
Jasmine Holmes of Jasmine Designs is based in Melbourne, Australia and does a lot of murals and sign writing.
Terence Tang of Tinlun Studio is based in Houston, Texas in the US. He’s newer to big-scale projects but is a long time designer of all creative things.
When writing this post, I definitely wanted to include alllllll the great insight this debate provided. However, you’d be reading all day! I made sure to include the highlights and things I neeeeeed you to know, but I highly recommend you hop on over to YouTube and check out the full debate in real time!
So which is better – pricing by the hour or pricing by the square foot?
Here’s what Hayley, Jesi, Jasmine, Terence, and I had to say…
Some Pros of Pricing by the Hour
You can easily adjust your rate based on the complexities of the project (surface texture, paint colour(s), wall height, etc.).
The budget and project estimate is established at the very beginning.
As you get quicker and more efficient, you can increase your hourly rate.
Some Cons of Pricing by the Hour
You need enough experience to know how long a project is going to take you.
Pricing hourly is a source of conflict between client and designer – client wants you to work faster for less money; you want to take your time and make more money.
You’re punished for being efficient.
Some Pros of Pricing by the Square Foot
You’re not rushed to complete the work.
You can be over or under your time estimate with no major impact on the estimate given to the client.
Related to above, it’s easier to scale up or down when charging by the square foot because you know the exact extra square feet and rate to be added to your estimate.
Some Cons of Pricing by the Square Foot
A request for the project to be scaled down is nearly the same amount of work but less profit for you.
If the project takes you twice as long as you expected, you’re stuck working twice as long without any increase in profit.
Size is really important and may not reflect the time needed to complete the project. A single word on a 20 foot wall is much quicker than a full paragraph on a 5×5 wall, but they’re priced totally different. You’d make way less on the paragraph wall but spend much more time on it.
What are some big takeaways from the great debate?
- Be super clear about your price no matter how you get there, but don’t tell them how you’re getting there. They don’t need to know your exact price per hour or price per square root. If they don’t know, they can’t try to manipulate your rates.
- If you’re charging premium pricing, make sure you’re delivering on your promise. Set the expectation clearly and communicate properly – so much can be avoided with communication.
- For large scale jobs, clients are typically okay with the final price being a little more or a little less As long as you’re setting expectations properly.
- Build good relationships with your clients, so they keep requesting your services.
Know How to Price Your Work
- It’s super beneficial to have two rates – your design rate and your actual painting rate.
- The complexity is defined by the designer, not the client. You should always take complexity into account (texture of the wall, colours involved, wall height, etc.), and you should be the one determining that complexity.
- As a beginner, experience can be self-initiated. Be your own client. Practice on your windows. Practice on some plywood. Figure out how long projects take you, how to problem solve on the spot, etc.
Know Your Worth
- You’re constantly increasing your worth because you’re constantly doing murals and constantly learning.
- What is this project worth? Given your time, experience, the design, etc. – what’s this worth?
- Your clients are not talking to each other! They’re not comparing your price. If you screwed up and charged too low, hike it up.
- A mural is a LUXURY – no one NEEDS a mural. Don’t fall for emotional manipulation if a client wants a price reduction. Other industries aren’t giving people a discount just because they want it.
Constantly Evaluate Your Pricing
- Use your hourly rate to double check your square foot rate and vice versa – they should both come out about the same.
- Always be evaluating your hourly rate and your square footage rate. Don’t just pick a rate and then never adjust it. You’re learning more, getting better and more efficient, etc. Your rates should adjust accordingly.
- Get a second opinion when you’re starting out. Message someone you look up to. “Hey, can you take a look at this project, design, and estimate and let me know how it looks?”
What’s one piece of advice you wish you had known as a beginner?
Hayley: Stick to your contract and don’t be worried to tell your client no. They won’t think you’re mean to stick to the contract. Be transparent about what’s included (I’ll send this many sketches, this many revisions, more is extra, etc.). Revise the contract if needed.
Jasmine: You’re gonna mess up. You’re human. You’ll look back and want to change things. You’ll have mistakes – learn from them, grow from them, respect them as teachings, and keep going. Don’t let them stop you.
Terence: I used to not bend at all on my pricing. If your quote is a little high, and they want to work with you, consider other factors. If you have to bend pricing to get more work, nothing wrong with that (within reason) – especially at the beginning. Also, always sign your murals!
Jesi: You just have to start. Experience comes with time, and pricing gets easier. Give yourself time. Time to adjust how to deal with clients, how to figure out desk rate vs on-site rate, etc. Allow yourself to grow in your own process. Don’t be focused on success with your very first project. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just be confident. Don’t underprice yourself because you don’t have the confidence or experience. They’re coming to you because they think you’re capable. Even if you don’t think you’re capable, they do.
Becca: Bring twice as many materials as you think you’ll need to the job and give yourself more time than you think you need.
And that’s a wrap!
Overall, don’t undersell yourself, cross reference yourself (hourly AND square footage), make sure you’re profitable, and don’t get screwed over.
We loved chatting about pricing and honestly could have debated all day.
If you want to learn more about pricing, come sign up for my free webinar: Five Keys to Confident Pricing.
I also have a full pricing course, Panic Free Pricing, available as well. Check it out!
Confidence building dad joke for you…
Why do we use debate?
We use debate to catch de-fish.