Is it fair to charge your bigger clients more?

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There is a lot of really good information out there about pricing, and when I was starting out I read a lot of it.

I quickly settled on a combined system of flat rate and hourly that works very well for me. I was all set.

However, one thing kept bugging me.

When I was quoting on new projects my gut would always tell me to quote higher depending on the size of the company or client. I felt like I should charge bigger clients more than smaller ones, but I really didn’t know why.

I didn’t know if it was fair, and I didn’t want to be seen as taking advantage of clients depending on their financial status.

I have to tip my hat to Jessica Hische, whose wonderful article, The Dark Art of Pricing, gave me a ton of insight on the topic and really helped me draw my conclusions.

So is it fair?

You might have guessed from this posts title that I think it is fair. The reason, though, has a lot less to do with the clients larger creative budget than you might think. Just because the client has a more money doesn’t mean you are entitled to charge them more. That, I think, would be unfair.

So here’s why it’s fair to charge your bigger clients more.

Bigger clients are likely to have a few other factors at play that make doing design work for them a little more expensive. Consider the following when pricing out projects for larger clients:

The size of their audience

When you bill a client, for the most part what they are buying (aside from your hourly work) is the right to display something you have created, and therefore hold the copyright to. This is either done through licensing; where the client buys the right to display the work in an agreed format for an agreed amount of time, or through a buyout; where the client buys the copyright and the work becomes their intellectual property.

A fortune 500 company is going to have a much larger audience to view the work than a mom and pop bakery. As the audience for the work is expanded, licensing and buyouts can be adjusted to match.

The scope of the work

They also have the ability to use your work in more applications and therefore you will have to consider a lot more factors while designing for them. A brandmark that will be on everything from business cards to billboards needs to be more versitile and well tested than the signage for a mom and pop store.

As the scope and mindfulness of your work must increase, so should your rates.

Should you charge you bigger clients more?

Not by default. Every client deserves fair and equal treatment. Larger clients will tend to need more versatile, thought-out work and wider licensing options, and those should be charged for accordingly.

Do you have a sliding scale for your clients? In the comments, tell us if you think it’s right to charge your bigger clients more or if you think we’re all wrong.

This post was originally published in April 2014. It has been updated and republished here due to recent questions in our free Millo Mastermind facebook group.

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About Ben Brush

Ben Brush is a graphic designer working and living in Nova Scotia. You can view his work on his website. Find more posts by Ben on his graphic design blog Design Puffin or connect with him on twitter.

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  1. Ben,

    Thanks so much for the validation! I’ve experienced the same weirdness but gut feeling as you, but again, felt the “bigger budget” was unfair. After all, I don’t want that to happen to me.

    Now I have good, valid reasons that I can explain to clients if necessary that fits within my ethical code.

    Awesome post!


    • Thanks April!

      I’m glad you got something from the post. It’s something that bothered me for a while and when I did some thinking on it I wanted to share what I came up with to see what everyone else thought.

      I’m glad that people for the most part seem to agree.

  2. Rebecca Osterman says:

    Another reason to consider charging more to bigger clients is that usually these projects are going to be more complicated because of the added “cooks in the kitchen”. With your mom and pops you have one person, or maybe a very small number of people who are weighing in on the process. Once you get to a larger company, it’s much more possible that you run into a situation where the people you were dealing with aren’t the ones who actually make the call as to what the approved design is. They’re telling you one thing while the ones who are in charge have something else in mind, leading to more revisions and a generally more painful process.

    • That’s a great point you’ve picked up on Rebecca. I’m glad you mentioned it. Dealing directly with business owners saves a ton of time compared to dealing with a committee or series of decision makers.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • I was just about to mention that. I recently doubled my normal rate on a proposal because I could sense the person I was working with would be the go between guy (big corporation). I wouldn’t be able to have communication with the actual people calling the shots so there is no way for me to talk people through the process and there is no way for me to get the underlying message the top dogs want to get across but can’t articulate. In the end, the muddy communication will add more hours.

  3. Another factor to consider is the number of approval stages, and hence the number of iterations the work will have to go through. Large clients, especially those with a national or international scope, tend to have more review steps due to having more stakeholders involved. Accommodating an extensive approval process adds necessary time and legitimate costs (rev’s/comps/presentation decks) to the project.

    • Dave, I couldn’t have said that better myself. That’s a really great point. Anticipating and accommodating that process could make the difference between a project being profitable or not.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Great post! I do have different rates of pay but for slightly different reasons. As a sole trader – and a mum – I fit my work in around my kids as much as possible. I’m totally up front about this with all my clients but the bigger companies expect a different level of service and I provide that – but also charge more for it.

    For small clients, I’m only available for meetings during school hours and project timescales may be longer if I need to take time off for the kids’ holidays (agreed up front, of course).

    By charging the bigger companies more, I can pay for childcare whenever necessary. This means I can be available for full days, work to shorter timescales and be more responsive to changes of scope or shifting deadlines.

    • Sounds like you have a great system worked out. I like your approach, and honesty with your clients, and I’m sure they do too.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Thanks for the post! I always understood that the scope of work would be larger which gives me reason to charge more, but I always forget the cost of licensing for their audience. Great tip!

    • I’m glad it was helpful Samantha!

      Some people have brought up other great reason in the comments here that I didn’t even think of as well. I’ll be using a few of them myself when considering future projects.

  6. For me, the best reason to charge bigger clients more is because everything usually takes longer. The research phase takes more time, the approvals take longer, there are more opportunities for scope creep, and there are more decision makers, even if they funnel their instructions to you through one person.

  7. My larger clients DO pay more- but because they have more shot-callers= ( more protracted approval processes), more bureaucracy=( more hoops to jump through to get paid), more pointless revisions based on somebody’s needing to justify their existence= (more hours to completion).

    So in this case “larger” applies not to the size of their wallets, but to the magnitude of their inefficiency.

    • What a magnificent phrase: “the magnitude of their inefficiency” (and, unfortunately, one that I’ll bet we can all relate to!)

    • You said it guys. It’s all about being prepared for the way your client works, and for bigger clients that can be a lot slower and drawn out than it would be with others.

  8. Listen, it’s simple:

    1. If (oh, God please let it be!!!) Coca Cola calls me tomorrow asking for a quote for an ad, or a brochure, or a logo for their new product — they sure would throw my quote straight to the trash can if I charge them what I charged that diner around the corner last week.

    2. Somebody needs to SUBSIDIZE my small, poor clients who can’t afford paying what I’d like them to pay, yet they still DESERVE a decent-looking ad (or brochure, or logo(, don’t they.

    3. I can come up with a couple more good reasons, but some were already mentioned, some are too trivial, some are just plain obvious. The rich CAN and SHOULD pay more.


    • Great post. Another thought to consider is the value of the work you’re producing. A website for a $150K / year business has a different value than a similar website produced for a $10M / year business. There’s also a lot more riding on the latter vs. the former. The end products might be similar, but they’re worth vastly different amounts to each client.

      There’s a lot of great articles out there (Dan Mall has a great book too) about how to Value Price – it’s not easy, but it’s an interesting way to move away from simply selling your time, or creating fixed bids based on time estimates.

  9. I tend to think of it the other way. I have my “standard” rate and then give a discount to the smaller clients. It covers the scope of the projects, but also makes them feel like you’re giving them a break. It’s all about perceived value.

  10. Great article Ben. I started pricing this way a few years ago. I covered this topic in two episodes of my Resourceful Designer podcast at I called this value based pricing where you charge your client depending on the value they receive from your design. Large companies get more value from a logo than a mom and pop store will. It’s nice to see others talking about this “holy grail” of the various graphic design pricing strategies.

  11. I love the point someone made that bigger companies should pay more to subsidize all the people who deserve good work but can’t afford it for whatever reason.

    Can I play Devil’s Advocate?

    NOTE: I USUALLY charge bigger clients more, but not always.

    Here’s why:

    1. Just because a company APPEARS to be bigger doesn’t mean it’s always so.

    2. More money=more problems. Larger companies=larger expenses. As a freelancer who works from home, my overhead is SUPER LOW. But large companies with lots of income, employees and offices have a much lower profit margin than I do.

  12. This article is timely and helpful for many freelancers! When newbies start out, they tend to struggle with pricing their services. A lot of them charge too little thinking they’re not as valuable as they really are. The trick is to find that balance. Thank you for sharing this 🙂

  13. I start with a higher number I’m comfortable with, knowing that people with money will be able to pay it, but I freely charge less for those who don’t have that money. I look at it along the lines of a poverty discount or a just-starting-out discount. If you can afford the full amount, you don’t need a discount and it’s not usually in my best interest to offer one. However, if you’re working minimum wage and, thus, can’t afford the full amount, I like to work on the level that person can afford, while trying to balance it out with an alternative payment plan, fewer pages/perks for a website, trading for free marketing if it’s a radio show, etc. I don’t charge *more,* per se, for bigger clients; I charge *less* for smaller/newer clients.

  14. Thanks for the post!
    For me its not about big or small companies, but what they earn, sell and gain from my valued work. Lets say my work increase sales by 30% for the next 5 years. For company A selling 100 products for $20 a month that means $24.000 a year – $120.000 for the next 5 years. 30% increase is $36.000. For company B selling only 2 products a month, but for $60.000 each, that means $7.200.000 in 5 years. A 30% increase for them is $2.160.000. Ask yourself: how much of this guesstimated increase is YOUR WORK and how much do you deserve? Ask your client the same Q. If you set a goal for 30% more sales with your client, they will stop interfering your process and start marketing themselves. Focusing on the value of design is good for everyone.

  15. Thanks for the post, Ben! I’ve always felt weird about quoting, and especially quoting more to bigger clients, but these are excellent reasons that I’ll definitely use in the future. Cheers!

  16. If you have the resources and manpower then yes charge more but make sure to provide the client with the scope of the project. Also do not charge more if you are a novice and new to the industry and please do not take on something that your not capable of doing.

    Just because they are a bigger company, it does not mean that they have a large budget to work with, plus your not the only service provider that they will reach out for. Some even get turned off if they find out that you work alone from home.

    Lastly bigger fist like bigger and secure design agencies with a history of good and brand name clients, surely more than a one man band designer.

    If you happen to land a good client, they go out of your way and make sure they are happy with your services.


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