How to Determine Freelance Instructional Design Rates

It’s time to play a game of— KNOW! YOUR! RATES!

That’s right, it’s the only game show in the history of game shows made to help YOU determine your freelance instructional design rates!

Hi there. We’re your host and star of the show, IDLance. If you wanna know how ID’ers everywhere are determining their freelance instructional design rates, you’ll have a chance to figure it out for yourself on today’s episode of Know Your Rates.

Happy winners! Fantastic prizes! And best of all, the power to take control of your own cash monies!

We’re here to help you make sure the price is right…we mean, that you get the price right. Oh geez, what we’re trying to say is that our highly original game show Know Your Rates™ has nothing to do with that lesser known Price is Right show. We think that’s what it was called. Hmm, was that what it was called? Who can say! Our show is very, very original.

From Studio 33 in Hollywood—let’s play!

Let’s Meet Our Contestant

First things first, on this game show we only have one contestant. You may not know it yet but that contestant is YOU. Yes, you. We’re shining a spotlight brighter than a thousand suns on you right this very moment.

Look at ya. You’re a hard-working, freelancing, butt-kicking, instructional designing machine. You just need a little help when it comes to determining freelance instructional design rates for all your hard work! Before we get into specifics, let’s chat about what you should consider before crunching the numbers.

Here’s the tricky thing about determining your freelance instructional design rate; if you undersell yourself and quote too low of a rate, you risk leaving some money on the table. On the other hand, if your quote is a little too high, you risk losing a project to a freelie with a more competitive price. The magic lies in striking a happy balance between the two.

It’s crucial that your rate is a good representation of what you bring to the table. We’re talking experience, efficiency, expertise, and degrees— to name just a few categories to assess yourself in. We know it feels icky to put a number value on yourself but this is the time to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” We like you, freelie.

Here are some basic questions to ask yourself when setting up your freelancer rate:

How much money do I need to live the life I’ve grown accustomed to? Be honest with yourself. You do need those 15 streaming services. You can use this method to work backwards a bit in developing your rate.

Can I provide my fur child with a blissful life at this rate? Whether it’s a dog, cat, raccoon or otherwise, be sure that their life is considerably more comfortable than yours.

What do other instructional design freelancers (with similar experience, expertise, and services) charge? By making sure your rate is competitive with other freelies in the market, you’ll have a good starting point.

Are my particular set of skills in demand? Is the market thirsty for your particular set of skills? Poke your nose around job boards, agencies, Google etc. to find out!

How much value am I bringing to the table? Consider your skill level, portfolio, expertise, and experience. The more specialized you are, the more dollar bills you can charge clients!

What are my expenses? You know the drill— living expenses, software and subscriptions, taxes, insurance, office space oh my! There’s quite a lot of them. Be sure you’re catching them all!

What are my financial goals? What is your ideal annual salary? How much do you need to make? How much do you want to make?

How long have I been in the instructional design industry? Have you been toiling away at instructional design longer than Betty White’s been in show biz? That’s worth its weight in gold, friend.

What specialized skills, licenses, certifications, training, or educational degrees do I have? Do you have an advanced degree? Did you graduate from the prestigious, “Daniel Day Lewis Academy of Instructional Design.” Oh, you didn’t? It’s invite only.

As always, the answers to these questions are entirely subjective and will greatly influence the rate you land on. For example, maybe you’re a single person with low living expenses. Or maybe you’re supporting a family. Have you been in the biz for 10 years or are you a newbie? Do you have savings to fall back on?

Here’s the deal, freelie. Before you break out the calculator, we want you to break out the calcMElator. Really take the time to do those calculations on yourself and your life.

Survey Says!

And now a word from ZipRecruiter.

As we all know, the internet is a swirling miasma of misery and memes but it can also be a super useful tool for instructional design freelies everywhere. One hot tip when it comes to nailing down your rate is checking out annual income averages in your specific career path on websites like ZipRecruiter.

According to ZipRecruiter, the national average salary for a freelance instructional designer in the year 2021, was $75,712.00. That makes the nationwide hourly average for the same year about $36.00/hr. However, the pay range for an instructional designer can vary by as much as $36,500.00. That margin of pay range suggests a lot of opportunity for advancement based on skill level and experience! Hey, that’s what we talked about earlier.

While surveys like this one can be a super helpful springboard when calculating your rates, you can see why we put so much emphasis on really taking the time to appraise the value you bring to table as an instructional designer.

Now back to our show! Take it away…us.

Showcase Showdown

Some lucky members of our studio audience will receive (*checks cue cards*) the unbridled joy and freedom of financial independence and stability! How about that, folks!

Okay freelies, get ready to see the fantastic showcases you'll be playing for. In today’s Showdown we have hourly pricing vs project pricing! Wow! Both prizes are just stunning in their own way, aren’t they audience? Let’s take a look at our first showcase.

Hourly Pricing

First up, hourly pricing (*ooohs and aahhhs*)! Hourly pricing is exactly what you think it is— a fixed amount of money you charge per hour for your hard work. If you’re just starting out in instructional design, we recommend going this route as you work to get more experience under your belt. It’s more straightforward and you’re likely to find a lot of contractors that are looking to hire freelancers by the hour. Plus, if the project ends up taking longer than expected, you’ll be compensated for your additional time.

If you’re new to the freelie game (0-1 year experience), we recommend a “Starter Rate” in the $35-$45/hr range. A lower starting rate will increase your chances of landing contracts fast! You should use this time to build your “real” portfolio quickly.

If you have a bit more time in the ID game (1-3 years), your rate should be around $45-$60/hr. We call this the “Growth Rate,” because you’ll have more ID skills under your belt that you can offer at a competitive rate. You’ll be expanding your client base in no time!

Finally, there’s the “Experience Rate.” This one is for ID freelies with 4 years or more of…experience! At this level, we recommend a rate of $60-$75/hr. It may sound steep, but trust us, clients will be more than willing to pay you for your experience and impressive portfolio. You deserve it!

Project Pricing

Hourly pricing seems pretty juicy, eh? What if we told you there’s another option behind curtain number two!? That’s right, it’ssss project pricing! Project pricing, as you may have guessed, is when you give a client a flat, fixed price to complete a project.

Project pricing is appealing for a number of different reasons. First of all, it lets your client know exactly how much they’re going to spend on the project. Additionally, you are rewarded for your efficiency. With hourly pricing, you’re stuck in this sticky push-pull of “I want to get this project done efficiently to impress my client but I also don’t want to work too quickly or I won’t make enough dough!”

That problem goes away with fixed, project pricing since the hours clocked don’t really matter to your client. What matters most is how you used those hours to produce a high quality project for them. They just want those end results!

Put simply, project pricing is less about the time you work and more about the value of your work. When working out your price on a project, take everything we talked about earlier into consideration (remember the calcMElator). This is not the time to sell yourself short!

You may also consider your prospective client’s budget, attitude, and the demand for your work. As you pick up more and more gigs, you should increase your rate (whether hourly or project-based)! It’s basic supply and demand, baby!

If you’re feeling a little woozy in the tummy about project pricing, start out with an hourly rate and work your way up to it!


And that’s our show for today, folks. We want to thank you for inviting us into your homes to play KNOW! YOUR! RATES! We love seeing all our winners walk away with that financially independent, freelie glow. And a BRAND NEW, outdoor, barbecue grill!

This is IDLance reminding you to help control the instructional designer population. Have your instructional designers spayed or…. we mean paid or tutored.

Goodnight, everybody!

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