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  • Chad Hubert

Are you charging enough for design work at your sign shop?

Would you like to charge $3,000 for a business card or pamphlet design? Does that sound like a fairy tail? Many graphic designers around the world are charging these high rates and you can too.

I've worked in many sign shops throughout my career and in most cases graphic design work is included in the price of the sign, banner, business card, etc... This is a general rule of thumb and most people expect it. However, you could be leaving money on the table!

Charging for graphic design work
You could be leaving thousands of dollars on the table.

First Things First

Not all designs are created equally. You may have had multiple graphic designers work for you in the past. Their ability and skill at design can vary dramatically, ranging from fresh out of college to seasoned freelancer. In any case, you know how well a nice professional design can make the difference in satisfying a customer or wowing them. Especially in a town with multiple sign shops. What sets you apart? Do you really want to compete to be the cheapest shop and struggle from day to day to keep the doors open? Or do you want to charge higher amounts and work less for more money? Many customers will pay high dollar for good design and it keeps them coming back to your shop again and again.

When do I know when to charge more for design work?

It's perfectly acceptable to include a minimal design in the price of a sign. However it shouldn't take long to design and shouldn't involve revision after revision. That eats into your cost and decreases profit margins. I always recommend having the conversation with the client to understand their needs. You should charge value based pricing. What does that mean? Well obviously, a customer that just wants a one time use birthday banner isn't going to want to pay large amounts of money for design. Skip this customer, knock out their banner and move on. However if someone is wrapping a boat or needs a sign for their business, they generally have disposable income or, in the case of a business, understand the value of their image and brand appearing top notch. These are the customers you need to have a conversation with about design fee.

How much should I charge for design work?

First, you need to have a conversation. Ask questions about how the design will be used and in most cases it's appropriate to ask if they have a budget in mind. Often times they may tell you a number higher than you would've ever thought to quote. Ask how much they've spent before on design work. It's important to understand their frame of reference. Just as a doctor doesn't diagnose a patient without asking questions, you can't diagnose your clients needs without finding out what they are struggling with. Value based pricing is the practice of setting prices based on estimates of how valuable a good is to the customer. This ignores the prices of competitors and your costs and focuses on what the customer is willing to pay based on their needs, preferences and perceptions. For example if you design a sign that looks amazing and helps to increase your customers brand loyalty and in return, their sells increase even just 5 %. Your design holds that 5% increase in value to that customer. Depending on the customer, that percentage could be thousands of dollars or millions of dollars. You sell based off of that perceived value. Another example, the Nike logo is very plain and simple, however it holds tremendous value. If Nike were to change their logo it would cost millions of dollars to redo everything branded with their current logo. For Nike they would expect to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the assumed risk. Even if the final product looked as simple as a check mark.

One example I've found used by Michael Janda, who is a very talented designer and author is to compare the design to a car. A Toyota Camry and a Lamborghini both get you from point A to point B. But one has all the bells and whistles. This car turns heads. You want your design to turn heads. Explaining this to the customer can help you offer a wider price range. Offer a premium design for more and then if they feel it's too high for their needs, they can talk you down. Always aim higher. Imagine if you offered a premium design for $3K and the customer thought that was too high, but they also don't want the bottom of the barrel design. so they settle for something in the $500-$1,000 price range. I bet you've never charged that much for design. I'm telling people are doing it, and you can too.The video below is fairly long but has tons of great content on selling high ticket designs. If you can find the time I highly recommend it.

I got the bid, What now?

The caveat to all this is what to do when you win a bid like this? Say you have only one designer on staff with a stack of orders to get through. They can't spend all day on this one design or production for the rest of the shop will fall behind. Not to mention that your designer may not even be capable of such a high ticket design. Only you know their skill and ability. If you can take this design and keep it in-house, that's awesome! More money in your pocket. However there are many designers around the world that you could outsource to. Here at Equinox I have a network of designers at my disposal as well as often designing myself. Whether you use me or someone else, you can often find someone to complete the design for you for less than you charged, and keep the reputation with your client as a premium design shop.

Please reach out if you would like to know more on value based pricing or any other topic.

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