How to set your first freelance digital marketing hourly rate

How to set your first freelance digital marketing hourly rate

Today, we’ll talk about how to pick your first freelance digital marketing hourly rate.

Getting your rates right can be a distraction and cause anxiety if you are new to freelancing. There is plenty of contradicting advice out there, so it can feel difficult to figure out who to listen to.

To avoid that, let’s start off in a different way. Allow me to show you an approach that will help you instantly know who to listen to when you get contradicting advice — including whether you should listen to me or someone else!

Let’s say I suggest you begin with an hourly rate and in another article, someone suggests you begin with a fixed project fee. How do you decide?

It’s simple: think about which of the two you’d rather be or trade shoes with for that particular topic. If someone has the results you want with freelancing, go with them and ignore the rest.

In this article, you and I will first go through what popular advice about freelance digital marketing rates and then I’ll explain why I believe many people suggesting these points are missing something even though their advice often is technically correct.

There is so much different advice about the freelance rates for digital marketers out there. Often it is 

  • “Switch to project rates and don’t use hourly rates!” 
  • “Calculate your expenses and divide it by the number of hours you plan to work!”
  • “Just double your rate and see what happens!”

It comes in different formats and it is usually focused around the point that you can earn more quickly. That’s great if you have already been freelancing for a while and ready to take things to the next level.

But what if you are working to land your first client, you aren’t really sure how or where those clients are going to come from? And what if the thought of charging $100/h makes you think “there’s no way in hell I can do that”?

And how do we know how long the project is going to take? Sure, we can guesstimate how much time the project takes to do based on our previous job or another project. 

But one of the most common challenges I see with new freelancers is that they forget how much communication is involved with the client.

Sometimes the client will change things or delay the project.

Other times, there is a different project we need to cater to with the project we are working on. For example, if the client is getting a new website or brand guidelines, and we help them with SEO, ads, etc. it’ll impact our project one way or the other.

And on top of that, a great freelancer checks in frequently and send updates on the project.

You’ll figure this out pretty quickly but it is incredibly difficult to know right when you begin.

If you mess it up on a fixed rate you’ll end up hating yourself and resenting the client because you’ll be spending a lot of extra time on things you couldn’t have foreseen without the experience.

Examples of freelance digital marketing hourly rates

Before we jump into how you can quickly set your own rates, let’s look at a few examples I found in the wild.

Freelancers often don’t like to put their pricing right on the website, so it can be tricky to find something you can compare yourself with. 

A lot of people hate freelance websites like Upwork, claiming that they are only for people charging $10/h.

There certainly are plenty of those but you can also find people earning good money in digital marketing. It has enough transparency for you to quickly get a lay of the land in terms of hourly rates.

You’ll be able to find studies online sharing hourly freelance rates but the challenge with those is that the participants often aren’t varied enough (e.g. only highly experienced or only beginners). 

And people are often afraid of sharing those numbers honestly (even anonymously), so they might tweak them to look better (a concept explained in the book “Predictably Irrational”).

As you’ll see in this other article, the average hourly rates across sales and marketing-freelancers on Upwork is actually fairly evenly split:

Hourly rates from sales & marketing freelancers on Upwork

freelance digital marketing hourly rate

Examples from Upwork

SEO Examples

Ads Management Examples

Content marketing Examples

Email marketing Examples

Techniques to set your freelance digital marketing hourly rate quickly 

Let’s first make sure we are on the same page about our goal.

While our goal with freelancing is to earn good money and freedom, the first step is to find a profitable idea, test that it works by finding some paying clients and get good at finding new projects.

The key here is to learn first, before we maximize profit.

Ironically, by focusing on learning first, we’ll be able to figure out how to earn good money much faster.

For example, if we set our hourly rate higher than we are comfortable with in the beginning, clients might feel put off by our lack of confidence to charge that. It will then take much longer to land the first few clients and validate that our idea is good.

In the beginning, most of us are fighting against staying motivated to pursue our dream of freedom.

Our motivation will change as we change and landing a couple of clients quickly will show us that we have something that works. Something we can build upon.

Most people are focused on going from 0 to $100/h in one go. To help make sure that we didn’t just get lucky and that things will change in two months, I like to focus on how we can change for life.

The best way I’ve found is to break that up into two steps: 

  1. Building the freelance business
  2. Improving the freelance business

That means we’ll spend a bit longer aiming and making sure that the idea is profitable. That allows us to create a stable foundation and scale up to earn more rapidly.

Compare that to many others who create something really fast and then suddenly hit a glass ceiling and can’t figure out why they can’t charge more and where to get more projects.

The easiest way to get started with your rates is by defaulting to using hourly rates but be accomodating and lean towards whatever the client prefers if they have something specific in mind.

It is much easier to get more work from your existing clients than having to go out and find new ones all the time. Because of that, we want to go above and beyond with the clients.

By beginning with an hourly rate, you have the flexibility to do more work for them on the first project, if they want it, without hating yourself for undercharging. Some things you might want to offer free and other things paid.

Side note: hourly rates can limit how much the client wants to talk because it costs them extra which is nice for you 😉

The two easiest ways to set your freelance digital marketing rates are to go onto a freelance website like Upwork, find a few freelancers doing what you do, with similar experience, and use a similar rate you are comfortable with. 

Another option is to pick a number you’ll hate yourself for charging because it is too low and then increase it until you feel like it’s decent (you can always increase it later).

Pick your freelance digital marketing hourly rate

To find a digital marketing freelancer with skills similar to yourself, go to a freelance website like Upwork (you don’t need an account), find the “search for freelancers”-section, and click to the “sales and marketing” category.

In this example, I might be an email marketer looking to set my hourly rates, so I click the “email marketing” sub-section.

I like to scroll down at set the “earned amount” to $10K+ earned, so I know that these freelancers are landing clients and earning money with their rates.

We now have a nice list of email marketing freelancers that have earned more than $10,000 and it’s time to start sorting through them to find some that you like. You can also add keywords or more filters if you want to narrow it down even further.

Find a few that seem similar to what you do and compare the rates. As you can see in the screenshot, you’ll see everything from $25/h to $75/h and you’ll also see higher and lower than those.

Keep in mind that they might have started out with lower rates, which you can see if you go into their profile and scroll through their first few projects. Alternatively, you can also change the Earned Amount to say $1,000 if you want to find some that are less experienced.

The other approach is to begin listing prices in your head. Start with $100/h and drop it by $10/h ($100/h, $90/h, $80/h, ….) until you reach a number you begin to feel resentment towards and stop at a number slightly higher than that.


  • Most advice about how to set your hourly rate as a digital marketer is technically correct but not a good fit if you are just starting out because it is missing the emotional aspect of freelancing. It doesn’t make sense to have a high hourly rate if you never land any clients
  • Optimize for learning first and earnings next. Ironically, you’ll be earning more quicker


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