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Let's say I'm designing a site, and Client and I agree that I'm going to purchase a slideshow to use on Client's site. The slideshow code costs $30.

I will mark this up to compensate me for my time in finding the slideshow, testing it, and learning how to use it. Is there a standard number for the markup? (Assume U.S. designer and client.) I've seen 20%, 25%, and the oddly specific 17.65%.

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5 Answers 5

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I don't know that there a "standard." I think it's whatever some people feel they can get away with.

I use 20% here. But that 20% covers only the money out of my pocket. Time in finding, editing, and/or testing are all billable hours to me. Above and beyond the actual cost of the product.

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Yes, those are billable hours the first time. But if I find a product I like, and I learn it for Client 1 and then use it again for Client 2, I'm not re-learning it for Client 2, so I can't bill Client 2 for hours I didn't spend. –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 15 '12 at 19:45
True. But the next client which needs the same feature could be charged more due to your (now present) knowledge regarding the package. Something like... If product B is used add $X to quote. Sort of like Static HTML = (X1 amount). HTML + PHP = (X2 amount). HTML + PHP + Product B = (X3 amount + cost of (product B + 20%)). –  Scott Feb 15 '12 at 23:25
your hourly rate is a reflection of your expertise and client 2 is paying for your existing knowledge. –  horatio Feb 16 '12 at 15:57
@LaurenIpsum Just charge them hourly. If you know something, that is good for the next client, otherwise bill them for the learning time. I wouldn't charge a "markup" either, just account for that in the hourly time. It looks better on paper, comes across more honest and stops you looking like you're trying to squeeze a few extra $ worth of "import tax" or whatever you will be required to justify it as. –  John Mar 26 '14 at 14:13

I don't know that you can have a "standard" markup that applies in general.

If you bill an hourly rate, you can roll the learning/integrating/testing aspects into your hours. Then you only have to markup whatever your financing is worth to you.

If you bill a flat rate without an hourly provision, you can't include the hours so you have to quote the client a rate that includes the cost of goods in addition to your hours.

Other factors are your client's payment terms and your cash position. If it's a relatively small purchase (like the example), you probably don't have to dip into a credit line and your exposure is low. Shouldering the cost is not likely to put you in a bind. You're also not put in a terrible position if the client can't/won't pay.

This scenario changes dramatically if you have to exercise credit, the client has extended credit terms, or the widget is expensive. In these situations, I typically quote the inclusion as a separate job with very short payment terms. If I have to shoulder the financial cost and risk, I weigh that situation on its individual merits and charge up accordingly. I don't (intentionally) deal with risky clients or extended payment terms, so usually I end up in the 15-20% range for this markup.

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The common practice around these parts is to add 20%, but there is no standard amount. Having said that, I don't ever mark something up; it just goes straight through to the client. I like it better when I'm being compensated solely for design work, and I've never felt comfortable marking stuff up. Perhaps that stems from having spent too much time at the other end of things, managing a budget.

The way I see it, if I buy stock photography or code for a slideshow, I'm not adding value just because I bought it, so I don't add to its price, either. Research time is either built into the original quote or (occasionally) billed at an hourly rate.

Where the purchase is printing, I bill (or factor into the project quotation) the time I spend working with prepress or doing press checks, but even in cases where I've picked the printer and made all the arrangements I will usually have the print house make their financial arrangements with the client directly, rather than being a middleman.

For other expense items, I bill the client the expense immediately and separately from the project fee if it's more than a few hundred dollars, in which case, depending on the client, I may wait until I'm paid before proceeding with the purchase. These terms are always clearly laid out in the contract.

The only thing I consistently add are finance charges, such as when the payment is by credit card.

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This is how I feel. If I've priced my services correctly and quoted the project correctly, then I don't need to nickle and dime the client on other things, like purchased fonts, software licenses, stock images, etc. I also don't collect commissions on outsourced services, e.g. if I need an illustrator on the project. But my business model is also based around a consulting role. So I feel like it's my job to look out for the client's best interest, which includes helping them extract the best value out of their budget. –  Lèse majesté Feb 16 '12 at 10:54

Advertising agencies mark-up in addition to employee billable rates. Don't short-change yourself. If you are thinking ahead and have added this to your billable rate, fine. But if you're trying to keep your rate low, mark-up at 20% and don't bat an eye. What you shouldn't do is eat the cost of your work. Often, you'll find that the client asks for something beyond your original bid/estimate. Mark-up 20%. If you know going in you'll need to make these purchases, build it in to the estimate. Simple as that.

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Well, if it's too far out of the original estimate, I can refer them to the scope of work/contract, but 20% is about as far as I want to stretch that, so point taken. –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 26 '14 at 16:56

20% is not uncommon. I've always used 15%. For a client I really don't like or care to work with again I use 25%. For big purchases (eg, print costs) with clients I know will pay I've gone as low as 10%.

My goal is to bill the client for the added value I bring to their business (design and strategy) not my ability to make a purchase because it makes the process less hassle for me. In most cases, I consider 15% to be the bare minimum.

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