I have grown up and chosen to spend my adult life so far in evangelical churches. I love this branch of God’s family and could not see myself anywhere else. However, this experience means that I have learnt on very clear truism about Christianity: there are three topics that it is forbidden to talk about in church. This Unholy Trinity is Girls, Gold and Glory.
The moment that you mention one of these topics, people get very uneasy and shift uncomfortably in their seats. Therefore the following blog post is, in many ways, the evangelical equivalent of a cheeky snog with a girl behind the bike sheds at break time: I am going to talk about money. Fasten your seat belts, it is going to be steamy.
When I started web design 7 years ago, I was very aware that churches didn’t have a lot of money available and that budgets were very tight. Up until about a year ago, I priced my services accordingly – that meant that, in many cases, the amount I got paid did not reflect the amount of work I was putting in and the amount of experience and skill I was bringing to the table. I was so scared of not getting any work that I worked effectively for nothing – and my job satisfaction (and more importantly, the quality of my work) suffered because of it.
About a year ago, I had a rethink. My experience had started to suggest that, whilst budgets are tight, given the right project, the right vision and the right design solution, the money is often available to create a winning website. For those that don’t or aren’t willing to put up the money, then perhaps a web designer isn’t what they are looking for at this moment. Therefore, I significantly raised my prices – and discovered that, often, churches were still willing to pay.
However, I have often still discovered (and I know from friends who try to do creative work for churches and charities that they experience the same thing) that many churches object to anything more than a few hundred pounds and the implication has been made a few times that I am trying to rip them off. I have even had it suggested to me that, because I was working for God, I should work for nothing (I can only assume that God would start sending manna when I couldn’t afford to eat).
Therefore, I thought I would risk my eternal soul by tackling the forbidden topic of money and try and explain why I charge what I do.
A typical project
A typical church website for a typical church takes me between 30 and 50 hours to make, depending how efficiently the process happens and what level of experience the client has in web work.
Now, even just assuming that I was paid minimum wage under UK law (currently standing at £6.08), this would be between £180 and £300. And I’m sure that you would agree with me that a) churches should be uneasy about paying minimum wage anyway given many studies that suggest that this is not a living wage and b) web design skills are not minimum wage commodities.
However, let’s consider other things that I do in order to earn a living that I don’t get paid for but take up time:
- Time spent learning new skills, reading new ideas about best methodology in communication and web design and broadening my experience base. This all allows me to do my job by bringing professional, experienced skills to the table and therefore helping churches communicate.
- Time spent writing articles about good web design that help to resource and educate other churches and charities about best practices and attitudes in web design (serving the wider church).
- Time spent on voluntary programming projects like a church rota system or EasySermon, again resourcing and equipping other churches and helping them communicate the good news of the Kingdom of God.
- Time and money spent marketing myself, promoting my services and finding new clients.
- Money spent on buying software, a computer, web space, domain names, databases and other tools that simply allow me to do my job.
- Time spent researching and consuming great web design from industry experts, forcing me to raise my game.
Now, perhaps you are thinking ‘that’s all very well, but why should we have to pay for it’. Sadly, that’s the nature of freelancing. If I was working in an office, those sort of overheads would be taken care of by the business as a whole rather than all landing on my head, and so my pay check would represent that. However, as a freelancer, the only way I can do my job is by taking on those tasks myself – and these must be reflected in invoices. Furthermore, my ability to earn money is consistent on a steady stream of clients and therefore there is added uncertainty in the process.
Let’s imagine instead I was a freelance recording studio who wanted to serve churches and Christian artists by allowing them to record music, either worship music or simply music that rejoices in the creativity of human beings created by a Creative God. Here the expenses might be:
- Purchasing of equipment such as analogue to digital adapters, microphones, cables, compressors, DI boxes and speakers. This alone can be an initial purchase of upwards of £20,000.
- Time spent learning about recording techniques, wave forms, auto-tuning and composition.
- Time spent learning specific software packages.
- Again, time spent marketing and finding new clients.
- Actual time in the recording studio – and then all the time afterwards editing and producing the album.
- Either time spent mastering the finished mix or subcontracting the mastering out to another freelancer (again, being keen if subcontracting that the subcontractor is also paid a fair wage).
You can see how the expenses soon add up? And yet, many churches still approach designers, artists and musicians with the view of wanting something for nothing.
I say this not because I want sympathy – I don’t. I say this because I think we as Christians need to start being honest and accountable about money.
“It’s time for Christians and churches to start being honest and accountable about money & creativity.”
When I charge (as I currently do) about £15 – £20 an hour on a project, it is because I also need to cover expenses such as the ones outlined above. Take those out, and I will be back near minimum wage pay. Therefore, I can assure you they are definitely not being spent on real estate in Barbados!
What’s more, these expenses mean I am able to offer churches the best possible skills, experience and therefore web design. More time spent on work that isn’t directly paid means a higher quality web design and better resourcing of the church of Jesus Christ.
What’s more, my prices are routinely significantly lower than secular equivalents, allowing churches who might otherwise not be able to get afford a good web design to get a stunning website and Christian presence online.
Web design is the main way I pay the rent, put food on the table, pay ever increasing University tuition fees (and believe me, they hurt) and hopefully be able to afford to get married fairly debt-free. I am also exploring a call to ministry and it is quite possible that income from web design would be the only way I would be able to begin to do that.
Therefore, I think we need a culture of openness about why creative prices seem so high to churches – it is the price we pay to get high quality web sites, records, pictures and music for churches that both are credible and take seriously what it means to be created in the image of a creative God.
Finally, I hope this has helped to explain to people who are considering hiring me what they would be paying for and why.
I am now going to stop talking about money, come out from behind the bike sheds and pray for my immortal soul.