What Fee Rates Should I Charge?

May 17, 2017

What Fee Rates Should I Charge?

If only there were a short answer to this one! Of course you'd like higher fee rates. But then again you'd also like to get the work. So we all perform this delicate balancing act trying to charge what we think the job's worth - and we're worth - whilst trying to avoid the client throwing up their hands in horror at the number after the $ sign.

After years of pricing consulting projects, I believe that fee setting is like brewing beer: both an art and a science. You evolve into it with experience. Your fee rates should vary per project, per client, and in a competitive situation, based on your knowledge of your competitors. Here are three points to consider as you price client assignments:

  • Fee rates are, I believe, mainly for you not the client. The client doesn't need to know unless it’s for payment by the hour. For fixed-price projects, where you submit a quote of, say, $25,000, if you do the work in accordance with what’s required, why would the client care what you charge per hour?
  • Where possible, charge based on value if you can calculate it—and generally you can make a good estimate. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. If your client stands to make half a million dollars from your input, paying you $50,000 is a good deal. And if that means you are tripling your usual fee rates on this project, good for you
  • Most of us undervalue our services. Really, we do! How long since you last raised your fee rates?

Early on in my career, I had two critical lessons on what fee rates to charge that have influenced my thinking in this area ever since.

I was a relatively junior consultant working for a medium-size energy and environmental consulting company of around one hundred people. The CEO had just sold a consulting project to a well-known organization and was talking to me and a couple of other consultants who were written into the proposal to do the work. He had nearly doubled our usual fee rates, and I made a comment about this. “Adrian,” he said, in an (irritating) arm-around-the-shoulder tone, “they are an international organization and leaders in their sector. It would be an insult to charge them anything less.”

In the second instance, I’d just launched my own consulting company and was chatting with Jack, whom I’d always been impressed by. He was twenty-five years my senior and had been my boss many years before. In his late sixties, he still had bright, sparkly blue eyes and a funny story for every occasion.

Jack continued to work a couple of days a week for extremely high fee rates. “I decided long ago,” he told me, “that I’d prefer to work one or two days a week at my rates than five days a week at someone else’s rates. So that’s what I do. I sell value; so if people don’t perceive enough value, they don’t hire me. Once someone worked out my hourly rate and asked me how I justified charging so much. I told him I didn’t need to justify it; you hired me, so you do.” Jack has enough people wanting to hire him that he could work five days a week at those rates if he wanted to. He simply chooses to do his work on Mondays and Tuesdays and to enjoy himself the rest of the week. And why not?

No matter what type of consultant you are, setting fee rates is a difficult business. In the energy and sustainability field I think it is harder than most as there is almost a tradition of low fee rates in some aspects of the business. I have always tried to deliver what I consider to be fair value - and that includes being fair to myself and my company as well as to client organizations. 

As always, any feedback or comments gratefully received!


As a highly experienced consultant and author of “Consulting Made Easy”, Adrian assists consultants, or would be consultants, to achieve success on their terms in their own consulting businesses.  Adrian helps consultants increase their fee rates, find more clients, have more free time and have more fun.
Contact Adrian at
adrian@adrianpartridge.com to learn more.

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