Billing Clients

Friday, July 9, 2004 at 8:59 pm | Comments off

For those of you who do web design professionally, how do you charge clients for work that you do after the site has been completed and you've already been paid, especially minor updates? Remember, I'm just talking about minor things that come up, such as adding a link, changing a bit of text or a picture, etc.

I've found that often times, I will end up doing these small changes for free, even 3, 6 or 9 months down the road. I realize that this probably isn't the best idea, because even though the actual changes may only take a few minutes, the overall time it takes me away from other work is going to be substantially longer. I need to read their email to figure out what it is they want, open up the page(s) they need changed, make the requested changes, FTP the updated file to the server, email them to let them know the changes have been made, etc. By the time it's all said and done, I've probably spent enough time on it to make it worth billing them.

Additionally, I really hate doing work for paying clients for free, even if it is just a minor change. I think it probably lends to the attitude that many people seem to have in thinking that they should be able to get a $3,000 site for $300. I'm sure we've all run across that mindset and been frustrated by it.

I'm thinking about starting to offer a maintenance plan to my clients, which would allow minor changes to be made each month. I'm to the point where I'm tired of doing work for free and will probably begin billing my clients even for minor changes, at my minimum rate of 1/2 hour. I don't know how well a maintenance plan would go over, but perhaps when I point out that any changes that they request I make will result in their being billed, some will decide to go that route. Those who don't will have been forewarned, and should be expecting a bill when they request changes.

So, how do you handle it? Do you find yourself doing work for free, or do you bill clients for any and all work?


July 9th, 2004
9:14 PM | #

Bill Them. People i come across just don't understand what goes into web design and think it is just like word documents on the web.

Bill them and get your money

Randy Peterman
July 9th, 2004
9:24 PM | #

My policy, which I need to get up online is to bill my clients for additions, but not my error corrections. Their error corrections are treated as additions. I bill at 15 minute increments, so I suppose that a $15.00 charge is not going to get them riled up as much as a $30.00 charge. However, I deal with mostly smaller clients so I think that is part of why I bill at smaller increments. A maintenance plan sounds good but it also may be harder to sell after all of these changes. Are you going to send out a letter or an email requesting that they be aware of the change? I've got a small enough client list that an email is no problem, but having it in writing somewhere can always be a good thing, especially if you mail and email. Good question though.

Wayne Hastings
July 9th, 2004
9:38 PM | #

At my day job, we usually demark a point in the development process where the scope of work is completed and any new work -- additions, changes, whatever -- is done at an hourly rate. That is, in theory, at least. In reality, we tend to grandfather in a lot of stuff that clients sneak in under the wire, so to speak. After the project that was quoted has been final billed, any new work is at the hourly rate and the longer a span of time between the completion of the original scope and the new change requests, the more likely we'll bill them hourly. We also try to sell a service contract where they pre-pay for two hours of time per quarter and little changes get deducted from that time. The service contract also gets them a lower hourly rate should they run over the two hours per quarter or need other work done. For clients that keep their site updated, the service contract saves them money, sometimes a great deal of money. It also helps even out our revenue stream by keeping the flow of cash constant, if a bit of a trickle, and gives customers incentive to find ways to update their sites. (It is kind of like the "if you don't use all your cell minutes you can't roll them over, so you may as well use them" idea.) Also, bill your time in 15 minute increments and keep track of it scrupulously -- little nibbles add up to big bills.

Will Rickards
July 10th, 2004
12:21 AM | #

There is a concept of sign off. Once the client has signed off, anything after that is billable. Obviously fixing bugs should be free, but only for a specified time. At work, 90 days is the cutoff. Maintenance plans are a good idea and some of our clients have signed up for them.

Caleb Jaffa
July 10th, 2004
10:24 AM | #

The company I work for got shaken up with staffing changes and ownership before this was actually implemented, but on clients we did fairly regular updates for there was going to be a plan that included x amount of small tweaks, bigger stuff being billed hourly (half hour or quarter hour increments). Really it depends on whether or not I like the client, how fast the change took, sometimes changing some text can be really short when you have good clients that know how to communicate changes, you are in the proper zone, etc. Also, how likely am I going to be billing them for a bigger update within the same month. As above errors on our part are free, and errors on their part are billable.

An important thing to mention at sign off is what the conditions and terms of tweaks and the billing for them. On one of my clients their PR agency can authorize pretty much any changes to the site. Where as other clients will not pay for anything they didn't have some sort of quote, even if it is as generic as Bob wants us to do this and we will do it for X/hour.

July 12th, 2004
6:37 PM | #

In the end I think it would come down to what you feel most comfortable with, both personally and professionally. If you feel bad charging for work after the fact, don't charge. But, it seems like you have it figured out.

July 13th, 2004
12:28 AM | #

With sites that need minor updates once a month or even once in a two months I have found most comfortable to bill them with hourly rate.

I also don't send out a bill every month but when reasonable amount of work has been done.

I seemes to me that this way I also make more money on longer run. Because every client wants to get cheapest monthly plan possible, but then thinks he can bother you as much as he likes.

Robert Wellock
July 13th, 2004
2:23 PM | #

A bespoke maintenance plan is a good idea, and as you know I compensate people for their time.

July 14th, 2004
9:12 PM | #

Very good question. I charge my clients a flat $25 for minor edits (copy changes, links, images) and they don't seem to mind. I've been know to do it for free but only if it's just one small change.

Ryan Brill
July 14th, 2004
9:48 PM | #

Thanks for the feedback, guys. I figured the norm would be to charge clients for all work, especially in a corporate setting. Obviously any errors on my part would be fixed on my dime, I was referring to changes that the client wanted made. Billing clients for the changes that they request seems to be the most logical path to take.

July 15th, 2004
5:44 PM | #

Whilst not web design (I write technical documentation) I have successfully used a 'maintenance' agreement.

Anything up to 30 days beyond sign off is free (error correction), after that, and to an agreed limit, the client pays me a maintenance fee for six months. I'll amend the docs with any fixed functionality, any new functionality means a new contract and I'll adjust the maintenance date accordingly.

Three clients in the system and all happy.

July 15th, 2004
10:05 PM | #

dont most people ask for payment in advance? or just money down to get started? i ask people for the full payment before doin anything.

July 16th, 2004
1:53 AM | #

If I trust that they won't continually try to use me for their own advantage without paying, then yes, I'll do it for free. For most, I charge.

July 18th, 2004
6:46 AM | #

You should have a clearly defined contract. If you were doing work for me we would have a written contract.

Alex Raiano
July 28th, 2004
7:11 PM | #

Make sure you get all the money you deserve. I've too many cases where the client thinks they should get something for nothing. Good Luck :).

August 2nd, 2004
3:23 AM | #

Charge them. If for nothing other then your own sanity. I know in my case I hate it when I've gotten to the end of my day and found that I made no significant accomplishments on major projects because I was busy with minor changes to previous projects. The only solice is that I'm still getting paid.

The other reason is that as time goes on and you get more clients, you'll find your time being demolished by these small activities. When the client knows they're getting those changes for free there's a good chance you'll be making more of them (thus taking more of your time) then you would if you were charging.

The maintenance contract is a good idea if you have the kind of clients who will go for it. Most of my clients don't because they don't make frequent changes to their website. If I were to average it out over a year, most of my clients are probably better served by paying for hourly updates rather then a fixed monthly or quarterly contract.

Ted Roche
August 2nd, 2004
11:04 PM | #

I bill in 15-minute increments. Anything under 5 minutes is free (from reading the email to testing it in 5 browsers to updating it and testing it again), but IT GOES ON THE INVOICE AS "NO-CHARGE" - so clients know what they are getting, and know that I am not nickel-and-diming them, but also know I value my time. Good clients batch up their little changes so they can pay me, ocassionally getting a freebie if they need something fast. Bad clients try to get everything for free; I start batching up their changes so they pay something. Really abusive clients can sign up for a maintenance plan, with a minimum two hours a month, for a fee. It's a balancing act, and a matter of trust.

August 3rd, 2004
1:03 PM | #

As a fellow coder once said "This is what we call 'work' and we like to get paid for it!"

Usually I've used a 90 day warranty for bugs, and either charged per change or an advance fee which buys x number of blocks of work. Small changes take up one block, and larger changes more as needed. At the end of a year if any blocks aren't used up then they can be refunded, less a 15% admin fee.

And in my experience no job is ever 5 or even 15 minutes. A changes invloves client communication, opening the sites files, doing the change, testing, uploading, testing, client communication, admin, invoicing and invoice chasing. All that never takes 5 minutes!

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