Please help me value my time and please don't bill me for your time.
March 12, 2012 2:47 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for your strategies to convince yourself that your time is valuable when it comes to life in general and also in billing for your time.

I am working on this but could use some additional strategies in dealing with my feeling of, "Oh that was just a quick fix, I'm not going to bill for it." In addition I would like to value my time more to help deter me from wasting time playing online games and other things.

Personally, I find others who are strict about this to be abrasive and/or nickel and diming me, which may be the source of my issues. I may not value others' time as much as I should either.

An example of my recent struggle was when I sent out a legitimate invoice for web services and the client wrote back, "I haven't been invoiced by you before, what's up?" The truth is that I had invoiced him several years ago from some updates but haven't done it in recent years b/c his requests were 10-15 minutes each. My "in the moment" feeling was that it was tedious to bill.

So partly I feel it's a matter of training myself AND the clients to expect my invoices, but I would also like to get more comfortable valuing my time and being a little more demanding.

Help me by sharing your strategies.
posted by thorny to Human Relations (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I assume you've seen "Fuck You, Pay Me"?
posted by brainmouse at 2:51 PM on March 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

don't listen to their crap. I do think you ought to bill them regularly. But really? If they contracted for the services they ought to pay.

Just got to cut off your first client. After that you finally get it.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:52 PM on March 12, 2012

Bill for everything. You are better off giving a good customer a set discount, rather than giving that customer freebies. You have to train your customers to expect something - bills or freebies.

Also, when I daze over, and spend too much time looking at LOLcats, it helps to remind myself what I pay in insurance, licensing, and other over-head per hour. It is good to figure out those numbers on aper hour break-down too, so you have a clear picture of your over-head costs.

Also, you should set an hourly rate, explain it to your customers clearly, and stick to it. If the job is a 15 fix, then you bill for a quarter-of-an-hour.
posted by Flood at 2:52 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Simply asking about an invoice is not a customer-firing offense, in my mind. Only refusal to pay an invoice is a customer-firing offense. That said, here's what you want to do:

Step 1: Record every minute you work for a customer. Period. Even if you don't invoice it, log it. This will make sure you always know how much time you *could* be billing at any given time should either you want to know (due to the opportunity cost of your billing choices) or a customer wanting to know.

Step 2: Set a threshold for billing on a per-monthly (less is fine, more is not fine) basis for the minimum invoice amount. My preference for this is 0 minutes (ie, bill everything), but if you want to set an threshold due to the time necessary to prepare an invoice, figure out how much that time is, and make your threshold that. If you find that you are below this threshold too often, your invoice preparing method is too complex. Fix it.

Step 3: Every month (again, less is fine, but more is not fine), send an invoice for the amount of time that you recorded in Step 1 whenever it is above the threshold set in Step 2.

This method avoids subjectivity on your part, avoids rolling over time month to month (which makes customers unhappy), and avoids wasting your time on invoices if it really is not worth your time to prepare an invoice.
posted by saeculorum at 2:55 PM on March 12, 2012

How do you get paid without sending people invoices? If it's just email or whatever, then tell them you've been getting your act together and using software to manage your business. Couch this as a necessity and you can use it to leverage a perception that you're too busy for casual bullshit. If you're simply doing these 10-15min jobs over the course of years, well, stop that. Have a 1-4 hour minimum with a defined rate, regardless of whether your current work brings up future work. Stop giving your time away! For the record, I just watched the video brainmouse linked to not 30 minutes ago. For the third or fourth time.
posted by rhizome at 3:07 PM on March 12, 2012

I quote and bill in 15min increments for my web clients. Some client's work only takes 5min and I won't bill them for that particular work at that time but it will counted toward a 15min slot when I do some more work for them.

I do this is for the money of course but also so clients don't trickle feed work with the expectation that because each individual task was small, it will be a free service.
posted by Kerasia at 3:43 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks so far. Removing the subjectivity is a good concept. I do think that for this particular client, the issue needs to be a new understanding vs. cutting off right away. I have fired clients before, so I know how good that can feel!
posted by thorny at 3:54 PM on March 12, 2012

Maybe, think about what, specifically, is inclining you to not charge customers (or certain customers) for your time. This can be a good business practice or just a standard service which builds trust on both sides (for example, doctors and psychologists are regularly available for questions in this sense). In other businesses, it is a waste to not bill for hours working.

I think this kind of practice depends on the context-- of the relationship with the customer, the service, and furthermore, maybe of a reluctance to be seen as the type of person who nicked and dimes others.

It has helped me to try to understand what is making me not want to charge a certain customer; is it a sense of being female and not having the right to bill for my time- is a friendly and personal-feeling relationship with the customer, or a sense of reliance on them for future referrals- is it xy or z. The results are pretty enlightening.
posted by kettleoffish at 5:18 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

You always bill for everything that way there's no murky gray area.

I will occasionally let things slide if it's incredibly regular work but very, very, very rarely.
posted by mleigh at 5:30 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My day rate is my day rate, and the same if I spend 10 hours or 10 minutes. I don't break it down at all. If all I do is answer an email, I'm willing to not bill that, but otherwise, I invoice for my time.
If you don't take yourself seriously, how can you expect anyone else to do so?
posted by Ideefixe at 5:45 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are writing off time, think about sending the client an invoice with the time, but without a charge. If you ate giving away your time, at least you'll build goodwill and the client will understand you do track these 15-minute issues.

Plus, as long as you're invoicing no matter what, it will be easier to convince yourself not to write off time too often.
posted by _Silky_ at 5:48 PM on March 12, 2012

In law firms (at least small ones), it works this way:

1. During the month, bill every second of your time. Whatever you do, no matter how small, you should bill it.

2. At the end of the month run a "pre-bill" with all your time on it.

3. (this is where it helps to have someone else involved) "decide" whether you think what you billed in the pre-bill is (a) excessive and (b) will cause sticker shock. This part, unfortunately, is not an exact science. It's based on the client, what we've billed in the past, the complexity of what we've done, the intrinsic or objective value of what we've accomplished for the client, and whether the time is duplicative. It helps to run this monthly decisions past coworkers so you don't cut too much (and sell yourself short) or leave too much in and piss of the client.

4. Never cut your monthly time to zero.

Rinse, lather, repeat
posted by bananafish at 7:56 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you are going to change your pricing, or in this case start billing for something that you previously weren't, it's important to frame it right. (Consider the Netflix pricing fiasco as a prime example of how not do this.)

Possible ways to go might include saying things like:

- "There's so much demand for our services these days that we'll be raising our prices for new customers to X, in line with current market prices. As a long-time valued customer, we'll hold you price until it's time for our annual contract negotiation."

- "We'll now be offering two pricing plans to meet the varying needs of our different customers. For a flat monthly retainer of $X, we'll take care of support and small enhancements, up to a maximum of X hours a month. Alternately if you prefer you can be billed by the hour for all services at $Y /hr."

As for the psychology of pricing your own services, this makes interesting reading. I wouldn't necessarily agree with it 100%, but certainly it provides a nice perspective and food for thought.
posted by philipy at 7:14 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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