Noob question about agency contracting/invoicing
September 2, 2022 9:15 AM   Subscribe

If an agency has a two week assignment for you (creative position) and they're authorized for two weeks of your rate, do you invoice for the whole two weeks even if they don't have anything for you to do some of the days? Or do you just invoice for time worked?

I read this question and this one which are kind of adjacent but not exactly what I want to know.

A couple months ago I did some creative work for an agency that was servicing a big client. I was filling in for someone who went on vacation, and it was a well-defined set of days they had authorized to pay me. The job had some extra-long days, and I billed for the additional hours which was totally fine with them (I didn't ask, I just invoiced for it and they paid it).

They liked me and have brought me on for a new job where they booked me for 2-1/2 weeks. They didn't pay a retainer, we don't have a formal contract. So far there's been nothing shady about how they operate, and they made sure to pay me quickly last time. I'm not worried about their ethics, I just need to get a better handle on conventions.

The two weeks was specified to start on Monday, Aug. 29. Today is Friday of the first week. Due to their client they didn't have anything for me to do on Monday, and it looks like they won't have anything today or over the weekend. They expect to get client feedback early Monday, so there will be work for me then. It seems likely that the second week will be more than 5 days of work.

I don't know if it's standard to bill for the entire time they had me carve out, or just the days I actually work. My rate is based on a day rate, with an hourly rate for anything over what's included in a "day".

This is an agency dealing with a gigantic brand, and money is not really an issue for them. This is more of a question about conventions for this kind of arrangement.

There's someone I can ask in the agency, but I wanted to ask here first so I don't make them wonder if I just crawled out from under a cabbage leaf. If the answers here are along the lines of "It depends..." or if there's no clear consensus I'll feel more confident about asking one of my contacts in the agency. I feel like I should be paid for the time since I couldn't take any other work, plus I like money. I just don't want to embarrass myself.
posted by under_petticoat_rule to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You bill for the time you contracted for. You taking this assignment prevented you from taking work elsewhere: the fact that they did not actually have work for you to do is their issue, not yours.

If you want, you can bill the entire contracted amount, and then give them a "discount" - either a flat fee or a percentage you feel comfortable about. But you want to establish that you are contracting your hours of availability (8 hrs per day @ standard rate; anything over 8 hrs a day at overtime rate). This is how most union contracts work, fwiw.
posted by Silvery Fish at 9:45 AM on September 2, 2022 [11 favorites]

First, I wouldn't worry about asking - I've worked on both the agency side and consulting side for a long time, and there's no consistent way of doing these things.

I mostly agree with Silvery Fish, though I'm not sure you should bill in full for the time you set aside for this client but didn't actually get any work. When consulting for a set period, I typically establish a floor rate - i.e., a minimum daily or weekly amount I'll get paid even if not working - to account for the fact that I'm turning down other work.

But as some who hired consultants on the agency side, I've brought on consultants for a period of weeks and not had any work for them, and they haven't billed for the hours they weren't working - presumably because they were doing other stuff, or hadn't set expectations that they would bill for hours not worked.

It sounds like you're building a good relationship with this agency and may want to take a haircut on a couple days of pay for this particular assignment to foster goodwill, then be proactive about setting a parameters for any future assignments.

Moving forward, do set expectations around pay. In this case, if they're expecting you to be on standby all day, every day, I think it's reasonable to charge a daily rate since you're available the full time and not taking other work.
posted by bassomatic at 10:02 AM on September 2, 2022

Best answer: I'm all for billing for the time you set aside for them. Theoretically they could have come in with work at any point, and you would have had to drop whatever else you were doing to deal with it. It's reasonable for them to pay you for the full amount of your time/attention.
posted by Alensin at 10:05 AM on September 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It sounds like you negotiated a day rate rather than an hourly rate. Given that, I would say they have you for the days they booked you and they can use them or not, but you bill them for the whole time either way.

On the other hand, if you have an hourly rate, you bill the hours you work with a detailed accounting of how you spend them.

As Silvery Fish says, the big difference is are you expected to be on call for them for 100% of the work day during the contract period. If you are billing hours, the assumption is usually it doesn’t matter how you fit the hours in your schedule as long as you get the work done, can attend meetings with reasonable advance notice, etc.
posted by goingonit at 10:05 AM on September 2, 2022

Best answer: I think that Silvery Fish makes some good points. So does bassomatic. If I were you and you are looking to have an ongoing relationship with the agency, I would speak to them about it before you submit your bill. I would tell them you are inclined to bill by the days set aside. I would say something like, "Let's work out what to do this time and set it as precedent for the future. Going forward, we should agree to a standard contract where this is spelled out. This time, I will do what you think is best knowing that I set aside those days expecting to be working for the agency even though the client flaked."

I have always found that sitting down and discussing an issue is much better for all involved than if each side makes their own assumptions and skirts the issue until it becomes a bigger issue. You sound reasonable. So does the agency. Reasonable people can come to a reasonable agreement (almost every time).
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:15 AM on September 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

> we don't have a formal contract

aaaaaand there's your main issue. When contracting you should ALWAYS have a formal contract, and it should specify things like this so there's no surprises later on either end.

As mentioned by other posters above, either getting paid or not paid for days you didn't have any work could both be potentially reasonable, and whatever approach you choose, those details should be spelled out in a contract ahead of time.
posted by mekily at 10:21 AM on September 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This isn't necessarily sound ethical advice, but the agency very likely doesn't care. I have seen many agency employees spend their days doing nothing while waiting for client feedback and people still get paid. They hired you because they needed the work done and are happy to pay whatever to make sure that happens. Given their financial position I say angle your approach at whatever gets you paid the most.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:29 AM on September 2, 2022

Best answer: I’ve been/am on both sides of this. I think it’s ethical to bill it, as they “booked” you and you were in an active waiting situation and taking no other work. I wouldn’t bring it up unless you were never comfortable with what it meant for them to book you in the first place.

However, if “booked” means they just want you to throw some hours at a project and you could’ve easily mixed it in with some other work, and chose not to, I wouldn’t count any hours except the active communication/waiting ones. It doesn’t sound like this is your situation so I’m only mentioning it for completeness.
posted by michaelh at 10:30 AM on September 2, 2022

Best answer: Agree that every agency handles this differently. At mine, if we’ve booked a contractor for a set of days, we consider ourselves on the hook for those days and our traffic manager will usually pull other projects forward to fill that time, if possible. From time to time we have enough advance notice on a client-driven delay to see if the contractor is flexible on timings, but if there’s less than a day of notice we eat the cost.

This works the other way, too — if a client-driven delay means we’ve reserved time for a project and aren’t able to fill it otherwise, the client is billed the cost of those days.

In your shoes I’d bill for those days and flag it with your contact at the agency; if they have a different policy, it’s good to get on the same page early. And I agree with mekily, you really should have a contract in place for this kind of work. The agency will likely have a boilerplate one with their preferred terms to use as a starting point.
posted by third word on a random page at 5:54 PM on September 2, 2022

I bill a day rate and basically if you put dates on my calendar, you are paying for them regardless of any other factor. There's only one of me and only so many billable days on the calendar, it's my most limited resource. There is nothing shady or unethical for billing your client for the dates they agreed upon. Not having stuff for your to do is very much their problem.

Your real issue here is you don't have a contract that spells this out explicitly. But IMO if they booked you, they pay.
posted by bradbane at 6:12 PM on September 2, 2022

Best answer: i am a creative freelancer and, when i am on a day rate, i bill whether they kept me busy or not.

the way i see it, they bought my time. it’s not my job to worry about whether they are using it wisely.
posted by missjenny at 11:26 AM on September 3, 2022

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