How should I charge for freelance work on-the-road with a client?
February 26, 2008 8:36 AM   Subscribe

I do freelance graphic design in NYC and have just been asked by a client to travel with them to Chicago for 5 days. I usually charge by the hour and work locally. I have no clue how to quote for this. Suggestions, please?
posted by SampleSize to Work & Money (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, first you have to be compensated for travel expenses, including airfare, hotel and travel to and from the venue (taxi, etc). Then you have to receive a per diem for meals ($50 to $75 is the normal range for a foot soldier type rather than an executive).

As for the five days, if you are afraid of charging them too much, you should at least probably try to get paid about 75% of what you would had you billed them hourly. figure out how much you would get paid per month if you were a salaried employ in the same position. Once again, figure out a range, from lowest salary at your position, to highest salary.

Take the high end, divide it by four, and you have a benchmark for the five days. I think what you're aiming to do is to avoid charging them an hourly rate, which would be too expensive (I'm guessing that your hourly rate over the five days is roughly twice as much as you would get paid if you were salaried).

So, if you are at about 75% of what it would cost to hire you on an hourly basis, present them with that offer. Now, if they are concerned with cost, they will try to knock you down. You can safely assume that at the very least you will get 50% of what you would have earned had you billed them on an hourly rate, but you'll probably end up with 65%.

However, there is also an opportunity cost - you are missing out on other work by going with them to Chicago. So, you could always just present them with an hourly rate plus expenses for the entire five-day trip.

It really depends on their resources - obviously they like you, or they would not invite you to go with them.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:09 AM on February 26, 2008

Keep charging by the hour. Quote them precisely for your time, and put a note in the quote that expenses are additional, and to be paid by the customer. You may include a per-day estimate if you are so inclined, by researching flight, hotel, and car rental costs.

When you invoice the customer, include a separate line item for expenses incurred.

And remember, most of your travel expenses are 100% tax write-offs with the exception of meals, which are 50%.
posted by fusinski at 9:09 AM on February 26, 2008

Alternatively you could do what Koku is suggesting... an "all inclusive" hourly rate that will take into account your normal hourly rate+estimated expenses. If you go this route, pad it a bit. Like 20%, just to be safe.
posted by fusinski at 9:12 AM on February 26, 2008

Sorry, I wasn't too clear - I am advocating what fusinski is suggesting (heh) - I was advising that travel, hotel and meals should be provided by the client up front (or after costs are incurred), and **should not** be part of the negotiations regarding hourly rate or retainer for the five days. Separating travel expenses from contractors' fees makes negotiations easier, as well as budgeting for our humble freelancer.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 AM on February 26, 2008

You might continue to charge by the hour, especially if you're expected to have work discussions on the plane or in the evenings. The last time I was brought on the road by a client, that's what happened--they expected about 12 hours a day of work and meetings. I regretted having agreed to a fixed price.

One small company I know of pays their employees 50% of their hourly rate for time spent travelling, then 100% for time spent working on site. This helps make up for the hassle of being uprooted.

The client should pay 100% of your travel expenses. If you trust them to do so, they should book your plane and hotel so you don't have that hassle, especially since they have to do the booking for themselves already.
posted by PatoPata at 9:42 AM on February 26, 2008

You're a freelancer. Your time is money. Determine a day rate that you're comfortable with -- and which is in line with a full day's work -- and provide them with a quote for X days.

Keep travel separate -- it's not "income" in the eyes of the IRS, so it shouldn't even be up for negotiation. If they don't want to make your arrangements, let them know you will, and you'll be passing along receipts for air, hotel, cabs, and meals. Be sure to get their per-diem limits so you're all clear on expectations.
posted by diastematic at 10:06 AM on February 26, 2008

agree with having them pay for all travel and lodgings up front and reimbursing you for taxis and food after the fact when you invoice them and provide them with a receipt.

i assume you don't already have a per diem rate. so, what's the average number of hours that you work in an average month? if your average day is 10 hours, that's how much your per day rate should be for.

and, get EVERYTHING in writing before you go. you don't want them reneging on paying for food later.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:27 AM on February 26, 2008

I generally charge my usual hourly rate for all time spent either working or in transit -- i.e. me sitting in an airplane or a departure lounge for 8 hours costs the same as me sitting at my computer for 8 hours. (All expenses, of course, are also the client's responsibility.) I don't charge for time spent in hotel rooms, sleeping, etc.

The extra charge is partly to make up for the additional inconvenience of rescheduling other clients who I can't deal with while I'm on their trip, not being able to see my family, and so on; but it's mostly because I really really hate everything about air travel, and it's not worth it to me to go through it unless I'm getting paid for it.

Some clients accept this explanation and pay the extra amount, which works out fine for me. Some clients don't, and figure out some way to work with me that doesn't involve travel. This also works out fine for me.

I don't know of anyone else who does it that way, so I'm certainly not suggesting it's the only or best strategy -- I know other freelancers who don't mind work travel or even enjoy it, so simply charge their regular hourly rate for work time, plus travel expenses. As with so many "how much should I charge?" questions, this one boils down to "whatever your time is worth to you."

(However -- I would recommend against switching to a fixed day rate for travel, though, unless you know for certain that the Chicago work will be limited to specific hours; as PatoPata says, some clients seem to feel that a day rate is their opportunity to squeeze as many hours as possible out of you.)
posted by ook at 10:45 AM on February 26, 2008

Yeah, definitely set a day rate based on your hourly * 8 + either 10% or full expenses. Or both.

Consider that during that time, you are no longer able to utilize any portion of the 8 hour day for anyone else, so they've monopolized that time, and they get to pay for it.

Make it clear that the day rate covers 8 hours of work in a given day, and additional hours will be your hourly rate * 1.25 or some factor to account for overtime. These are not unacceptable terms and if they're flying you out somewhere for five days, they won't much care so long as you're not doing something stupid like charging them 4 times your hourly.
posted by disillusioned at 12:01 PM on February 26, 2008

Daily rate + all expenses paid. In SF, this would equal somewhere around $3000 ($600/day x 5 days) plus all your travel and meal expenses.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:32 PM on February 26, 2008

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