The debate over time-based rather than project-based billing practices among web designers and developers has been brewing since the first version of Adobe Photoshop shipped. And it won’t likely go away any time soon. The bottom line is you work (if you are employed by a design firm) within your firm’s practices or (if you are a freelancer or own your own design firm) however you feel you are best serving your own and your clients’ needs. So some of you may be powerless to change your (firm’s) billing practices. The rest of you, read on.
One reason a lot of design professionals seem leery of project-based billing is that they fear that they won’t be paid for the entire scope of the project, that something will be left out or forgotten, that the client will want something else midway through, or that they’ve misjudged the amount of time the project takes and get the short end of the stick. These are valid concerns, but they can be overcome if you are careful in your negotiations and in crafting your contract, AND only if you have tools in place that allow you to head off scope creep at the pass.
There are a million anecdotes out there about knowing where to pound the nail, etc., as a way to illustrate the beauty of project-based billing so I won’t reiterate any of those here. I’ll just say you should decide on a project’s value based on information received by the client about the project, your own experiences with scope creep, your experience with the type of project at hand, set a value, and go for it.
Also, if you bill projects based on hours worked, you may also lose sight of the bigger picture. With flat-fee or per-project billing, the goal is to become more efficient, not less efficient. You can spend an extra ten hours on a coding or design issue because you know you may have a use for that code or because you need to learn that design technique. So next time, that same issue will be resolved faster and more efficiently.
And clients know what to expect. There is no last-minute surprise at site launch when you present them with a bill for services beyond the agreed upon price — service they possibly didn’t realize were going to cost extra.
All our proposals and contracts delineate exactly what we are providing, what the client is paying for, what he will receive and what absolutely is not included — or is included at an additional cost. And we do not undertake that extra-cost item before clearing it with the client first. No unhappy surprises equals no unhappy clients.
Joni Mueller has been designing web sites for hire since 2003, when she first blew up her web host’s server by insisting on running Greymatter. Since then, Joni has designed for Blogger and Movable Type, TextPattern, WordPress and CMS Made Simple. She lives with her cat and shoe collection in a bucolic old section of Houston called Idylwood. For some strange reason, Joni likes to refer to herself in the third person. When she’s not working on web design, she’s ordering lawyers around. And blogging about it. Or both.