Design Dilemma: Do You Invoice for Everything?

Bill B. writes:  A client asked why I was charging for small things that he thinks only took a few minutes. He thought I was being “cheap” and not “valuing the professional relationship (we) have.” I feel it all adds up to more than an hour but I’m a bit afraid of insisting on getting paid for everything I do. Am I wrong?

That’s a good question and one many designers ask. I’m going to use some answers people wrote on a similar question posted on the LinkedIn Graphic Artists Guild group. Join us as we delve into another Design Dilemma, helping to answer your questions, queries and concerns about the murky world of design…

The Question Put to LinkedIn Users…

Cindy M. asked: Do you invoice for everything; even that 20 minute task you plan to “give” anyway?

When I started out I’d shoot out a short update or redo with a note of here it is, no charge. It created tremendous goodwill. I still do the work pro bono but invoice for two reasons: tax purposes and to show clients the value of the work. What’s your policy?

Other Professionals Weigh In

Carrie M. — We track our time in five-minute increments and bill in 30-minute increments. We sometimes combine line items on invoices for small bills to make them cheaper for good clients, but in general we follow the procedures of any other professional service firm.

Cindy M. — I too track in 5 minute increments-billing net due on receipt. Works fine, never an issue, just thinking back on all those 5 minutes in the past that went out as “sure, no problem…”.

Klaus H. — We are starting to track our time. What method did you guys use?

Carrie M. — My developers use an online clock system that works really well for them. I write my time down in a notebook as I go and then every few weeks enter it into a custom database. When it comes time to bill, I just go to the billing report and see what’s owed for what type of work. Cake.

Randy A. — We keep track of all our time and bill in 30 minute increments. We send an invoice of actions performed whether we charge the customer or not so they can see the time and cost of what was done. Usually the only thing we don’t bill the customer for is if they are doing something to help a nonprofit for a fundraiser or something of that nature. We keep track of everything in an excel spreadsheet we have created that works like QuickBooks.

Klaus H. — Someone told me about Does anyone have thoughts or reviews on workamajig?

Cindy M. — I track the old fashioned way-on paper. I tried automated systems, and it was not practical, so I have a page for each client, project name, date, time start, time end and what the task is. Hours are entered in QuickBooks for invoicing. Since work can so easily be interrupted and I may be juggling several jobs on any given day, writing it is more accurate.

At the outset I think the “sure no problem changes are generous, build goodwill and are to some extent necessary. I have a good reputation for customer service and it’s built on that generosity. You just have to make sure they are REALLY minor tweaks to existing work,not anything new, or truly time consuming. AND still invoice for it, even with a zero charge.

Julie M. — Keep in mind, it can add up AND you can also get into the habit of giving too much away. Keep a tally, on an excel sheet. You can give some away but if it becomes a habit with a client give one or two at no charge, marked on an invoice, and add the rest, perhaps with a minimal charge of a half to one hour. If it exceeds that amount the bill for the time you worked.

Tess W. — When I quote a job I include the time for email/phone calls/etc. — generally 15 minutes added for every hour worked. So for instance, if I need 2 hours for a simple layout the contract says 2.5 hours. A 20 hour design would be billed 25. Any meetings in-person are for the actual time, plus travel time if I have to go to them. For me that is easier than taking the time to add a minute here and 5 minutes there.

Speider S. — I do give discounts for large retainers for guaranteed work over a period of time (which is customary with many non-U.S. clients in certain countries) but the bottom line is: I do work for your company, you pay me. There are no favors and you’re not a charity.

In my opinion (and some past experience), when you start not charging for certain things you see as small, clients start asking for other things THEY see as small but really aren’t.

Julie R. — It depends on the client. I am very generous with my time for my not-for-profits but much more likely to count every minute with my corporate clients. I think of it as my corporate clients subsidizing the NFPs, since the corporate work pays the bulk of the expenses for my business (including my salary).

Pete F. — We use a free cloud based tracking service called Clicktime. Its been great and helped us capture all those little 10 minute “sure I can help you outs” that suddenly absorb your day into a non-billable day. Instead you can actually (almost) make a living in this business. For non-profits I’m more relaxed, but attorneys charge by the minute, so if we’re designing for them, why not abide by their standards.

In Conclusion

Everyone agrees that professional work deserves professional payment… at least those being paid. I might just tell your client that a few minutes here and there isn’t billed… and then bill it with other services, leaving the impression that you are being “nice.” The question you have to ask yourself is; do I want to cut a deal and my own throat at the same time?

So, as with the ardor of the British light cavalry, when it comes to clients — “CHARGE!”

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Do you have a design dilemma? Speider Schneider will personally answer your questions — just send your dilemma to [email protected]!

Speider has created designs for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson and Viacom among other notable companies and is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild and co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee. He writes for global blogs on design ethics and business practices and has contributed to several books on the subject of business for designers.

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