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Freelancers And Consultants: 3 Reasons You Shouldn’t be Billing Hourly

Freelancers And Consultants: 3 Reasons You Shouldn’t be Billing Hourly

Imagine a method of paying for a time-sensitive service whereby the slower the service provider is, the more they’re paid; and by contrast, the faster they are the less they earn.

One bizarre consequence of this arrangement is that the more experienced professionals in a given field, whose experience typically makes them faster than newcomers to the profession, will be treated as less valuable than the inexperienced practitioners who usually take longer to complete the same amount of (often inferior) work.

And consider also that this payment method means not only that the service provider has incentive to drag out his work as long as possible, but also that the client paying for the final product has incentive to rush the work.

Insane, right?

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And yet this is how tens of millions of service providers, consultants and other freelancers charge their clients. Hourly billing. What on earth are we thinking?

For the same reason the “Print Screen” key persists on desktop keyboards years after its real estate should have gone to, say, a “.com” key, consultants in just about every profession continue to bill by the hour. Because we always have.

If you’re a consultant, freelance contractor or the sole proprietor of a service business, there will of course be times when a client insists on paying you by the hour. (That simply means the client hasn’t given enough thought to this arrangement, either, because it works against their interests as much as against yours.) In those cases, what can you do?

But if you’re given the choice, or asked to define your preferred method of billing, here are 3 reasons you should not opt to charge by the hour:

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1)  It creates an adversarial relationship between you and your client — when such conflict is totally unnecessary and another billing arrangement would better benefit both sides.

Say you’re a graphic artist, and you and your client agree upfront that the new icon set you’re going to create for their website is worth $1,000 — for the first set, plus one round of revisions. (Tweaks beyond that are another matter, not important here.) You’re happy with that figure, and your client is as well.

Now that you’ve got that out of the way, you both have an incentive to arrive at an icon set everyone loves as soon as possible. The sooner it’s done, the sooner your client starts reaping the benefits of their new icons — on their website, in marketing collateral and in other branding channels. And the sooner it’s done, the more time you have for other paying projects — and the more “per hour” you’ve earned, if you want to think of it that way.

In other words, once the client has determined what the final work product is actually worth to them, the fact that you can bang out an excellent icon set in a hurry becomes a virtue for both parties. When you’re billing by the hour, by contrast, you have a perverse incentive not to finish your excellent first draft too quickly, because it means you’ll get paid less.

And this inherent conflict of interest carries through your entire relationship with your hourly-paying clients: If you demonstrate you can complete an icon set very quickly (and in fewer hours than the job’s compensation would be worth to you), you also have to worry you’re setting a precedent that the client should expect all of your design work to be completed fast — and not to have to pay you much for it.

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2)  It measures and rewards the wrong things (and neglects the right ones).

Let’s stick with our $1,000 icon set example. Imagine you’re billing hourly — say, $50 an hour — and you nail the icons on the first shot. Your client is thrilled with the work! You’re thrilled with the great feedback you’ve gotten. And because the job took you 20 hours, you can bill them $1,000. Not bad!

Now a different scenario: Your first draft falls flat. The client calls you frustrated and a bit panicked. After an unpleasant conversation, you crank out a second draft and, after you send in the new icons a couple of days later, the client responds that they’re pleased. Not thrilled, but pleased. And because the two drafts took you a combined 31 hours, you can bill the client… $1,550?

But wait. In the first scenario, you nailed the work on the first try. And they loved it. Second scenario? Not so much. It took you two tries, you shook your client’s faith in you, and you didn’t turn in an approved draft for an extra couple of days. But they paid you 50% more!

In a perfect scenario — or at least one where the client pays you for your work based on criteria less arbitrary than the number of hours the job takes — you’d whip up a brilliant design ASAP and then get yourself back out there working on other billable projects. And your client would start reaping the benefits of your completed work sooner.

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But in this nonsensical hourly-billing arrangement, you and your client are actually both working counter to your own best interests. You are, because you’re spending more time than necessary on the project (or at least holding back on delivering until you’ve racked up a number of billable hours you can live with). Your client is as well, because they’re rushing you to hurry the work rather than take the time you need to make it outstanding.

All because you and your client are measuring the project’s worth based on the totally arbitrary “total hours worked” rather than what really matters.

3)  It creates a built-in mechanism to make your work less compensated as you gain more relevant knowledge and expertise for your client.

Imagine you’ve been working with your icon-set client for a few months now. You’re learning about their organization, products, vision, customers and competitors. In short, you’re becoming faster at understanding new projects and banging out great work. Doesn’t this mean you’re becoming more valuable to your client than you were on your first assignments for them?

And yet, if you’re billing them honestly, the fact that you’re becoming quicker at completing assignments — and turning in work that delights your client — means that your compensation from this client goes down the more the relevant knowledge and experience you gain for them goes up.

My advice: Bill by the project. Once you and your client agree on the ultimate worth of a given task or service, your interests become nicely aligned from that moment forward. And you can both get on with the business of generating the best work possible in the shortest time possible.

More by this author

robbie hyman

Copywriter

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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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