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I'm working on a small engineering/programming project (~100kloc of code) which tackles many different areas of expertise. The program communicates with many external devices, has data processing and presentation capabilities, reporting module, etc. Basically it's a mashup of electrical engineering (electrical measurements), machine control, data processing, visualisation and project management.

I want to give the client a period of free technical service and bug-fixes after the sell.

I'm inclining to propose 6 months of free support but wanted to know what was the range of free support you agreed to (would agree to) after selling your project.

If you wouldn't agree to free support period what would be your support financing proposal - payed per hour, per day, per month?

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I typically offer free support on a software development project for 60 or 90 days after the project goes live.

After that, I offer fixed-fee monthly support to clients. This support includes bug fixes, answering questions and general troubleshooting via email. I generally find that my customers appreciate knowing that they can call and I won't be starting a stop watch for billing purposes. (The price depends on the size of the app I am supporting and how quickly they will typically need a response.)

  • I agree with here. Don't get stuck with a longer support. – Peter MV Jan 2 '14 at 20:37
  • The projects I've done come with 2 months of free support where I'm basically on call during work hours to fix any issues that pop up with the site (such as errors, last-minute fixes, internationalization strings being displayed instead of text), but I never change certain things after they have been signed off without a fee (the design, for example, is signed off under contract before release) – Amelia Jan 3 '14 at 7:06
  • Thanks for your input! Do you agree to some predefined response time when you negotiate the price? What about work hours? Or if the client is in different time-zone and his/her day is your hight? – bor Jan 4 '14 at 13:17
  • Some of my clients pay for 24x7 support, while others pay less for support during normal business hours. All my clients are in my time-zone, but I would spell that out clearly in the contract if they weren't. Also: I guarantee a "response" in the time period, not "resolution" because sometimes I can't control how long it will take to fix a problem. – Avonelle Lovhaug Jan 4 '14 at 16:06
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Remember that nothing in this world is free, no matter what the price tag itself says. If I am selling a program, and I'm expected to give support, I would build that cost into the cost of developing the product, but likely at a reduced price for the support (in the event they don't use it, they shouldn't feel ripped off). It's going to vary greatly on the amount of time to build the product, as well as how specialized the product is. If it's been sold to many customers and has been rock solid on every installation, I would only add on a little extra into the cost for support, and maybe offer 90 days support.

But why only 90 days?

Well, that's a fair question. A lot can change in 6 months. I've seen some companies who get new systems every 6 months, just because they can. Management might change, and have new decisions, and want to switch to Macs all of a sudden. If my program doesn't work on Mac, I may have needed to rewrite everything for that one customer, or tell them to install Windows to keep it working. 90 days is standard in my country anyways, so I follow suit and agree to the same terms.

Another issue may come up that they save all their support for the last bit; after a few months, I forget about a client's network and system's setup, especially when there are many one-off configurations (i.e. not all systems set up the same). This makes it difficult as well. Yes, keep notes; they will save you time and time again! And just in case you forgot already, KEEP NOTES. I keep them on my phone/tablet, and upload them to my server once I am finished with a site for any work I do. When I get back to my desktop, I can go and consolidate them with the previous versions of the notes.

OK, I get it. How do I determine how much to secretly (or publicly) charge?

Again, depends on you. Here's a short list:

  • Look at how long it takes to fix most bugs. Does it require a complete recompile to fix any bugs? Can you simply change a text file of settings to fix it? Is it going to be many PEBCAK issues?
  • You need to determine what type of issues you could see the company having.
  • Once you determine that, decide how long you think it would take on average to fix it. You may include travel time for customers far away, or be able to offer remote support. One of my previous employers bought a license for a remote access program that worked quite well, and the first few customers that we charged to use it paid for it essentially; the rest was paying for my time to troubleshoot while working on other issues as well. Not the ideal situation, but saves money for us, and therefore, the clients.
  • Are you going to support their entire computer system, and not just your program? Some companies expect you to take over every aspect of support, and if you are not willing to take that on, make sure you specify what you will offer support on. Nothing like going in to fix a program, then be asked to update their website, unjam the printer, setup 4 new workstations out of the box, install a media program, THEN allow access to Facebook. SPECIFY what is free, and explain you'll charge for the rest.
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    Thank you very much for your answer! How did you determine that 90 days of support is "standard" in your country? Is is somehow regulated or just enough companies/developers decide that 90 days is enough? – bor Jan 4 '14 at 13:26
  • It just seems to be the standard (sorry for the late reply, on vacation) – Canadian Luke REINSTATE MONICA Jan 9 '14 at 19:34
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Some of the other answers have mentioned this but I want to clarify it:

Define Free

What does your free support period offer:

  • Bug Fixes
  • Minor Changes to UI
  • Major Changes to UI (languages added for example)
  • Dependant on system, installing on more servers or computers in different locations
  • Changes to functions (major or minor)
  • Training (no matter how simple, some staff will always need to know where the on button is)
  • And the list goes on

I don't think free support is bad at all, you just need to make sure you are clear with what it covers. Lastly which of the two applies you need to think about it (example 6 month period)

  • The client has 6 months to request changes, these changes maybe actioned after this period or
  • All 'free' changes must take place within the 6 month period
  • The two last points are especially tricky. Thanks for pointing that out! – bor Jan 4 '14 at 13:19

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