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Background

I am a designer with a previous background in software development, and I'm currently working on projects for two clients as well as side projects. Both of the client projects are hourly.

One of the projects has a variable number of hours per week. Some weeks, I will be close to full-time on this project and working evenings on the other one. Other weeks, I will have just a few hours per week of work on this project.

Both the client and I have a background in development, and we are using a Scrum-like process - where we hold regular stand-up meetings (although we're not co-located) and answer the standard 3 questions:

  • "What did you work on yesterday?"
  • "What are you working on today?", and
  • "Are you blocked on anything?".

I'm wondering about what to do about charging while I'm blocked and unable to do the next task.

(For those unfamiliar with Scrum, imagine that you need direction from a client about what to do next. You ask them a question and need to wait until you have heard back from them before you can resume work on the project. This could take a few minutes, an hour, a day, or longer.)

What I usually do while blocked on a task

In a regular job with relatively the same number of work hours every week, I would continue to use the time to study technical skills. (Some of my co-workers would have used this time for idle conversations or surfing the web.) But now that I work independently, I also work on side projects to help the future of my business.

Since my other client's project needs to be done at certain (and different) times of the day, I could use this other time to study or to work on my side projects.

  • I believe it's unethical to charge clients while I work on side projects. The value I generate from side projects would ultimately go to me rather than them, although my side projects were instrumental in helping me land one of these two clients.
  • Study time is more of a gray area, especially if it's for skills that I can use in their project. But I'm not sure how to handle this when the project's hours per week are variable.

Is there an established best practice among freelancers for whether or not to charge for this blocked time?

  • Are you in the meetings at the time you're "blocked"? – Canadian Luke REINSTATE MONICA Dec 3 '15 at 19:36
  • Not in the stand-up meetings at that time, just working on other things while I wait for direction (and not working for a different client and double billing either). – David Dec 3 '15 at 20:12
  • In that case, I'd agree with the answer you have below – Canadian Luke REINSTATE MONICA Dec 3 '15 at 20:17
  • good question. I can't say I have any insight...I'm browsing SO in search of a solution to such a problem. I think if you have active side projects then you shift accordingly. In my case, I sort of made exclusive space for a project in november for a couple of weeks and didn't get too much into anything else. the client was supposed to deliver me over a Terabyte of images for me to classify and they wanted it done before xmas. I didn't get the data until Dec 22 and since the beginning of Dec I got deep into my other contract that I had pushed off and is on deadline mode. humbug! – user1269942 Dec 29 '15 at 4:26
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It is customary to not charge for time waiting on client responses.

Where it gets tricky is if time constraints make delayed client responses difficult on you. In those instances I find it often best to notify the client that without a response you can not move forward and the closer to any deadline, if present, things get the possibility of rush fees may enter the picture.

I treat clients like I prefer to be treated. I'd be very unhappy if I had a contractor call me, leave a message, and I was unable to get back to them for a day only to find out I had been charged for 24 hours while they awaited my return call. Doesn't that sound a bit silly (and ethically questionable) to you?

The nature of freelance, in my experience, is feast or famine. There are times where you're full bore, all out, busy and don't have a moment to spare. Then there are times where you are waiting for several clients to get back to you on something and there's nothing pressing you need to accomplish.

In the down times, that's where some of the joy of freelancing comes in. I've got time to spend with friends or family. I've got time to work on something for myself. I've got time to do some self-promotion marketing and find more clients. I've got time to paint a bedroom..... whatever. But you certainly never bill a client for that time.

  • 24 hours is not equal to a work day in most professions and circumstances. In a regular job, you would still be getting paid while you sit at your desk, still on the clock (unless they just send you home, but in these projects I'm working mostly from home). It would be charging 6 hours, 8 hours, 10 hours, or whatever your normal work day for that client is. – David Dec 3 '15 at 20:11
  • Also, the circumstances and billing setup of these two projects don't permit rush fees. – David Dec 3 '15 at 20:13
  • @David rush fees are probably something that you should consider employing into your agreements. If the idle time is an issue, it sounds like it should also be negotiated before starting work. Usually, if you're not working full-time for the client, then you can't just bill them for waiting for their feedback. If you have an agreement for billing full-time, then you can obviously bill for all downtime and bench time as well. – cnst Dec 29 '18 at 0:35
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No, you don't charge your idle time, even less with a hourly fee. Your flexibility must be built into your rate. That's a major reason why employers resort to freelancers.

Anyway, if you want to, you can negotiate a clause in the contract about it; it is probably better to present it in the form of a bonus granted in case of work continuity.

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