4

I do some work for a client. Recently they asked me to fix something on their site. It took me about 1-2 hours to locate the problem but the fix was pretty simple. They sent me an email asking me to send an invoice but I feel like saying that the fix was simple so there is no need for me to bill them.

Is there a reason against me not billing them? Is this purely opinion-based or is there any real reason why I shouldn't do work for free?

  • If you give work for free, they'll keep expecting that. – Xavier J Jan 20 '16 at 16:07
7

Well this is really opinion-based. But there are some aspects to be aware of.

  • Some clients will see your failure to invoice as an "ok" to send you more changes then act shocked when you want to be paid. For this reason you need to be a bit careful with free services. Clients like this just try and roll over you and then start becoming very difficult when you do want to invoice.

  • Some clients will see the offer to not invoice as a great thing and it will merely improve your standing in their eyes. Clients such as these understand that whether or not to invoice is your choice and they never expect free services. So the occasional "That was a simple thing, no charge" will go a long way towards great customer service.

Then of course there's a range of clients in between these two types. Each leaning slightly one way or the other.

Whether or not completing something for free is a "good" or "bad" thing is highly dependent upon the actual client.

I often complete small, minor, inconsequential things fee of charge for my clients that are very good clients and never expect anything for free.

On the other hand, I have clients that any minor thing is invoiced for because if I fail to do that, they'll start sending repeated requests for "minor" things and these start to pile up taking more and more of my time.

However, I'm not referring to "1-2 hours" of work. I'm referring to 10-15 minutes of work. If it takes me 1-2 hours to do something, it's invoiced for in all instances. An hour spent completing that "minor" change is an hour I could have spent on another, paying, project. My time is a commodity. Do not sell yourself short. That 1-2 hours to "find the problem" is a direct result of your knowledge and experience and it is billable.

Theres a story that relates to this well....

A man takes his car to a mechanic because it's making a funny noise and running really rough.

The mechanic opens the hood, looks around for 5-10 minutes, pulls out a screwdriver and turns a screw. The noise stops and the car starts running as smooth as the day it was purchased.

The man is thrilled and says, "Fantastic. Thank you. What do I owe you?"

The mechanic goes over and fills out an invoice and hands it to the man.

He looks at the invoice and gasps, "$100!! How can you charge me $100 when it only took you 10 minutes??!!"

The mechanic replied, "Oh, sorry. Here let me itemize that for you." He then takes the invoice from the man scribbles something on it and hands it back tohim.

The invoice now reads....


Turning Screw ...................$5
Knowing which screw to turn.....$95
--------------------------------------
Total Due ......................$100.

Do not sell your knowledge and experience short.

I look at it this way... Imagine I charge $100/hr. So 15 minutes is worth $25.00.

It takes me 15 minutes to fill out and send an invoice. So really I make $0 if I invoice for 15 minutes. Actually factor in dealing with the check/online payment etc, I probably lose money if I invoice for 15 minutes. Therefore its not really financially worth my time to invoice for 15 minutes. It may be worth it to invoice just to send a message to the client that "everything" is billable. But if a client already understands that, the message isn't needed.

However, I make $75 if I invoice for 1 hour. If I were walking down the street and saw $75 lying on the ground, would I ignore it?? Uhm.. no. So why would I fail to ignore money owed to me. If I stand to gain financially from any invoice, the invoice is sent.

2

Managing Client Expectations

If a task took you more than an hour and the client expects an invoice then I would tend to invoice them as requested.

Not invoicing them sets the wrong expectation for the future where they may expect similar requests to be done for free.

If you are inclined to do a small task for free for a good client, make sure that the free time is included in the next invoice (e.g. as a line item with zero cost) to show the client that they have been rewarded with a discount. This shows that you value your relationship with your client but also highlights:

  1. you have done something for free that you normally charge for
  2. they shouldn't assume that this will always be free in future

Sharing the Cost Between Multiple Clients

If you spent 2 hours troubleshooting an issue and the solution applies to multiple clients, it may be reasonable to apportion the research time between multiple clients. For example, you might bill three clients 1 hour each which covers your time and also gives each client a discount (a win - win).

Invoice Efficiency

Billing clients for less than an hour may be inefficient for you and your client in terms of the time and cost of raising the invoice, chasing payment and paying the invoice.

I tend to track all time expended on client work (in 15 minute increments), and invoice monthly.

If a client has not accumulated a full hour at the end of the month, then the amount owed is carried forward to subsequent month(s) until at least one hour has been expended and an invoice can be raised.

1

It's definitely up to you but I think the argument against it is that while clients may (or may not) appreciate it, you devalue yourself in their eyes when you don't bill for your work.

I have also read to never say "this is simple" about anything you do. (Which I have since stopped doing) because it plants the idea in their mind that it's not worth much.

Just because it's "simple" for you, doesn't mean it's simple. It probably means you have an expertise in that area and are valuable.

If you do decide not to bill for something like that, I would be sure they understand that you are doing that for them, how much time you spent on it, and tell them you are doing it to show your appreciation for their continued business, their being such great clients, etc.

Personally, I would never not bill for something that took 2 hours to troubleshoot unless it was the result of a bug or error on my part. Or ignorance (it took me 2 hours to find because I didn't know what I was doing yet, but next time it will take me 2 minutes.) I don't charge my clients for my education unless they're asking me to figure something out for them where they know I am not yet experienced.

With that said, when I invoice I often list a something as "complimentary" and not charge for it, or discount it with "preferred client discount" (Or give another reason.) Sometimes I will add some bells and whistles they did not specifically request but that I know they will love and say the feature is complimentary because I felt they simply had to have it! Clients seem to notice and appreciate that.

But if you literally just say "No charge 'cause that was simple" not only did you just work 1 - 2 hours for free, but your client has no idea what a great thing you did for them because they think it was simple. And it may give them the impression things take a lot less time than they actually do, so in the future they may be shocked by invoices.

Also, if you you just don't invoice, don't assume they'll even realize it if you don't say something.

1

If the customer wants to pay, a healthy reaction is just to please him and accept with a big smile. Don't forget you spent 1-2 hours.

If you refuse, be sure to explain him why you do so. Avoid an explanation like "it wasn't worth it", prefer to say "I am offering it to you because...".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.