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I do motion graphics and editing. A lot of my "time" is waiting for the client to respond to the last version I sent, or to answer a question about how to proceed.

Client is claiming I should only bill for "actual work" time.

The typical scenario:

  • Time 0: I get an email saying "do this thing"
  • I ask some questions ... length, colors, need some media etc. (because the first email NEVER contains all necessary info)
  • 15 mins later I get an answer. I ask another question.
  • 5 mins later I get an answer. Now I can start.
  • I spend 1 hours making this thing, and send it.
  • 25 mins later, they email me "can you change x, y and z"
  • I reply "When you say z, do you mean z1 or z2?"
  • 5 mins later they say "z2"
  • I do z2 and send it.
  • 10 mins later they say "wait, change j, k and l"

I've now spent 2 hours on this thing, of which 1 hour is "actual work."

Then this cycle repeats 3 more times throughout the "day". I do the final change. I send it. I ask "Are we done for today? Are you sending to your client?"

One hour later they say "OK, we're done for today."

Now it's been 7 hours of my day. But only 3 hours of "work".

I would bill 7 hours. Client is saying I should bill for 3.

What is standard practice? What do you all do?

(I'm especially interested to hear from people in media/entertainment/marketing.)

  • How many clients do (or can) you have at a time? – David Jun 14 '18 at 17:48
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You bill for 3.

Communication with clients is part of clerical work and not directly billable. You are not on staff as an employee, if you are freelancing. Unless you have a specific contract which states that you will invoice for a full day regardless of time on project, the client is correct. Communication is never billable. It's a loss leader if anything.

As a freelancer you are more than capable of moving on to some other project while providing the client enough time to review, make decisions, and get back to you. In fact, for clients which tend to repeatedly change things in rapid succession it's always been my stance that it's far wiser to wait a day to start revisions than to try and get them revisions immediately.

I mean. you can't tell me that you sit, staring at an email client, or IM window.. waiting... waiting.. waiting.. waiting.. for a response. No. you are doing other things in the interim. Other things which are generally not client billable.

  • Hmm. So that makes me think better to increase my rate by 50% or so. Or set a minimum billable time unit, like 4 hours. – Dan May 31 '18 at 19:51
  • Now you do invoice for... time to create [A].. client decides to change.. you invoice for time to create [A.rev2]... client wants another change... you invoice for time to make [A.rev3]. etc. So you don't work for free.. but you don't charge the client for the time between changes. Increasing rates by 50% either means you are willing to lose clients, or you are considerably underpriced. And a minimal billable unit is acceptable .but close to .25 or .5.. never more than that in my experience. The key word being minimal. You can't charge everyone for 4 hours of work in many instances. – Scott May 31 '18 at 19:54
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    I´d say this +1, but bill minimum times to allow for costs of task-switching (i.e. you always round up to the next full 15 minutes) That´s quite customary at least in the field of software and IT-Services – Daniel Jun 4 '18 at 8:46
  • -1. At what point should the OP start (or keep) charging for their work? If they are generating or giving something of value, they should be paid for their advice - especially if communication is done in such a way that they can't give any of their time or attention to another project at the same time. – David Jun 14 '18 at 17:52
  • @David you seem to be referring to consulting.. which does not appear, to me, to be what this question is about. Yes as a consultant you charge for communication. However, as a services/product creator you typically don't charge communication fees like a consultant would because 99% of communication is about creating, editing, or correcting a product and not the "advice" a consultant would be providing. – Scott Jun 14 '18 at 20:48
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If you work as a freelancer, you are expected to charge for the specific job you perform, but I would suggest that you take into consideration as part of your rate your overhead, which should include activities not directly related to the task, which might include communications, clerical work, office supplies, accountant, etc.

At the end of the day, your rate should reflect your expected cost, along with your desired revenue. The trick here is that you to keep a competitive rate, so for it all to make sense you have to plan for selling a minimum number of hours, which cover your overhead expenses and leave enough to pay for your time. If you hit the target you make money, if you miss it you make less (or perhaps lose money).

Bear in mind that giving too much information to the customer about what you are doing confuses them, and leads to unnecessary discussions that erode the relationship and might cost you your client. Keep it simple for the customer, and they will be happy to pay!

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