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Is it ethical to charge per hour on task that should take minutes?

     
2:48 am on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Sometimes I get client requests, like "put something here" or "make this do that" etc....

I use Drupal, and it has 49 000 modules, + all frameworks, updates, browsers, hosting...and list goes on...sometimes a task that can take a few minutes IF you know how to do it, and IF it all works perfectly...but it winds up taking hours, once you know how to do it and all in place, it takes minutes to execute the requirement.

So basically, doing the work took say, 4 hours, but the part that needed to be done takes half hour....

Is it ok to bill the client for straight time? Is my research and troubleshooting options to get things done (some of it because I don't know, new problem) worth charging?

What are your thoughts on that?
2:57 am on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I do Drupal and Wordpress, web security, wash dishes and take out the garbage. I'd charge the 4 hours because you never know if something will pop up that you need to check. Do you check the raw access log to see if anyone is trying to break in? Are all your modules up to date? Do they need to be updated? If you can save time then I do a more thorough check of other aspects of the site that I normally do not have time to do. Google Webmaster Tools? SEO? Drupal logs? Honeypot?

If it does not go well you plan for worst case scenario and you are covered. If it does go well you have the luxury of doing further checking, updating and other site improvements.
3:32 am on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I think most services have a minimum charge. I do.
3:39 am on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Is it ethical to charge per hour on task that should take minutes?
Itís ethical if you do it. If your plumber does it, itís outrageous.

Setting a miminum amount (say, $x per 15-minute increment, with a 2-hour minimum) is common or even standard practice in just about any business you can name. If you choose to waive the minimum for an established customer whom you like and want to keep, thatís entirely up to you. Just donít advertise it.

Years ago I had a student who moonlighted as a telephone psychic.* She got paid by the minute, so-and-so-many cents per ... but you can bet the callers were assessed a hefty minimum just for dialing the number.


* I was going to say ďphone sexĒ, but fortunately memory kicked in and I got it right.
7:10 am on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I am retired now but I used to have a minimum charge, If a regular client came to me and asked for something that took say ten minutes I would often waive it. If it was something that could take an indeterminate time I used to tell them this and put a time range on it. For example I would say that it could take from one to a max of four hours.

You should never be afraid to charge for having to research a method to make something work in a specific way. There is no web designer who knows everything.
9:24 am on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I think you have to have a minimum charge for a new customer, just for time taken to look around, and for nasty surprises.

For an existing customer, if they are doing ongoing work, I charge by time taken in one minute increments.
9:58 am on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I agree with graeme_p.

If you have a new costumer it takes some time to take a look around and make it correctly.

However for regular client I wouldn't give full bill (4 hrs) but minutes. A regular client can also give another task / job in the future.
10:16 am on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Welcome back tomve.
11:41 am on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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You charge what you think your time is worth.

Old story/joke with a lot of truth for any service industry: customer calls a plumber because water supply is not working properly. Plumber walks in, looks under sink, takes out hammer and whacks the pipe. Water supply works properly. Customer thanks plumber and asks how much he owes. Plumber says 100 ducats. What, says customer. You just walked in and hit a pipe. It only took a few seconds. Sure, says the plumber. You owe me 5 ducats for hitting the pipe and 95 ducats for knowing where to hit it.
12:02 pm on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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You may find if you are too generous, customers will try to take advantage of you. I have set service contracts that bill regular customers in "30 minute/part there of" increments. Otherwise, I charge a minimum of 4 hours as, like it has been stated before, you do not always know what you are getting in to. A lot of time can be sent researching a problem and communicating with a client and that should not be forgotten when it comes to billing.
1:19 pm on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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keyplyr: thank you for welcoming me back :)

stever: this joke make me always smile. On the other hand I would say it's not fair to give a regular costumer bill for 100 ducats.

Marshall: You're completely right about the advantage. I was fool like that and it brought me only headaches.
3:29 pm on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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This question crosses many industries. A family member who works in residential construction says it's usually straightforward to estimate the material costs for a building project, but much harder to estimate the work hours. Especially for renovations!

His approach is to estimate high, then charge less if the task takes less time than projected. Customers usually feel fairly treated by that.

Try hard to avoid ugly surprises. If something is going to cost more than estimated, keep the customer informed along the way, don't just present them with an invoice bigger than they expected. Most folks will hate that.
4:04 pm on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I charge higher amounts for actual programming work and less for discovery or research, especially if its just searching modules etc. I do not feel right charging 50$ per hour while I search google or code canyon...
4:48 pm on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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You have a rate. Your time (and knowledge) is valuable. Charge for it. OTHERWISE you should charge by the piece (turnkey-negotiated job).

Ethics has nothing to do with it. Supply/Demand.

I am reminded of a sign at my auto-mechanic's:

$75.00 per hour, parts extra.
$150.00 per hour, parts extra, if you stay and watch.

What you do not want to do is be inconsistent in your pricing to existing customers (or new ones). Have a rate, set it, and forget it.
6:59 pm on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I always have to remind myself...

Customers Are Not Friends

Otherwise my pricing standards become useless.
9:30 pm on May 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Customers Are Not Friends
Over on {site that can remain nameless} thereís a running gag about the Family And Friends rate ... which should be at least twice your ordinary rate.
7:05 am on May 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Back when I did professional design work, I based my hourly rate on 15 minute increments. So when I said I charged $100 / hour, I really charged $25 / quarter hour.

What I DIDN'T charge for was the time it took to read the email, decipher their gibberish and figuring out what they wanted, and the time it took to reply. Even when the change itself might only take a minute, it almost always took 30 minutes or more of other work just to get there.

It wasn't uncommon for me to waive this fee for more profitable customers... but I still put it on the invoice, then negated it so that they could see that I had intentionally done it for free.


Over on {site that can remain nameless} thereís a running gag about the Family And Friends rate ... which should be at least twice your ordinary rate.

I've been self employed since I was 19 (I'm now 42), and I learned something early on in my first business:

Real friends don't ask for discounts, but offer to pay more than you're asking

If I had stuck to that rule, my first business might still be going!
 

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