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If you do consulting/freelancing as a software developer, should you charge your client on time spent on planning?

By planning I mean long phone calls, on-site meetings, etc.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, GlenH7, MichaelT, Bart van Ingen Schenau, amon Aug 10 '14 at 15:00

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

What does your contract say? –  MichaelT Aug 7 '14 at 22:28
Why wouldn't you? –  Dunk Aug 7 '14 at 22:32
Someone has to pay. It's either the consultant or the client. –  user61852 Aug 7 '14 at 22:41
By contributing your expertise to the planning effort you are adding value to the client's project. They should pay for that added value. If they don't want to pay they shouldn't invite you to planning meetings. –  Michael Green Aug 7 '14 at 23:18
possible duplicate of Freelancers: How Do You Go About Gathering Requirements? –  gnat Aug 9 '14 at 14:01

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Think of the 'legal' model of charging.

Many lawyers/solicitors, etc. bill (in the UK) in 15 minute units, rounded up.

If they are not giving value for money, good lawyers will say so. Otherwise, their time is money.

Same for you.

My experience is, clients often do not value anything they get for free.

So contributing to a plan for free may actually allow the client to feel okay when they ignore your advice.

It might even be useful to have the discussion around charging more for planning, because that is a project management skill, which is typically more expensive than development (when it's well done). Be ready to back down to your normal rate, if you don't want to take full ownership of the plan, but instead are only contributing your time to building a plan.

Edit: Another benefit of having a 'my time costs money' discussion early on with a client, is when they ask for something, they are likely to have had a think about paying you, and if you ever do do something for free, you can explain why, and they are more likely to appreciate it.

Sometimes, when people do some things for free, and payment for others, clients get confused, even suspicious. Depending on their industry, they might even assume 'free' is when you did something wrong.

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+1, but I disagree on upcharging for planning. In my experiences on both sides of the table, planning and project management always are charged at a significantly lower rate than design and programming. –  Ross Patterson Aug 10 '14 at 13:27
@Ross Patterson - I think it depends on the client's industry, and how good they are at project planning and management. Some organisations see project management as a business consulting role; "the thing which ensures it all happens well". IMHO great project managers (PM) ensures teams are happy and productive, and clients get very good value for money. I remember a projects where the client adored the PM because he ensured everything they paid for was valuable. The team adored him, because they enjoyed a productive relationship with the client. He was expensive; the client was happy to pay. –  gbulmer Aug 10 '14 at 13:45
@Ross Patterson - Thank you very much for the feedback, and the +1 :-) If you don't mind me asking, what industry and technology are you in where project management is cheaper than development? I have worked for small and large 'System integrators', and software product vendors with large consulting groups since 1990. I've worked in discrete and continuous manufacturing, retail, investment banking, insurance, and software product development. We developed mission critical, and safety critical applications, and system integrations. Often very hi-tech. I never experienced that charging model. –  gbulmer Aug 10 '14 at 13:52
Various forms of software development, over the last 35 years. The contracts I'm thinking of were always either bespoke development, outsourced development, or subject matter expert advice, and the PM side of it was never more than 75% of the "actual work" rate, and often less. –  Ross Patterson Aug 10 '14 at 17:20
@Ross Patterson. Thank you for the feedback. Fascinating. My experience is bespoke development, outsourced development, or subject matter expert advice too. My commercial work from 1979 to 1990 I had no control over rates, and rarely knew it. I have no rates for PM then. However even then, my impression was PMs cost more than development. Might it be a geographic thing? I was UK based and am now, though I worked from the late 90's through much of the '00s in the USA. From the 90's onwards, I was sufficiently senior that I cost more than PMs. However, PMs were more than 'standard' developers –  gbulmer Aug 10 '14 at 17:45

Absolutely - planning is time consuming and effort. If it's done well, it also helps to reduce development time.

For some reason, though, some software clients (particularly web software) see planning as a waste of time.

So, it comes down to how you charge:

  • Either be upfront, charge the planning time separate to development;
  • or pad out your development charges to cover your time planning
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Of note, some firms call it "discovery." For large projects it may broken out into a distinct contract that determines parameters for the "main" contract. That gives both the company and the consultant an opportunity to adjust their budgets or part ways before starting on something bigger than anticipated. –  svidgen Aug 8 '14 at 0:51


Unless you are a novice. If you are trying to learn the craft then you might want to take on a few freebie consulting gigs to build your confidence.

If you are an expert then demand an expert price. Do not dilute your value.

So, how long does it take to become an expert? 10,000 hours.

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as long as the result of the planning effort is some deliverable artifact, something that has a value for the customer.

If you produce a 3 pages long document describing what will be included, acceptance tests (the definition of done), milestones, risks, options weighted and tossed away and why..

which the customer can agree with and sign..

then it is totally valid to say:

...in order to create this document I had to make XY phone calls, YZ meetings + 2 man/days of pure invisible thinking + reusing experience learned in the past 10years etc.

..this was the cost and you should pay for it


If you would charge the client for just spending time by talking, with no deliverable artifact, if the only result would be a vague promise that sometime in the future the client will get something concrete

This kind of time spending can not be considered work worth the wedge.

Unfortunatelly there are companies that hire people that do exactly this, just talking, wasting other people's time in meetings without any meeting minutes, followup actions without any result. Just wandering in circles. And yet they charge the employer big sums of money for just making "management" impression. I was working in such companies for several times and I have met such people.

Please don't join this dark side of the common sense.

55 "funny ecards" from the world of people I'm talking about in this footnote are available at http://www.projectmanagement.com/blog/Project-Management-2.0/6966/

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