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I'm not talking about fixed price jobs, they're fairly straightforward. But i'm on about an hourly rate project, my question specifically relates to what to charge for. If i have an IE/CSS issue that takes me an hour of scouring CSS to fix, is that chargeable? If i decide to use a really cool jQuery animation on their site but i need to get to grips with using it, do i charge them for the experimenting i do with the animation. Do you charge customers for something that they ask for, that you dont know about and therefore need to spend time learning?

Its a grey area as far as i'm concerned and not clearly outlined in quotes (probably because not many clients would be happy to pay for your screw-up/learning)

Whats the concensus on this?

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4 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

As a web developer myself who has done pricing mechanisms like this, I usually charge a little less as a general rule to keep customers happy and coming back as well as spreading the word about me. You really shouldn't think about charging for as much as you can until you have more customers than you can handle.

Having said this, it really all depends on the circumstances surrounding your questions.

  • If i have an IE/CSS issue that takes me an hour of scouring CSS to fix, is that chargeable?

Is this "issue" a bug in your coding? If so, you are obligated to fix your bugs at no additional charge. Or is this "issue" adding in a feature you really didn't know how to add in before starting your project? If so, I still wouldn't charge anything because you learned something from the experience and will be able to do it easily for your next customer. It's your fault that it took you an irregular amount of time to do, not your customer.

  • If i decide to use a really cool jQuery animation on their site but i need to get to grips with using it, do i charge them for the experimenting i do with the animation. Do you charge customers for something that they ask for, that you dont know about and therefore need to spend time learning

Like I said for the first bullet, I personally wouldn't charge them for this since you learned something from this. Besides, the jQuery animation was your idea, not your customers. Unless you specifically told them prior to hiring that it would cost extra for you to do this because it is something that you do not normally do, it's not appropriate to charge extra for it in my opinion.

Based on your questions I would strongly recommend trying to agree on a price prior to creating your customers website; Even if it's just a price per hour. If they ask for additional features as you develop it then that is one of the few valid excuses to charge extra. Remember that your customer is paying you so that you can perform a service you enjoy doing and you are not trapped washing dishes to make money. If you treat them poorly and try to get as much out of them as you can they will figure it out and they will look elsewhere.

I hope this helps. Good luck down the road!

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+1 - I would also add that the OP was the one who decided to do the cool jQuery animation and not the customer and that I think it would be totally taking advantage of a customer to learn something new (if the OP charged for that of course!) –  Jetti Jan 20 '11 at 16:33
    
Added, thanks for the suggestion! –  Rob S. Jan 20 '11 at 17:01
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I would disagree with being obligated to fix bugs at no extra charge, given a generally competent approach to the project; bugs are a part of the development process. –  Greg Apr 15 '11 at 17:23
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As an independant contractor, you should make sure your hourly rate is high enough to account for time you need to spend not directly related to a project, this includes learning time as well as accounting, marketing, proposal devlopment, bug fixes for delivered products and other indirect tasks. So you indirectly charge for these things not charge by the hour. Your hourly rate should assume you don't work 40 hours a week at chargeable tasks (6 hours a day is a pretty standard cost estimating number), so plan your hourly rate so you can live on charging 6 hours a day 5 days a week directly to customers. You may charge more in any given week, but you don't want to be unable to meet your personal living expenses because you had a week when you did less.

As to the specifics of what you charge for, that depends on what your contract has as the spec. If you have contracted to do something that will include a learning piece and the customer is aware that as part of the project you will be learing how to do something, then feel free to directly charge for it. If you decided on your own to learn that new cool tool rather than doing something the way you already know how to do it, then consider that learning as indirect work. Same with bug fixes, if you have not yet delivered a product, testing andbug fixes are generally included in your orginal time estimate. Fix bugs on an existing product as indirect work unless the customer has specifically contracted with you to do those changes.

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+1: The way I view the scenario is that you should charge however much it would take to pay you + pay the person who has to manage you + pay the person who would be assisting you on anything not directly task-related. –  mummey Jan 20 '11 at 19:48
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Strangely enough I think it depends on how much you are charging per hour. If you ask for $120/hr I would expect that everything you do creates an immediate and beneficial result; if you are charging $50/hr that means there is a chance they will have to pay for trial/error and learning. In the end it is up to your own discretion - if you learned something you can apply somewhere else, just take it as a "business expense"; if you learned something because that client asked you for some oddball feature then it is fair to ask for them to pay for R&D.

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Charge for what you know, not what you need to learn.

You wouldn't expect the mechanic to learn how to rebuild your engine and charge you for it would you?

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No, but if he could replace my engine and then i ask him to give it Delorean style doors, would it not be understandable for him to brush up on his skills on that specific request? –  benhowdle89 Jan 20 '11 at 16:08
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@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Cars and their coupled technologies change each and every year. This is the reason that a fixed time is charged out for specific task at a dealer. It is not my wallets job to make sure your mechanics are up to speed on the latest technology. –  Aaron McIver Jan 20 '11 at 16:12
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@benhowdle89 Sure; brush up your skills. Making it known that you are charging me to brush up your skills however would have me miffed. –  Aaron McIver Jan 20 '11 at 16:14
    
Agreed they should be up front, but if a mechanic tells me they'll 'take a look at it' even though this isn't their area of expertise and save me the trouble of taking the car to the other side of town, I would probably go for it. –  JeffO Jan 20 '11 at 16:59
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@benhodle89, A reputable mechanic would refuse the work. That's the job of a body shop. It requires different tools, environment and expertise. –  Berin Loritsch Jan 20 '11 at 17:09
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