Thoughts on Engineering, Photography, and Design.

Hey, I'm Ryan Heath. I design & develop things for a living and play with cameras for fun. This is where I share my thoughts on all of that — and probably more — along the way.

I seem to always reference this concept.

How would you like your design?

Freelancers: Are You Billing Clients Like a Lawyer? If So, Stop.

Amy Hoy and Thomas Fuchs just may be the most impressive design & development duo on the internet. Amy’s designs are often so friendly you can’t help but smile and sign up, and Thomas, being the JavaScript mastermind that he is, adds some incredible UI touch.

To give something back, they’ve put up what they call Freelancember, which more-or-less gives advice to freelancers. And the design is the typical excellence we’ve come to expect from them. You should take a look.

With that said, this one kind of surprised me: Top 10 Things You’re Forgetting to Bill For. I just read it, so it’s still sinking in, but it did spawn the urge to write down a few thoughts regarding the topic.

Petty charges feel impersonal. I like to work on cool projects, but first and foremost, I like to work with cool people. People I’d like to be friends with. Putting something like “Copies & Faxes” on an invoice, to me, sends the message: we can never be friends, this is strictly a business relationship and you have to think twice before you give me a call (or send an email)–I’ll bill you for it!

Petty charges are a nightmare to keep track of. It’s hard enough trying to keep track of the time you’re actually working, it’s difficult to fathom recording every moment I think about a project, write an email, talk on the phone, make a copy, etc. Sure, I might be losing out on more income, but I’m not out to squeeze a client for every cent–I’m out to make a respectable living doing great work. That’s what makes me happy.

Petty charges cost more than they’re worth. In general, I think these petty charges cost far more than they’re worth, and not just monetarily speaking. Future work, recommendations, rewarding relationships, and so on are also at stake. People look out for friends, and it’s hard to imagine charging a friend for the gas you used driving to a meeting, isn’t it? Well, that goes both ways.

People like simple. A client would much rather get an invoice simplified down to expected services at a known cost. Mixing in erroneous expenses will add unnecessary complexity. Complexity leads to confusion, confusion leads to asking questions, and asking questions leads to distrust. Sure, you could add a few minutes to your other items, but that feels just as sleazy.

Now, I do understand the point they’re trying to make. If you sit down at your desk from 6pm to 11pm but only seem to accomplish a few simple tasks, it’s hard to eat 4 hours of personal time. There will undoubtedly be discussion, sketching, trial-and-error, etc. and it’s up to you to evaluate the situation. Sketching and productive design work? Sure. Writing up a contract and emailing it to a potential client? Absolutely not. That’s all I’m saying.

Just like I try to treat every project as if it were my own, I strive to treat every client the same way I would like to be treated. I’ve met some incredible people along the way, and have sustained solid relationships with great results. I personally don’t believe I would have gotten here if I billed my clients like a lawyer. Money isn’t the only way to be rewarded, remember that.

So, fellow freelancers: Lawyers can get away with billing that way because society has allowed them to set the expectation, but only another lawyer would think it’s not dirty to charge 4 minutes for an email reply. We’re not lawyers, so we shouldn’t bill as if we were.

While NOT charging for petty things may go unnoticed, I can assure you charging for them won’t. Think about the message you’re sending and ask yourself if it’s worth it.