Billing Clients for Freelance or Side Projects: Sell Your Day, Not the Hours

Billing clients for your freelance work can be difficult. An interesting new theory may help you avoid arguing about how much work you did, and when.

Instead of telling a potential client how many hours it’ll take to finish the project they’re hiring you for, freelancer Andy Adams suggests billing for days:

Don’t bill hourly. Bill by day or by week. Billing a daily rate allows you to avoid wasting time tracking time, and makes it a lot easier to focus on 1 project at a time. Estimates are also much easier to make in daily increments.

It’s an interesting concept that just might work. It’s essentially a ‘retainer rate,’ just broken down into more manageable chunks. With retainer rates, clients are often billed for a week or month rather than hours. It’s great for larger projects (and let’s be honest, clients with deep pockets) but not always applicable to the bulk of your client’s wants or needs.

But a day rate… that could do the trick. One caveat is this method of billing is best for experienced developers who are certain about how much time a project will take. The last thing you want to do is promise a three-day turnaround, then work 15-hour days to meet client expectations all because you were a bit cocky about your skillset.

So how do you sell this to clients? It can be difficult, especially if your ‘day rate’ is higher than a going hourly rate. But suggesting your attention won’t be diverted by other projects may be your strongest case. It’s also smart to let clients know you’re able to turn a project around faster, as your focus will be on their needs for a pre-determined time.

This is also a variation on a ‘flat fee’ argument. Freelancers and clients know that billing hours can get tenuous; clients want to know how much freelancers got done, why it took ‘x’ number of hours, and how many more hours they need to finish the project (and, more critically, why it’s so far over the estimate). A ‘day rate’ is similar to a flat fee, and negates many of those thorny, detail-oriented discussions over how you’re spending every minute.

In other words, you won’t have to parse billable hours, and that saves you time. There are plenty of apps that help freelancers track the hours they spend on projects, but a day-rate is a much more straightforward method (and if you’re looking for some inside baseball, larger clients will find your flat fee a much easier sell to their accounting department).

It won’t work for every project or client, especially if an existing client simply needs you to add a feature to an app or service you’ve worked on previously. But even if you make a concession to bill for half a day in those instances, it’s still far simpler than tracking and billing hours.

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