Friday, April 25, 2008

There's the hourly cost, and the cost of the job

I've come to the conclusion that hourly rates are meaningless, and the only thing that matters to clients in the end is the cost of the job. Yet so many still demand an hourly rate - and, since mine comes across as quite expensive (particularly for writing jobs), I'm ever more reluctant to provide it.

One of my clients has recently moved jobs. Over the past five years, I've always quoted a project fee for his work - and nearly always come in under the original estimate. But his new employer is demanding day/hour rates for all suppliers, and up to last week, that had lost me a couple of small pieces of work.

Last week though we had a chance to discuss a piece of work and I was able to show him - and his boss - how hourly rates were meaningless.

As context to the conversation, he was talking about having to let one freelance go. Her rate seemed good and the examples of her work on her website were excellent - yet when she'd actually taken on some work for his new company, it had gone back and forth between client and writer half a dozen times before the job was finally signed off. The end result was that the final cost was rather more than expected - even though the client had refused to pay some of the hours invoiced by the writer.

He was looking to put another piece of work out when we spoke, and said he'd already had a quote from another writer/editor - five days for the work at £300 a day. My rate's somewhat higher than that, but I asked to see the brief to see if I could possibly compete. Frankly, I had doubts that I could make what seemed to be five days work make sense commercially.

When I got the brief, I couldn't see how the other writer could stretch the project to five days. Even though it would be new ground for me, the interviews were set up; there was a comprehensive brief of what was required, and the final product wouldn't run to more than a couple of thousand words.

Allowing for interviews, write-up and approvals, I priced the work at two days at my normal rate - cost-wise, less than my rival's five.

In the end, it took me a shade over a day and a half to complete the project. It was signed off with minimal changes and the client, his boss and their internal client were all extremely pleased.

At the outset, the client had looked happy to pay £1,500 for a five day job based on a low day rate. My final bill was £862.50 based on a day rate almost double my rival's - yet the client got the result they wanted three days earlier than expected.

So, now do I continue to try and quote for projects, or simply quote half my normal rate and twice the time for the job?

In the end, we're not all robots producing widgets and it's about balancing quality, speed and price.

Generally, I can produce high quality, quickly - but the clients will have to pay for it. Or I can produce the goods just as effectively a little more slowly for a little less. But what I can't do is weave the magic at high speed for peanuts.........and I'm not sure that any decent communicator can!

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