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  1. #1
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    Billing for Phone Calls

    Interested in your thoughts:

    We bill our Clients for support, in 15 minute blocks. We also have an online support system and the way these are differentiated is: if the question is a simple "yes or no" answer or the reply is brief, and the client submits the question online, generally we won't bill.

    But if that same question comes by phone it's always billable.

    That concept is simple and enforceable. However with web consulting, there's a fine borderline between "pre-sales" and consulting.

    Example of Support:

    "How can I insert this (HTML) onto this page"

    Example of Pre-Sales:

    "I've signed up for this [insert affiliate scheme here], do you think it's a good idea, how can we put it on the site"

    Of course, not all such calls result in a "sale" or any actual work and can take an hour or more. We want to spend the time with the Client to help them make the right choice, but can't do that for everyone for nothing.

    However Clients in general expect a bill for *deliverables*, not just *phone calls*.

    Where do you draw the line?
    dt digital : internet design & consultancy

  2. #2
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DTMark
    Of course, not all such calls result in a "sale" or any actual work and can take an hour or more. We want to spend the time with the Client to help them make the right choice, but can't do that for everyone for nothing.

    However Clients in general expect a bill for *deliverables*, not just *phone calls*.

    Where do you draw the line?
    Years ago, I learned something interesting about job interviews, a step in the process that none of the headhunters I dealt with thought to notice. But it's true.

    There are two stages of every job interview. The first is the one we all know and love: the grilling. Handcuffed to a bare metal chair in a dark room, lit only by a swinging naked light bulb, tell us all your secrets, convince us you're worthy of working here, yadda yadda yadda, yabba dabba doo - what we all think of as "the" interview. This goes on for an hour maybe and then, at the end when you're completely exhausted, they ask if you have any questions. Just wanting to go home at that point, you mutter something about health benefits and they hand you a brochure and that's the end of it.

    What I learned - I did a lot of these things back in my tech contracting days - was that nothing in the interview mattered until they asked, "Do you have any questions for us?" Everything before that was drama and politics; after that point, you're in complete control of the interview, and it's your turn to grill them. Even if you thoroughly made an idiot of yourself over the last hour, you could still win it here. I'd always start by zeroing on their biggest problem and probing them for details on that, shifting the momentum back in my favor. I'd almost never ask about benefits packages. As an interview technique, it proved very effective.

    I do the same thing now on presale calls; if the prospect has the momentum to hit me up for free advice, I'm doing something wrong. That means I'm not in control of the conversation. Instead, I keep the agenda, hitting them up for intelligence and carefully controlling the information I reveal in return. My goal in that call is to leave them with a sense that I truly understand their problem, not that I'm willing to solve it for free.

    I also remember that in the presale call, I'm trying to determine whether I want them as a client. I turn away quite a few prospects - I can usually sniff out a loser in about ten or fifteen minutes of solid questioning. The winners are actually valuable sources of market intel, worth the conversation anyway.

    In terms of billing, everything prior to the signature is on my dime, and everything after is on theirs. All phone time gets billed, and I make sure my clients know that up front. If they want to spend the first twenty hours of the project neurosing to me over the phone, they're going to pay me to be their therapist.

  3. #3
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    It's definitely a problem. You're always going to get existing clients ringing up with a brainwave for a new site feature, and quite frequently the entire process can involve a couple of phone calls and several emails so that the client can get an idea of costs and spec, only for them to decide to not bother leaving you with a few hours of wasted time.

    I've found the best way to handle this is to ask the client if they would like to arrange an official consultation (phone or in person) at some point in the next couple of days to discuss their ideas - this formalises the whole situation nicely and also makes the client realise that I can't just drop everything and spend the next hour on the phone to them. I will then explain/remind them that consulting costs me time and should they not decide to move forward with this new project, I will have to bill them for this initial consulting. If they do move forward, then there's no charge for consulting (of course, I recoup that in the total price I quote them for the actual work).

    This works well if you already have the 'right' type of client. Some clients will never wear this as they don't respect your time, or only respect it if you are physically 'making' something for them and instead consider consulting a 'cost of doing business'. I tend to avoid those types of clients whenever possible.

  4. #4
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    Ask yourself, at any given moment, 'am I doing something for me, or for someone else - (client)?'. If you are working with a client, dispensing advice, sounding out a project, etc, then it's billable time. If your yammering on about last night's big game, it's personal.

    Now, *how* you bill for that time spent on behalf of client efforts needs to be spelled out before you ever sign on dotted line (I'm thinking post-production support). The above posts deal with that nicely.

    If it's pre-sales, and you feel a long research time sink coming along, stop the presses after 20 minutes, and shift to consultative sale approach (again, earlier posts deal with the how-to's nicely)

    We, as a community of professionals, have to stop giving away our time, and buying into the notion (along with so many 'clients') that what we do is 'free', and/or a commodity (ie: "anyone can do this webstuff; hell, I could learn HTML in 24 hrs, says so at Barnes & Noble, so I don't really value your time, Mr. Web Guy, but I want to waste the next 2 hours as a mumble-bumble-fumble through a half-baked idea, without charge).

    Resist the urge. Ask them when they last worked for free. Ask them when their accountant or lawyer or plumber or contractor or anyone else they know worked for free. Grow a pair, dammit! (ha ha, falling off soap box now).

  5. #5
    SitePoint Evangelist Unit7285's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WithinReach
    ...a mumble-bumble-fumble through a half-baked idea...
    Ha! That made me laugh. Spot on description!

    Paul

  6. #6
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    Thanks for your replies: this has been really helpful, some good ideas to take away.
    dt digital : internet design & consultancy


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