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  1. #1
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    Do you have a minimum charge for small updates?

    I frequently get emails from clients with small updates regardless whether they have a CMS or not. I try to keep track of all these small changes because in terms of time, it adds up! I keep files and invoice perhaps once a year if is just a few hours here and there but when time has passed I always feel silly for charging a full hour for something that perhaps took 10 minutes, but these small changes and edits can be quite stressful at the moment and disruptive to productivity.

    If you count receiving the email, trying to understand what the client says, perhaps a follow up question, opening project files, loggin in to ftp or cms, emailing the client back to tell the change was done, then try to get back into whatever I was doing, we are no longer talking about 10 minutes...

    Several years ago a prospective client I met with complained about a quote they had received from another consultant because their minimum charge for change requests was three hours. This stuck in my mind as a good idea, but not something I have implemented. I would be interested in knowing how others handle this.

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    I don't do small changes, so I can't really speak to it from a "this is what I do" experience, but if I were to implement such a feature into my tool set, I'd set a minimum charge purely for the reasons you mentioned.

    I also would likely go with a 3 or higher hour minimum. Why? Because I want the client to bundle as many small changes at once to be worth my time and theirs. Why pay me 3 hours to do a 10 minute change, when you can pay me 3 hours for doing 6 items that took me closer to the full 3 hours of work I quoted. Unfortunately, I think most consultant don't explain very well why they charge a minimum of 3 hours and how that is actually beneficial to their client as well as themselves.

    If you do implement such a policy, don't make that mistake, explain the benefits to your clients, how it helps them and how it helps you.
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  3. #3
    SitePoint Evangelist ramone_johnny's Avatar
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    Here's a few suggestions.

    1. Put them on a recurring monthly maintenance payment plan.
    2. Get paid first! Sell chunks of time. (eg 5 hours $450, 10 hours $900 etc) Make them pay in advance. Dont sell 1 or 2 hours ...its not worth it.
    3. Consider charging a priority surcharge. If they want it "right now" add 20% to your rates.
    4. If a client gives you drama about charging for bits and pieces - GET RID OF THEM.

    As you said, there is no such thing as a 10 minute change.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by cpradio View Post
    I don't do small changes, so I can't really speak to it from a "this is what I do" experience, but if I were to implement such a feature into my tool set, I'd set a minimum charge purely for the reasons you mentioned.

    I also would likely go with a 3 or higher hour minimum. Why? Because I want the client to bundle as many small changes at once to be worth my time and theirs. Why pay me 3 hours to do a 10 minute change, when you can pay me 3 hours for doing 6 items that took me closer to the full 3 hours of work I quoted. Unfortunately, I think most consultant don't explain very well why they charge a minimum of 3 hours and how that is actually beneficial to their client as well as themselves.

    If you do implement such a policy, don't make that mistake, explain the benefits to your clients, how it helps them and how it helps you.
    Communication is absolutely the key when implementing a policy like this! I am sure a good sales person can turn it around to why it's a benefit for the client.

    I don't want to do these changes either, but I am not sure how to say no them either? It feels like it is part of giving reasonable customer service. Most of my clients are great people to deal with and if they need a change urgently I don't feel that it would be appropriate to tell them to wait until they have 6 updates. And if I told them to hire someone else for small updates I am sure I would eventually loose their business. Most my business these days is repeat business and I find it more profitable than constantly working with new clients. I guess it all depends on one's situation. I am a one person company so I don't have anyone else to hand over these less skilled tasks to.

  5. #5
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    I do appreciate that it's not practical for a client to 'build up' several requests before they contact you. I'd suggest one or more of the following:

    1 - CMS. Most minor updates can be handled by the client themselves, no need to contact you. You provide initial on site training at a tasty daily rate, and provide an ongoing support contract for £xxx per year. Reality is the client probably won't contact you after the first three months (in my experience), but they'll continue to pay, especially if you lump it in with some hosting and regular software update and backup service (i.e. updating to new version of wordpress etc)

    2. Rather than charge a minimum fee, tell the client that the clock starts the moment you receive the email/phone call about the update request.

    3. Set up update packages, where clients buy your time in blocks and get priority over those who don't pay upfront. Or provide a prioritised monthly 'hours' package, use it or lose it.

    The key is to really push your clients into these monthly/annual deals, as it's great recurring income, it lets you plan your time better, and it means you give your customers a better service. If you get a client who doesn't want to pay monthly, let them buy x hours in advance.

    But ideally, lump it all in to a hosting/support/update/seo package, with guaranteed response times and you'll soon have a decent 5 figure income just for these packages. Then look at outsourcing or hiring someone to deal with all the little support/update requests and you get to concentrate on the bigger picture.


    Quote Originally Posted by exodo View Post
    Communication is absolutely the key when implementing a policy like this! I am sure a good sales person can turn it around to why it's a benefit for the client.

    I don't want to do these changes either, but I am not sure how to say no them either? It feels like it is part of giving reasonable customer service. Most of my clients are great people to deal with and if they need a change urgently I don't feel that it would be appropriate to tell them to wait until they have 6 updates. And if I told them to hire someone else for small updates I am sure I would eventually loose their business. Most my business these days is repeat business and I find it more profitable than constantly working with new clients. I guess it all depends on one's situation. I am a one person company so I don't have anyone else to hand over these less skilled tasks to.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by exodo View Post
    Communication is absolutely the key when implementing a policy like this! I am sure a good sales person can turn it around to why it's a benefit for the client.

    I don't want to do these changes either, but I am not sure how to say no them either? It feels like it is part of giving reasonable customer service. Most of my clients are great people to deal with and if they need a change urgently I don't feel that it would be appropriate to tell them to wait until they have 6 updates. And if I told them to hire someone else for small updates I am sure I would eventually loose their business. Most my business these days is repeat business and I find it more profitable than constantly working with new clients. I guess it all depends on one's situation. I am a one person company so I don't have anyone else to hand over these less skilled tasks to.
    I can understand that. I make it clear with my clients up front, that my freelance business handles specialty projects and doesn't perform routine maintenance. I then give them a list of local businesses that "do" handle routine maintenance/upgrades that I consider to be both quality work and a fair price. So that is why I wanted to be sure you knew "I'm not talking from my own experience, per say, as I'm not in the business of maintenance and small updates".

    @ramone_johnny ; suggestion is good too, maintenance plans are good for this type of scenario, but they really only benefit the client, if the client will have routine maintenance they need done every month (just my opinion).

    I also like @shadowbox ;'s recommendation
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  7. #7
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    Thank you both ramone_johnny and shadowbox. I appreciate your responses very much. I replied to ramone_johnny earlier today but unfortunately that reply disappeared.

    I am glad you both reminded me about the prepaid hours or update packages. A long time ago I tried the prepaid hours on a client that was a really slow payer and that I didn't mind loosing and that worked great. And then I forgot all about it...

    They all have CMSs but many of them still want me to do the updates...

    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox View Post
    The key is to really push your clients into these monthly/annual deals, as it's great recurring income, it lets you plan your time better, and it means you give your customers a better service. If you get a client who doesn't want to pay monthly, let them buy x hours in advance.
    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox View Post
    But ideally, lump it all in to a hosting/support/update/seo package, with guaranteed response times and you'll soon have a decent 5 figure income just for these packages. Then look at outsourcing or hiring someone to deal with all the little support/update requests and you get to concentrate on the bigger picture.
    Based on ramone's earlier comment I have been thinking long and hard about this today, and an idea along these lines kind of occurred to me.

    My problem is the inner debate I am having regarding this issue. Every time I get one of these emails I feel that I have to be compensated somehow for just being there when they happen to need the updates and being able to do them in a reasonable amount of time.

    Me sitting in front of my desk and being available for support, with all the business expenses that involves (salary, insurance, office costs, computers, internet etc etc) is not exactly free if you add it all up and should be worth something. The alternative would be taking on so much work that I would have to say no to doing updates.

    On the other hand, my local car repair shop wouldn't send me an invoice for prepaid hours in case I ever need my car repaired. But on the other hand, a company that installs an elevator would and having a friend in that business I know it is in the service agreements, not the installation, they make their money.

    I guess the key term here is "support agreements" and "response times" because when I get overwhelmed I don't always respond to emails and then I get two or three (angry) emails requesting the same things and that adds to my stress levels and this is bad customer service, regardless.

    Sorry for rambling on. Both ramone and shadowbox already put it so much more eloquently. I am just trying to get this straight in my own head so I can work up the 'courage' to suggest this to customers. When I am 100% convinced myself I normally never have a problem with getting clients onboard.

    Also,I place a very high value on recurring business and repeat clients and this is why I don't mind doing silly little updates. At least in theory, the problem is finding the time. But if I could allocate enough time to do them, it wouldn't be a problem.

  8. #8
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    I always do small changes, whatever the client requires or any additional help he wants. I think if you are supportive, client will be long term and would keep coming back to you.
    This site is the go-to place for web designs.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by exodo View Post
    My problem is the inner debate I am having regarding this issue. Every time I get one of these emails I feel that I have to be compensated somehow for just being there when they happen to need the updates and being able to do them in a reasonable amount of time.
    In the UK, most accountants operate a model in which they charge an annual or monthly fee and that will include specified task throughout the year. My accountant charges me £700/yr and for that I get my accounts prepared company tax return submitted and a few other things. But because he gets this guaranteed income from me, if I fire off some emails with some questions throughout the year, he's happy to answer at no charge. If you were getting a regular monthly payment from your client, you'd feel the same.

    Also to touch on the minimum fee issue, my accountant bills £100/hr, and if I do ask him to do something that's out of scope of what he feels is covered by my yearly payment, I would always expect the cost to be at least £100. There's no fanfare, no bold statements about what a hassle it is to do these extra jobs for me. And even if it somehow takes him less than an hour, I would still expect him to charge me a minimum of £100. He doesn't bill in minutes and I'm not naive enough to think that even the simplest job can be done in 5 minutes. It's just a reasonable expectation, so personally I think it's fine if you just bill in hours and I think your clients will be fine with it to.

    What I don't believe is that many clients are going to accept a 3 hour minimum, because that doesn't sound reasonable at all, it's quite an aggressive stance.


    Me sitting in front of my desk and being available for support, with all the business expenses that involves (salary, insurance, office costs, computers, internet etc etc) is not exactly free if you add it all up and should be worth something. The alternative would be taking on so much work that I would have to say no to doing updates.
    That doesn't make much sense to me. If you had no work, you'd still be racking up all those expenses. Also I think you need to start viewing the update requests as an opportunity, not a burden.

    On the other hand, my local car repair shop wouldn't send me an invoice for prepaid hours in case I ever need my car repaired.
    Maybe not 'Honest John's Garage' but all the local dealerships near me offer a monthly package that includes a specified number of repairs, parts, annual service, health check etc.

    I guess the key term here is "support agreements" and "response times" because when I get overwhelmed I don't always respond to emails and then I get two or three (angry) emails requesting the same things and that adds to my stress levels and this is bad customer service, regardless.
    Well, that's is a very easy problem to solve. You need to structure your workday better - back to my poor accountant again, he goes to work at 7.30am and spends the next 90 minutes dealing with all the crap, including emails. At 3pm, he sets aside 30 minutes to respond to the additional emails that he's received throughout the day. The key is to respond in a timely manner, even if it's 'Hi John, just to let you know I got your email and will get back to you in more detail first thing tomorrow'.

    You also need to ensure that your clients understand you do not work for them exclusively, you are not an employee, you have many other clients and projects to deal with. If a client is determined to adopt a pay-as-you-go model, they have to accept they will not get the same priority as the client who pays a regular update and maintenance fee. Make a point of holding back - if you get the call on Friday for example - 'yes, I can do that for you, no problem, I'll get that done next Wednesday.' If the client is not impressed, politely remind them that you deal with clients on priority support packages first. No big drama, just matter of fact.

    Once again back to my accountant, at no point did he ever offer me a 'pay as you go' model, from the beginning it was all about the annual contract. It might be worth you considering this model, because all in all, it's a lot less stressful for everyone.

    Also,I place a very high value on recurring business and repeat clients and this is why I don't mind doing silly little updates. At least in theory, the problem is finding the time. But if I could allocate enough time to do them, it wouldn't be a problem.
    Well they are only silly to you, pretty sure your client thinks they are important As such, they should be receptive to the benefits of paying for a monthly support package (IMO!). If you have xx clients on a x hour monthly package, you can at least get a good idea how much of your time to set aside every month for these priority requests. It's all about structuring your time, especially if you do everything on your own.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox View Post
    In the UK, most accountants operate a model in which they charge an annual or monthly fee and that will include specified task throughout the year. My accountant charges me £700/yr and for that I get my accounts prepared company tax return submitted and a few other things. But because he gets this guaranteed income from me, if I fire off some emails with some questions throughout the year, he's happy to answer at no charge. If you were getting a regular monthly payment from your client, you'd feel the same.
    The accountant business model is interesting and highly relevant to our field of work since many of them are self employed one man firms, just like "web designers" in lack of a better term. True, there has never been any discussions of anything other than a monthly or yearly fee with my accountants or bookkeeping firms either.

    I don't think I will ever be as structured as an accountant as to only read emails between certain hours etc, not my cup of tea, but a little structure in my day wouldn't hurt.

    I also realized after starting this thread that I need to view emails from clients as business opportunities rather than burdens. It is absolutely true.

    I think you are right about the three hour minimum charge being agressive, whereas a retainer or service agreement is pretty neutral. It is all about packaging and wording.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by exodo View Post
    I don't think I will ever be as structured as an accountant as to only read emails between certain hours etc, not my cup of tea, but a little structure in my day wouldn't hurt.
    TBH having that structure in place makes a massive difference. I think you'd be shocked how much time gets sapped out of your day by emails, phone, IM, posting on forums and general internet procrastination. It's even worse if you work from home. You should try it for a couple of weeks and spot the difference in your output. I think if you're a freelancer it's got to be a top priority - I'm not saying avoid, but try to limit these things to specific time frames throughout the day, so when you're working, you're working and fully focused without allowing any distraction.

  12. #12
    SitePoint Evangelist ramone_johnny's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by exodo View Post
    Thank you both ramone_johnny and shadowbox. I appreciate your responses very much. I replied to ramone_johnny earlier today but unfortunately that reply disappeared.
    No problem. Yeah I think a few of my comments were deleted. No idea why, I thought I was being quite helpful. *shrug....

    Quote Originally Posted by exodo View Post
    I am glad you both reminded me about the prepaid hours or update packages.
    I've learned from my own mentor that selling services in the form of "packages" works very well, because they are much less prone to scope creep and change requests. They set DEFINITIVE boundaries, which eliminates most problems.


    Quote Originally Posted by exodo View Post
    I am just trying to get this straight in my own head so I can work up the 'courage' to suggest this to customers.
    You have to change your mindset man. Worrying about "offending customers" because of the way you structure your business is wrong. If they don't like it - they can leave. You must be firm, because think about it - who is really losing in the end?

    ITS YOU.

    Because you're sitting there for hours on end, while they're probably at the beach or enjoying a nice dinner somewhere.


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