A reader once asked me if she should bill the time she spends talking via Skype and writing emails to clients. Here’s part of her email:
“Should I bill time for Skype calls and writing emails to my clients when hired on an hourly basis? I have a project with only 8 hours monthly workload but this client holds me on Skype twice per month for at least 1 hour per session. Should I bill her for it?
The same question applies to email writing – should I bill her for that, too? I don’t charge for it but I want to know what the best practice is in such cases so that I take it in consideration when negotiating future projects with prospective clients.”
I would recommend billing the time you spend talking to clients on Skype.
In the above case, the freelancer has Skype meetings twice per month, during which they discuss work related matters. Not to charge for those calls is as if going to a work meeting at the office but only after working hours.
When discussing details on Skype with your client or team members is part of your job, it is only fair if the client pays for it. Here are a few examples from different professions when Skype calls should be billable time:
- A regular meeting to discuss blog editorial calendar
- Briefing type of meeting when you discuss the progress of the project or set new goals
- A real-time training session when the freelancer shows the client or teaches them how to do something; explains why the company should do something; and alike.
- A marketing consultant does a website review and gives recommendations in real-time
- A designer is taking notes and/or making changes on existing design in real time
- A programmer fixes bugs in real time
- Q&A testers test something in a real-time call
- A virtual assistant who is on a call between their client and a partner; the VA task is just to take notes for the record of the call, and so on.
In all these cases, freelancers should bill time to their clients for the time spent in Skype calls.
I cannot think of a situation when it’s not right to charge your client for talking with them on Skype. If you have such examples, please share them in the comments 😀
A very important note though – you need to communicate in advance your intention to charge your client for Skype calls.
If you know that talking with your client on Skype will be part of your regular work, agree on the billing before you enter the contract.
If the need to have regular calls arises after you started working on the project, communicate that need before you agree to have regular calls.
If for some reason you find yourself in the situation of having regular calls but not billing time for them, keep it as is. If you suddenly start charging your client for Skype calls, they might perceive it as extorting money for something they shouldn’t be paying you for.
If the time spent in calls increases (e.g. from 2 hours on a monthly basis the client starts asking for two calls per week), then you should start negotiations for getting paid for the time spent on Skype.
I have never had a client who refuses to pay for time spent in Skype calls.
If you work on an hourly basis, it’s easy – just log the time you spent on the call with your clients. But if you work on fixed price jobs, make sure you estimate the time you’d spent on Skype with your client and calculate it in the price quote prior to entering a contract with them.
With time and practice, you’ll become better at this type of estimation but if you are new to this type of calculations, here are a few examples relating to different professions:
- If you are a writer and it is part of the workflow to discuss your first draft of every article or blog post, make sure you get paid for the extra 30 or 60 minutes you’d spent on Skype discussing your work.
- If you are a designer and it is part of your contract to do a round of changes following your marketing manager lead, then make sure you are covered for an hour or two to talk with them in on Skype about website structure, elements rearrangement for better conversion ratio, tweaking font types and sizes for consistency and so on.
- If your new project requires of you to fit in an existing virtual team, chances are you’ll have to attend a few meetings to get acquainted with the team, to be briefed on the various programs they use for project management and coordination, if there is any workflow and work processes in place. Make sure you know how much time that would take, is it a one-time engagement or you should attend regular meetings and if so, how often. Include those costs in your price quote.
Value your time; only then your clients will value it, too.
Refresh your memory about my freelance pricing guide and how to value your time:
In most cases, I would recommend you bill time for email writing, too.
Sometimes clients cannot meet you on Skype or they simply prefer communicating with you exclusively via email. In that case, it is something normal to exchange work related questions and answers in written. You want to bill time for that, especially if it takes hours to write a single email.
Yes, hours! And no, not because I type with 2 fingers 😉 Let me give you an example.
I have a client who has a subscription based website. This client once sent me an email asking my opinion how to change the fee schedule for different membership levels. She also included 10 more follow-up questions to help me out when deciding what my recommendation would be.
If I were in the company for 5 years and I was familiar with the subscription platform, members history, their behavior on the website and offline, what are the most common reasons for a member to sign-up or cancel their subscription, and so on, I would probably be able to write my email in about 15 minutes with 2-3 pages with recommendations. If I were in the company for 5 years and couldn’t do that, then I was not doing my job right.
However, if I were in the company for merely 5 months, I may know the platform but I wouldn’t know all the details about members’ behavior online and offline. I would have to research it. Replying to that email would take me hours because it would require of me a lot of research and analysis. If the client asks follow-up questions on my recommendations then one email turns into a series of emails.
In both cases, writing emails to the client is part of my job. It requires thinking and certain skills, for which the client pays me. For this reason, I strongly recommend you bill time for email writing to your clients.
I can think of one scenario when you should not bill time for emails.
If the actual email writing is not part of your job, then don’t bill time for it.
Let’s say you are hired to gather 100 email addresses following certain criteria. Emailing your client the final document with the emails and explaining you did your job is not part of your job. If you type slowly or your internet connection is not good, it could take ages to write and send the email. This is time for which the client should not pay you as you were not hired for typing an email and sending it slowly to them.
If you can think of other examples when not to charge your client for the time spent in email writing, please share in the comments.
Alicia Rades says
Great tips, Diana.
I’ve never billed hourly; I always charge per-project, so all of this would get worked into the flat fee. However, I agree with you that if you’re charging hourly, you should charge for time spent communicating with clients. After all, employees get paid for meetings and such. Why wouldn’t you?
Diana Marinova says
Hi, Alicia – thanks for the positive feedback. And yes, we should get paid for meetings regardless the way we charge clients. You say you work that cost in your flat fee but you’d be surprised how many people don’t… Thanks for stopping by 😀
Adeel Sami says
The title of this topic forced me to click on the LinkedIn URL from my email inbox and here I am on your website to read all of this great topic! Well, who wouldn’t deny not charging for everything? 🙂
Well, I work for full-time as a virtual employee on fixed but still I add my time spend on Skype calling (especially) with the team. Ahhh! And emails, it’s okay because it takes just few minutes to reply/respond. 🙂
Can’t really think of any other thing where we shouldn’t actually charge for the virtual meetings, etc. 🙂
Indeed an informative post!!
Diana Marinova says
Thanks, Adeel – I agree, we should always get paid for our hard work and efforts, regardless the way we charge our clients.
Palash Kumar Daw says
Thank’s for this important tips.
I don’t bill for Skype or Email contact if it’s not relevant my project.
Diana Marinova says
Hi, Palash – thanks for your comment. Out of curiosity, when is it not relevant to your project not to bill for Skype calls or emails?
I completely agree on the Skype calls. There really is no difference in this and sitting across the table from a client. But I do get leery of billing for time for emails. Reminds me of the lawyer with an imagined egg timer on the desk. From a client’s perspective, I always am reminded of the lawyer who billed me for an enormous amount of email time…how did I know that guy wasn’t a bad keyboardist or spent an hour editing an 2 paragraph email? I have always thought that there has to be a more fair way to compensate for this time. Maybe an up front agreement on a bulk charge?
Diana Marinova says
Hi, Jacquie – having a bad keyboardist (ha-ha!) is always a risk. But assuming we are all ‘virtual workers’ making a living online, I think it;s safe to assume we are not so bad with typing that it would make the bill enormous for that reason alone.
I am not sure about an upfront agreement on a bulk charge – for Skype calls, sure! We can always say X amount of money, 5 hours calls included (or something); and every next meeting is billed by the hour – this would even make the client think twice if he or she starts calling too often 😉
but for emails? I don’t know – I have one project a huge part of which is email writing… Technically, it’s not email, we use a project management tool, but still – it’s typing my thoughts. So i am charging for my thoughts; it just happens so I am sharing them in written in the form of emails… Some days I spend hours reading and replying to various threads – other days I am done in 5 minutes. How can I put a bulk charge on that?
Sherryl Perry (@KeepUpWeb) says
This is a great topic Diana. I charge for some time that I spend emailing and not others. For example, I wouldn’t charge for the time it takes me to generate an invoice and email it to someone.
On the other hand, I spend a lot of time writing emails that include detailed instructions or I’m teaching a client something. I definitely charge for that time because it adds value to the service that I’m providing.
I’m working on a major client project now and our written communication is vital to make sure that I deliver the outcome that’s expected. I bill for the time I spend communicating. The same thing goes for Skype but since I think of most of my clients as friends, I don’t count the time we spend catching up and keeping it personal.
I like the way you said it in your reply to Jacquie. You’re charging for your thoughts. 🙂
Have a great weekend! Thanks for sharing Vernessa’s guest post.It’s good to catch up.
Diana Marinova says
Awesome comment, Sherryl – it reflects exactly how I feel on the topic (and how I do it, for that matter 😀 ) – thanks for adding it. It really is good to catch up – not sure why I am always so behind with catching up these days …
John Wilson says
Professional consultancy – log incoming/outgoing emails per project – charge £270 per hour. Email charges at 12 per hour. And Clients expect it as they do for meeting charges. Amazing how the number of insignificant time wasting emails have dropped off!
Diana Marinova says
Right, it’s amazing how many of the “urgent” requests are not so urgent once clients hear about the premium charge for “urgent” matters. Same goes for excessive emails, redundant meetings and all kind of other things that may go undetected and eat your time if you’re not careful. Thanks for joining the conversation,John!
How does one go about charging for email support? Send an invoice after the matter is resolved? This scares me that someone would not end up paying up……Refuse to communicate until an invoice is pre paid? I fear this could lead to a misunderstanding that ALL future emails are covered and they’d be unreasonable with response times. The logistics behind charging for email support is very confusing to me, and any advice would be greatly appreciated. Also do you just send a PayPal invoice or is there a specific software for email consults that helps with all of this?
Diana Marinova says
Hi, Jaimie – thanks for your questions. Can you please give me more details as to what emails you’d like to charge for? Depending on your contract or type of work, charging for emails may go differently. For example, I have clients whom I charge per week for ongoing work, every week the amount of work varies, and I just include the time I spent writing emails in the weekly invoice. For others, especially if it’s a fixed price project, I calculate time for emails in the overall project price – it can say explicitly it’s for email, or it can go under something else – e.g. “discussions” – along with meetings, brainstorming sessions, etc. It all depends on the type of project and type of work you do.
To your second question – there are many programs out there for invoicing, or a larger solution for accounting, not just invoicing. If you are doing that yourself and not outsourcing to an accountant, I suggest you ask Google and pick a software that suits your needs best. Really, there are a lot of customer reviews available online and you can choose what looks best for you.
Hope this helps and good luck!
I am billing for emails, but how should I charge for those emails? For example, I read 3 emails for 10 mins in the morning and 2 emails for 5 minutes that same day in the afternoon. If billing is done by the quarter hour, is that 15 minutes all day or 15 minutes in the morning and 15 mins in the afternoon?
Diana Marinova says
Hey Jennifer, I would say this is totally up to you – depends on what’s your policy. If you are charging by the hour and on a quarter of the hour basis (meaning – never charge less than a quarter hour of your time), then I would say yes – that would be 2 quarters charged right there… But then again, are you really charging the client for reading your email? I mean, those are 5 minutes of reading an email – not replying, not giving any expertise, just reading an email. It strikes me as odd. In my post, I was referring to the lengthy email writing process that sometimes requires hours for whatever reason… I personally wouldn’t charge a client for 5 minutes of reading an email, unless it required of me a follow-up email or planning of some follow-up work, etc.
Hope this helps and happy freelancing!