Hourly rates or flat fees?

Hourly rates or flat fees?

I don’t believe in charging hourly rates for my work. First of all, real value can’t be measured in hours – only in quality and results. Paying hourly rates for creative work is upside-down and counterproductive. Sometimes they’re even a ripoff for the client.

Eternal clockSuppose you needed heart surgery. Would you shop around for the lowest price? Of course not. You’d want the very best quality care available. It’s the same with your marketing. You want the most attractive, persuasive, compelling website (or brochure, sales letter, etc.) you can get. Now honestly, do you believe you’ll get the quality you demand from a less-expensive, less-experienced, less-knowledgeable provider? Are you crossing your fingers and hoping for Nordstrom quality at Wal-Mart prices?

Let’s go back to your heart surgery again. (Don’t worry, I promise you’ll be feeling better soon.) OK, you need a certain surgical procedure. Suppose one of the surgeons at your hospital had performed hundreds of these procedures over her 20+ year career. Because of her experience, she can open you up, fiddle around in there, and zip you closed again in, say, two hours. A less-experienced surgeon at the same hospital might need 12 hours to provide the same quality.

If hourly rates are the metric you use, the journeyman surgeon would be paid six times more than the expert! Am I the only one who thinks that’s just backwards?

Look at it this way: Would you feel cheated if you were forced to pay more because your writer was slow (or, considering writers’ reputations, hung over)? Likewise, should an expert be penalized because he’s focused and fast?

One more thing. Shouldn’t you be able to call up your writer/designer/ webmaster with a question, idea or concern — without running up your bill? When you and your service provider agree on a flat rate for a project, those issues don’t come up. You can call anytime without re-starting the clock.

In other words, look for creative talent who charge like doctors — not lawyers.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Robbie-73

  1. Kelly ParkinsonKelly Parkinson04-17-2009

    Amen to that. I agree with you 100%. Even though I’ve always charged by the project, I’ve only recently turned off my timer completely, so even I have no clue how long a project takes. I can’t tell you how great it feels to not know. The focus is now entirely on results & value. I’m free to obsess, ponder, reflect, write, rewrite, research, brainstorm. I can record snippets while walking the dog. It’s wonderful getting completely lost in my work. And it feels like better work, too.

    • w0rdWhizw0rdWhiz04-17-2009

      Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for stopping by and for adding a copylicious comment. This post actually originated in a proposal I was writing earlier this week, and switching to flat rate fees is one of several changes I’m making to my business this year.

      However, I still keep track of my time, just so I know how long various projects actually take me. I’ve found the first few jobs I estimated with a flat rate, I was waaaayyyy short of the actual time I needed. Got any tips or secret formulas to share?

      How about: Calculate your best guess — then double it.

  2. Kelly ParkinsonKelly Parkinson04-17-2009

    Hi Tom, great question. I wish I had a secret formula, but the best way to ballpark it is to check out Steve Slaunwhite’s pricing guide. He gives a really nice professional fee range for each type of project, and you can decide where you want to fall within that range. Here’s the link: http://www.forcopywritersonly.com/pricing.html

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