One of the things that I think is very important to running a business is no surprise billings or charges. Clients don’t ever want to be surprised by a bill. I would dare say that the average client would rather pay a large bill that they had advance notice for then a bill 50% smaller but that came out of the blue.
I have my own web design business. Over the last few years I have worked for or with several different companies. One company in particular is well known for selling website packages at a very low price. Then after the project is started they add all kinds of extra charges. To be honest websites are a difficult thing to price. Far to often a project is 90% complete and the client requests a “small little change” that actually changes the scope of the entire project. However there are a couple of methods that I use to try and prevent my clients from receiving an unexpected bill.
The first thing I do is almost always bill projects with a straight fee instead of by the hour. This is a lot harder on me as I have to make an estimate before the project is even started. If I underestimate then this comes out of my pocket. It’s much easier to bill clients by the hour. However from my clients perspective paying a straight fee that they are aware of a head of time is a great stress reducer as they know exactly what it will cost.
If you are going to bill like this then it is very important that you write out exactly what you will and won’t be providing. This way if the client requests something that wasn’t in the original deal then you can show them what you promised to provide and let them know that you would be happy to help them. But that this will require a payment behind what you had agreed on. You need to listen to what the client want’s write it out and provide it in some written form for them to approve. Don’t do this verbally as it quickly becomes a he said she said situation.
I do some hourly work. This might be to add some extra features behind the scope of the original deal or often for clients that have an existing site and are looking for someone to provide edits to it. For these customers I have recently added a client login to my website. The clients are able to login to a secure private page where they can see what there monthly bill is to date as well as a listing of the work that has been provided for the month. Many of my clients are small business owners with a limited budget. Being able to view their bill for the month before requesting more work can help them budget and decide if they want to pay for more services this month or wait till later.
I could run up my bills a little more on clients if I didn’t provide these updates and maybe get a little nicer check. But I would quickly lose my clients if I did this. I know some companies squeeze as much as they can out of each client and then move on when the client gets tired of this. But my model is to try for repeat customers by providing a great service at an affordable rate. I know many companies think customer service means being polite on the phone but providing an inferior product at an expensive price. But I feel that if I give my clients a great website at a good price then this is the best customer service that I can provide and the second most important thing I can do is make sure my clients never discover an unexpected charge on their bill.