Sent by Jonathan Stark on January 27th, 2020
Hoo boy, did I step on a landmine yesterday.
In my last message (subject: “Why would a slower computer be better?”) I suggested that buying a super fast computer would be a silly investment for someone who bills for their time.
On a whim, I posted a related poll on Twitter in which I asked the following hypothetical question:
Let’s say I hire a video production person by the hour to edit, export, and upload my videos to YouTube. Should I expect him/her to charge me for the time it takes to export the videos?
It was multiple choice:
The answer breakdown surprised me, but what really caught my attention were the justifications that folks who answered “Yes” shared in the replies.
A surprising (to me) number of people who claim to bill for their time are perfectly happy to bill for time that they didn’t work.
“If my computer is tied up with your export, I can’t do other work, so you have to pay me for that hour.”
“I’d lump the export time into other items on my timesheet so you’d never know about it anyway.”
“If I multi-task work for three clients in the same hour, that’s me hustling. They should all pay for the full hour.”
IMHO, these are all pretty sketchy. Not because they are inherently unethical, but because I highly doubt that any of them map to their clients’ expectation of what “paying someone by the hour” entails.
If you have time to read through the thread, I think you’ll recognize a potentially infinite number of arguments, excuses, and justifications, about why it’s “fair” to charge a client for time you didn’t work, even though you claim to bill for your time.
You will also notice that every single one of these arguments, excuses, and justifications instantly become moot as soon as you give someone an actual price in advance (whether value based or otherwise).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: hourly billing is nuts.