September 2, 2020

Reader question about timesheets for weekly gigs

Fellow list member Jordan Anderson wrote in to ask what to do when a client asks for hourly timesheets even though you’re billing weekly (shared with permission):

Hi Jonathan,

Got a recurring photography gig where the client pays me a fixed price on a weekly basis. However, they still want me to track and submit my hours.

To me this feels like the client doesn’t know how to manage a creative project, so they default to the timesheet: "20 hours/week - good. 5 hours/week - bad."

I know that submitting my hours will give them the ammo to either micromanage or renegotiate a price because "I’m working too few hours per week."

How should I proceed?

Thanks so much, Jonathan. Big fan of both podcasts! Feel free to share this question with the listeners.

Cheers, Jordan P. Anderson

This is a classic problem with both daily and weekly rates. They’re just too easy to convert to hours.

In my experience, the client’s expectation is that if you’re getting paid by the week, you’re going to be putting in 40 hours or close to it. By the day? 8 hours or close to it. The further your actual hours are from the client’s expectation, the less satisfied they’re likely to be.

The irony here is that the client is focusing on the wrong thing in the first place. It doesn’t matter how many hours it takes, as long as you’re delivering results that are more valuable the them than the amount of money they paid you.

This raises the question:

Do you know what results the client values?

One of the many problems with hourly (or daily or weekly) billing is that it encourages everyone to start working before the desired outcome is agreed upon. If you don’t know what outcome they desire, then you have no way to pivot the conversation from the hours worked to the value provided.

But I digress...

Jordan’s question was about how to proceed when asked to provide timesheets for a weekly engagement.

I would politely reply:

“Oh, sorry! I don’t track my time.”

Depending on the nature of the relationship, I might add:

“But why do you ask?”

Asking why they want timesheets from me gives them the opportunity to explain their situation. Once I knew the motivation for the request, I might be able to suggest a work around.

In any case, I’d stick to my guns and not provide a time sheet, even if that meant losing the client.