Last Spring I began a client relationship which was meant to be a few quick fixes, so we agreed I would work on an hourly basis. This then turned into a LOT of work. Like full time, sorry other clients, afternoon dog walks and even a few weekend family golf outings were hijacked. Keeping this person on an hourly rate was to my benefit, first I was getting paid for all the time spent and second if I wasn’t charging by the hour, who knows how much more time would be gobbled up.
In all respect to the client I was paid on time and without question with every invoice, except one, which was particularly large. The client asked for a meeting to discuss. Upon reviewing the itemized invoice together I told him that yes the invoice was large, but there were even more tasks that I did that didn’t make the invoice because there wasn’t a fee from me.
I was discussing this situation with a friend who is 25 years my senior who said the itemized invoicing / hourly was a huge waste of my time and if the client needed to see everything I did, then show everything so the true value could be seen.
The next week I listed everything (I use 17Hats to keep notes and track time, then just send this off to the client). The items that weren’t being charged for, just had a 0 cost, but it was obvious what work was done, time spent and that it was complimentary. Client loved this, in the same way that I love getting a free cup of coffee after visiting my favorite place 12x, or or when Amazon gives me free shipping.
I began carrying the practice over to my other clients. On September 11th (an emotional day for many American’s), I did a few hours worth of work for 2 different clients and sent them zero balance invoices and said it’s day of giving from me. Both clients were touched and one of them sent me a Starbucks card, which they certainly didn’t need to do, but was very much enjoyed.
What I have now found from sending zero balance invoices:
- Sending zero balance invoices is a great way to show clients that you are a generous person.
- It’s also a way to put an “end” to a request, as an invoice typically signify’s the end of a project. If the client comes back to you with more changes, you can say, sure, I estimate this to take X hours, or this is an item on my menu of services and the cost is X.
- It helps keep track of all the things you do “behind the screens”. Lets face it, we are all moving at 100 miles an hour – many of these “fixes” aren’t visible to a client so you can’t really be grateful for something that doesn’t always feel tangible and certainly they can’t even see. I mean how delighted are you to pay for work on your roof when it isn’t leaking or you can’t see stars through it when you are laying in bed?
- I actually was missing revenue opportunities because in my “quick fix” mentality while juggling so many projects / clients at one time I didn’t even remember what I had done at the end of many days and by the end of the week, when I often spend time on finances, I really have totally forgotten that 20 minutes spent.
For me, for good clients, random requests under an hour, I generally don’t bill. For clients who fall in and out of my life and the request is under 30 minutes I generally don’t bill. Some clients, I just keep a running tab and then when they hit a couple of hours, I send an aggregate invoice, usually for a few hours of time, but don’t let it go more than a month or six weeks, unless you have an agreement ahead of time to invoice them quarterly for accrued time.
In reality I hope you aren’t working, but enjoying the season. I love all the holiday movies, even just working by the tree with a fire.
What do you think, is sending zero balance invoices something you will try?