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?

Photo by William White on Unsplash

EIleen Lonergan
Eileen Lonergan was an integral part of this company. Unfortunately, Eileen Passed away on the 31st of October 2018 after a short battle with Cancer. She leaves behind the legacy of the Divi Theme Users Group and hundreds of people that she helped through coaching, building outstanding websites and just being - accessible. We miss her every day!
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