As with any business, cashflow is a top priority for freelancers. But it's not always clear they should arrange payment, with many becoming victims of clients that refuse to pay up. To secure the best deal, leading web experts offer some expert advice.
01. Hourly billing
Rob Harr at Sparkbox thinks that the best approach is to bill hourly. "This helps align our goals with our clients' goals. In a typical fixed pricing model, the client is pitted against the agency," he explans.
"The client is trying to get as much for the fixed price as possible, while the agency is trying to get the project done as quickly as possible ... fixed-cost projects seem to have the worst outcomes because they don't allow for changes."
Harr say one of the benefits of hourly pricing is that it makes estimating easier. "Estimates are hard for two reasons. Clients are always continuing to define what they need as a project progresses and those of us writing the estimates (designers and developers) are always optimistic."
Like the Pomodoro Technique, hourly billing helps build flexibility into a project by breaking down tasks into manageable sprints of work.
"Hourly billing means the scope can adapt to the needs of the project," he continues. "Each change has to be accompanied by client conversations about impact to the budget.
"Sometimes this may mean that things take longer than anticipated, and sometimes they take less time. This also allows things to be prioritised as we go."
02. Weekly invoicing
Harr talks about the importance of weekly invoices for keeping both the clients and the creative team accountable to the spend. This is an idea echoed by Andrew Clarke in the way his agency, Stuff and Nonsense, bills for work.
"We both schedule our work and invoice our clients in one-week increments to make our time and project management easier, our cashflow better and our financial risks lower."
One of the benefits of weekly billing is that it means regular conversations with the client. "You have to communicate with your clients extremely well to make this work," Harr says. "Sometimes things will take longer than estimated, this is fine, but surprises at the end are not."
03. Clear communication
Good communication is critical in order to be profitable. This means being clear from the off about how you work, and ensuring regular contact throughout the project.
"Not communicating the budget well with clients is one of the biggest pitfalls when companies move to an hourly model," explains Harr.
"We are very transparent on the hourly spend, and we empower our clients to make budget decisions. I have seen agencies afraid to talk about money. This is crazy to me. We have to be willing to have healthy conversations about money with our clients.
Collaborate with your client
"We use Google Sheets spreadsheets all of the time. I love having the ability to collaborate with internals and clients in real time. When approaching a new project, we collaborate with our prospective client to create an estimate in Google Docs.
"This helps potential clients understand from the start that they will help create and impact the way we'll work."
Constant conversations mean you avoid surprises, help keep a project moving and minimise slippage.
Words: Cole Henley
Cole is a tall, bearded code minstrel, technical director at digital agency Mud and web design lecturer at the University of Greenwich. Follow him on Twitter at @cole007. This article was originally published in net magazine issue 266; subscribe here!