A few days ago, I was speaking with a friend about a software project that he had contracted out. He expressed was shocked that he had been billed for all the communication with the team. To him, charging for communication time was something that lawyers did.
The question of whether it is appropriate for developers to bill for communication is one that I have encountered frequently as a service provider. I have experienced both sides of the issue of working for clients and with subcontractors. What I’ve found is that billing for communication time benefits both parties– the end result is higher quality, more efficiently produced, and both sides feel that their time and value have been respected.
Here are the problems that crop up when communication time is not billed:
- First, it sends the message that the developer’s time is cheap. Developers never want to waste time in nonproductive conversations– and this means avoiding unsolicited exchanges with clients. We’ve all been guilty of “bothering” others
- Avoidance means that developers will often just take the project guidelines and create something without getting client feedback along the way. The end result is something that adheres to those guidelines but almost always is not what the client actually wants. The reason for this is that the developer knows that the hours of conversation involved in getting things done right will not be compensated; no one wants to do extra work for free.
- The client returns to a project that is technically complete, but not to the client’s desires and specifications (often simply because it’s hard to know if something is right until you see it). This means that extra time and cost must be invested to change and improve the project to a satisfactory level. This reflects badly on the developer for not meeting a high standard and the client for being unsatisfied with their own project guidelines.
At the end of the day, a developer needs to be able to bill for all of the time spent creating a product. For the developer, redoing large chunks of a project due to lack of communication earns more money than spending the same number of hours in conversations that earn them nothing.
When communication time is billed, the positive effects ripple out:
- Every project requires detail, communication, collaboration, and brainstorming to fulfill the exact customer needs. Billing for time signals to both parties that this process is valuable, and encourages productive communication.
- The client respects the developer’s time, so scheduled conversations always have a goal. The communication becomes constructive, which encourages both parties to keep working together.
- Effective communication increases the efficiency at which the project is formed to the client’s desires, allowing for faster delivery of a high-quality product.
- Instead of avoiding conversation, developers will seek out approval and feedback on every stage of the project, because they know that the time spent in communication still earns revenue.
Ultimately, billing for communication time is about creating value. The client respects the developer’s time and expertise while the developer is rewarded for productivity and delivering exactly what the client wants. This is what generates the best products, project outcome, and optimal value for the investment of time and money– and that makes every client, and every developer, feel great about their collaboration.