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Rule of thumb:
1. If it takes longer to create the invoice than fix the problem - I track all my time for this, but don't necessarily bill for the quick fix. I know I can make up for it later. If there are many quick fixes, then there's one invoice with 'maintenance' and total hours.
2. If I'm in the middle of another project and must stop for an EMERGENCY quick fix - then absolutely bill as there's lost time switching back and forth.
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I use two different methods:
1. A fixed monthly fee including maintenance, recovery, online help with a limit to "n" hours / month.
2. Improvements requested by the client: I budget, send and wait for acceptance.
Development errors (hopefully very few) are not billed.
In some cases, it depends on the severity of the issue. If it's not causing a stoppage of work, or there's a relatively simple workaround, I put it on the "next release" list and just include it with the upgrade. If it's impeding work, and it's simple and quick to fix, then it's good customer service just to fix it. But I generally don't stop what else I'm doing to fix non-emergency issues.
For emergency fixes, if it's 10 minutes, write it off. If it's a couple of hours, bill. Or you can use Jim's method of a fixed monthly fee. (In my case, if it's a licensed product, I include incidental support in the license cost.)
Just try to keep in mind two things:
1) Customer focus
2) Don't let them nickel-and-dime you to death.
I keep a Tab for those things which are not my responsibility.
If at the end of the month it is over an hour, I invoice. If not I try again next month this time for 2 hours. If not I try again next month this time for 3 hours. At the end of the quarter (when we have to do our Tax reports) I will either invoice the accumulated hours or in some cases where I have a regular alternative income from that client I will put in on their bill with anything up to 100% discount for customer loyalty.
I think it is important that clients know what it is costing you... and similarly you don't want to scare them off from communicating with you. That is why you have to tell them up front that the support you are about to give is to go on their Tab and it will be billed at the end of the month or accumulated to the end of the quarter.... or whatever is your story.
I have clients on fixed monthly maintenance billed quarterly. I try to stagger them so my income is steady.
Beverly has a really good point about the distraction caused by breaking your concentration and flipping your brain onto another project. It takes more than the time of the distraction... much more. My children no longer disturb me working but when they have to you can see the fear in their eyes :-) The reality is that both clients are responsible for this lost time... The human brain can only cope with so much so if the recap time is 10 mins, 5 mins has to be added to the bill of each client...
Think of yourself as a doctor with each slot available for consultation. You are in business and you have to maximise your income by booking each and every slot if at all possible. If someone chats with you in the hall for 10 mins... that is $s lost and your income is lower.
Ultimately you are selling your time and that is clearly what you must tell your clients.
Fear in children’s eyes is a good thing …
I offer to my clients two options:
(1) Monthly service plan that provides a set number of hours, response and turn around time and an option to acquire more hours at a set hourly rate if the current allotment of hours does not fulfill the need. The hourly rate I charge to contracted clients is less than non-contract clients. I provide this as an insentive to ensure more clients sign up for the monthly service. In addition I provide roll over hours (like cell phone minutes). This keeps the customers loyal and provides a better valued service in my opinion.
(2) Bill hourly for my time. This often requires me to preliminarly assess the request in order to provide a client with a quote. Most of my quotes provide a not to exceed dollar amount or some type of assumptions regarding time with conditional clauses. My condition clauses sometimes are related to determining if the issue is an ongoing problem (my fault), a Filemaker bug or an issue created by my client or clients staff. If the issue is an error on my part I generally will waive the first 30 minutes of the time to fix and repair but this also depends on how long it took the client to report or identify the problem. This concept is based on sort of like a service warranty of my services.
As for how clients report problems I use my website and a few software modules I added to the website. I use Joomla and Projectfork. This setup gives my clients their own personalized portal (forum) to open discussions, track task, send files and interact with me without relying on email (hint: email is challenging to use for support).
Hope this helps.
I mostly ask clients to post their tasks on Trello (there are other project management sites out ther, but this works for me). I create different lists, prioritize things, make them put up screenshots, videos, etc. Then I crank the issues out based on priority, unless something is really little, cause I can get those done sometimes much faster so I just push them off the list. :-)
Can someone post a maintenance contract template, please? I would love to know how others are doing this. I usually bill for my time, but just got someone agree to a maintenance plan.
Preferably someone far away so they dont feel like sharing trade secrets with a competitor. :-)
Thanks in advance.
I bill as I have seen attorneys bill
I provide an hourly rate lets say $$/hour
All work they ask for is billed in 6 minute increments. ie if it takes 5 minutes the bill is 6 minutes, 7 minutes bill is 12 minutes.
I bill ever month on the 15th, payment is due in full by the 1st or a 2nd higher payment is due, which shows on the billing
I provide a retained option, that has all the features above but they MUST bill x hours every month and the rate is $$ less y dollars.
I set the structure to encourage the retainer, this way they always feel comfortable calling about any issue as they know they must use up x hours a month (as the month nears a close I notify them if they are under the hours and if necessary I suggest items to do). My month runs from the 15th to the 14 each month. This method also encourages them to think of new solutions in thier business that FM can help them with. In the end that mind set improves the situation for both me and the customer.
What a great forum.
Everyone has great answers!