Billing your web design projects by the hour sucks!  You know what I mean.

“How many hours do I have left on my website project? Can you itemize that? What? Why did it take you so long to do this? My friend who made a website once says it should have only taken about 30 minutes, and you claim it took 2 hours?”

Does this sound like a conversation you have had before? Squabbling over hours and minutes with a client can be enough to make anyone second guess their decision to become a web designer. There is a simple solution though…

Don’t charge by the hour.

Which of course raises the question, “what do I charge by”? Rather than selling your time, sell your services, or call it a product, if you like. Each project must have a set, well-defined criteria before you begin. The devil is in the details. Keep in mind that whatever you do not define and explicitly lay out for your client, it is likely that they will take it to the extreme.

If a client asks for a contact form, and you don’t ask any more questions, you are likely to put up a basic five-field form that emails them upon submit. After invoicing them, receiving payment and adding it to their site, you are likely to find out that what they really wanted was a full-fledged lead generation form with 30 different fields. What you charged for one hour is going to take three. Or worse, they want the data all stored in a database so they can log in and search through the data. Add another five hours.

It’s okay, you didn’t have anything better to do, right?


If you give a mouse a cookie… he is going to want a glass of milk


Obviously there was a vast difference between what they meant and what you thought they meant. Clients are not always the best at communicating what they need, and web designers are even worse at asking them to clarify. If you don’t dig deeper, you won’t uncover the buried landmines until it is too late; you will have wasted your time, and now you have to either give away free work or risk hurting your relationship with your client by asking for more money.

Had you asked them to send a list of each field they wanted in the form before quoting them, you could have accurately invoiced them in the first place.

Having to correct an invoice or send an additional invoice for work that the client thought you had already agreed upon and that they had already paid for will never go well. It is better to learn from the mistake, suck it up, and do the work for free. Next time get more details.

Lead Your Clients

In fact, better than asking the client what fields they want, suggest what fields they might want. Start simple with what you would expect, and then ask them if they would want anything else and quote them accordingly. Make sure they are okay with the results being emailed to them. Don’t just assume that is what they expect, you know what assuming does…

I find that making suggestions to clients when they are unsure or vague about what they want works miracles. Give it a try! I wrote more about how to lead a client here.


Clients are not always the best at communicating what they need, and web designers are even worse at asking them to clarify.


There is a plumbing company in my city that has a unique billing method. Every service they have has a set cost. Unclogging a drain, $80; installing a new toilet, $125; etc. Now I am sure they hope to make a certain dollar amount each hour, and they have based these prices accordingly. Sometimes they may go over time, and sometimes they may go under. But the buyer always knows what they are getting and what they are paying for it. In the end it should even out for the plumbing business.

The Advantages Of Charging By The Project

The advantage for the plumbing business is that they never have to haggle prices with customers, and in general they have a much better relationship with their clients.

Another advantage is consistency. Have you ever quoted a customer for a project, and then months later, when they finally decide they want to do it, you accidentally give them a different quote? Or maybe you find yourself searching through old emails to find what you originally told them, so that you don’t look stupid.

Having set, well-defined prices eliminates the ambiguity of a project, adds consistency to your quotes, and helps build trust between your client and you.

What billing nightmares have you had with any of your clients? Leave your story or comment below.

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