The Many Ways Web Designers Give Away Their Time (Without Realizing It)


Many industry outsiders are surprised to find out that web designers are just like them. We need to eat, have a roof over our heads, and have a shiny new phone in our pocket every six months or so. All kidding aside, we are indeed running a business and need to make a living.

Only sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. For those of us who don’t come from a business background, there is a tendency to become a bit too casual. And working from home only encourages this behavior.

This can be beneficial in that it allows us to build the type of atmosphere where creativity can blossom. But on the downside, a casual approach could mean that we’re leaving a significant amount of money on the table. Even worse is that it may not even occur to us that we’re doing so.

In that spirit, let’s look at some common situations where we are essentially giving our time away. To be clear, this is not to advocate for charging good clients for every little thing. Rather, it’s more about raising awareness and ensuring that we’re not being taken advantage of. Now, let’s get to it!

Technical Support

Once you hand off a website to your client, it’s only a matter of time before they run into an issue or have a question. That’s to be expected. And, if you haven’t already sold them on a support package, it can also turn into a revenue-draining black hole.

While it hardly seems fair to charge for something as simple as a five- or ten-minute email exchange, these incidents do start to add up. What’s worse is that it only takes one technically-challenged or scope-expanding client to unintentionally eat up your time. This is time that you could otherwise use to, you know, make money.

There’s nothing wrong with giving away the occasional freebie. It’s a small gesture that can keep your client relationships strong. But it’s still important to set limits.

Make clients aware of your policies from the very beginning. Let them know any thresholds you’ve put into place. This will allow you to both be a web superhero and avoid taking a loss on support.

Those little technical support requests can add up

Acting as a Researcher/Liaison

So much of our job these days involves working with third-party software and service providers. Plugin developers, web hosts, APIs, and code libraries make up significant portions of a project.

But we don’t often think about the amount of time spent researching these various items. That can include anything from searching the web, and comparing options to chatting with sales or support representatives. And when something goes wrong, we are often the ones who deal with it on behalf of our clients.

While a project is in the development phase, you might consider this as just a part of your standard fees – fair enough. But the role of liaison doesn’t end once the site launches.

Indeed, there can be a great deal of time (and stress) associated with relaying communications between an outside service and your client. The ensuing back-and-forth shouldn’t be forgotten when it comes to billing.

Web designers can spend a lot of uncompensated time conducting research

Giving Advice

Because web designers are technically-skilled, we often get asked for help and advice regarding all sorts of subjects. And they’re not always related to web design.

People get in touch to ask (in no particular order): How to use their iPhone, what their email password is, how to get their email on their iPhone, how to open a specific type of file, will the new iPhone be worth it and… you get the idea.

Again, there is a fine line. You don’t want to be rude. But you also don’t want to go on endlessly answering questions unrelated to your job. It may be the last thing you want to do, especially when you’re busy with more pressing matters.

On the other hand, it might not be wise to charge for these types of questions. The idea could backfire and result in more questions from a particular client.

Perhaps the best solution is to simply leave these questions hanging until you have some extra time to deal with them.

Web designers often get asked for technical advice

Writing Proposals

Some web professionals charge for writing proposals. This can be a smart way to attract potential clients who are both serious and willing to pay for quality. Still, the practice seems to be the exception more than the rule.

Proposals can be significant work and do take up precious time, no doubt. But the hope is that it pays off in the form of a shiny new project to work on.

But then there are prospective or existing clients who ask for multiple quotes. They are often “serial” entrepreneurs with lots of big ideas or fanciful dreams. In either case, there is a large time investment on your part that could all be for nothing.

This leads to a serious business decision. If you find that you’re losing lots of time due to writing proposals, maybe a new strategy needs to be put in place. Or, it might be that a couple of the worst offenders need to be put in their place.

Project proposals require a lot of work with no guarantee of results

Keep Track of Your Time and Charge as Needed

As the old saying goes, time is money. And while money certainly isn’t the only thing that matters, the situations above could be getting in your way.

That’s why it’s important to track how much time you spend performing these tasks for free. Keep a tally of what you do, who you’re doing it for and the amount of time spent. You might be surprised at how much you’re giving away.

In response, it might be worth considering putting policies in place that protect you from overreaching clients – not to mention your own goodwill. Doing so can help to ensure that you’re being fairly compensated for your efforts.

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