How Much Time is a Project Worth?

Whether you bill by the hour, by the project or by retainer, the bottom line for all of us as PR practitioners is that we want our clients to feel that they got value for their money; and we want to feel that we were adequately compensated for our time and expertise.

In the equation Finished Product = Time + Expertise, occasionally hiccups arise.

I ran into this frequently when I worked at a large PR firm. Someone working for me would write the ultimate press release and hand me a time sheet documenting the fact that they’d spent 17.5 hours on their masterpiece.

The problem is, at any billing rate imaginable, the time billed would far exceed the value of the press release to the client. If a client expects someone to spend approximately 4 hours on something, what do you do with the remaining 13.5?

Some of this is just youthful exuberance. You want to to “the best” job possible and you lose track of the fact that time = money. You are also desperate to fill up your time sheet so that you look productive. Over time you get a better sense for what something is worth to a client and plan your time accordingly. Sometimes, thanks to your own skill, expertise and efficiency, you are able to produce work of such great value to a client with such alacrity that your effective billing rate actually goes up! Occasionally, something takes you longer to complete than you thought, but you don’t bill the extra time because, while you still want to deliver a quality product, the client would not think the extra cost worthwhile.

The other cause for excessive time consumption is inexperience. This occurs when someone undertakes a project for which the skills are learned on the job. The trick here is to determine what the project is worth to the client before you step in the morass of potentially unbillable hours then to decide whether being paid that sum is worth it to you, given that at the end of the project you will have skills and experience that make you a better practitioner. Keep in mind that no matter  how much time you think you will need to invest in this endeavor, it will take longer than you expect.

Under no circumstances, however, should you ask for your client to pay for your learning curve.

Of course, the third situation is when a client significantly changes the scope of the project mid-stream. When that happens it is extremely important to raise a flag immediately and explain why this is outside the scope of the project and how much the change in direction will alter the budget. This is not the time to assume that the client understands that they’ll pay more, because believe me, they won’t! There have been times when clients have come to me and said they didn’t think they’d paid enough for the services provided given how much extra had been added, but those instances are few and far between.

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