One question among a million has plagued humanity for thousands of years, and still remains without an answer.  No, it's not theological, and it has nothing to do with chickens and their alleged eggs.  Rather. it is the question of whether you should bid out your next job based on number of hours or a project basis.

This question is tricky, and I know every designer has a lot of different opinions about the subject.  And in all fairness, all sides probably have a legitimate argument.  So instead of arguing for a particular perspective, I'm going to simply explain my own view.

From the moment I began freelancing, I have always quoted my jobs on a project basis.  Here's a few reasons why:

First, I worked for nearly three years in a law firm where everything was billed by the hour.  While legitimate work was done, a standard practice in legal billing is to assign certain number of minutes (or hours) to certain tasks.  So for example, every phone call is billable for 10 minutes worth of time, even if it's 45 seconds long.

Now in my last post, I argued that a legitimate part of billing your customer is for your expertise, and I am not backing down from this.  However, I think it is extremely easy to cross the line into outright extortion.  As I try to keep my customers first in everything that I do (and I really do…I'm not just saying it!), I want to avoid this kind of practice as much as possible.

Secondly, even if you bill on an hourly basis, I think it is reasonable for a client to require an estimate of the number of hours you expect to work on the project.  As I like to stretch hours of work as much as possible, such a constraint is somewhat…well…constraining, and I'd prefer to have a more open schedule (read on for the reason why…).

Third, I like the project bid-method because when I design, and especially when I am developing a custom app, I REALLY like to experiment with new things.  Now if I come up with something cool that is outside of my client's expectation, I think it is reasonable to work that into the bid.  However, if I am essentially using the client's time to build my own skills, I don't think they should have to pay for that.  So, I prefer the bid method because it allows me the flexibility to stretch myself as a designer and developer without the client's project or pocketbook suffering without justification.

So there's my case for a project-based approach to billing.  Obviously, there are a million ways to approach it, and I'll not question those who pursue other models.  What is important for a designer, however, is that you find a method that works for you.  Whether you are billing on a project basis, or by hour of work, be sure to constantly assess your methodology so that 1.) your customer's expectations and needs are being fulfilled and 2.) that you are being compensated adequately for your work.  If the model you are using causes you to blow out the scope on every project, it's time to find a new model!

More In This Series 

On Becoming a Better Web Designer, 6(a)

On Becoming a Better Web Designer: Default CSS

On Becoming a Better Web Designer, in 4-D!

On Becoming a Better Web Designer, Part Third

On Becoming a Better Web Designer, Part Deux

On Becoming a Better Web Designer [First Part]