How Do I Bill for My Time?

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 5:31 AM on October 3, 2013:

Dear Anne: 

I'm an independent contractor and have received a query from a potential new client for the same kind of work I just finished for my last client. The new client would be getting a faster, cheaper service from me because of experience I gained on the previous client's dime. How do I bill ethically as a contractor given I keep learning on a former client's tab?

Dear Faster, Cheaper:

Work: It's Personal by Anne Giles Clelland

How to bill is definitely a thorny issue for contractors. Each of us has finite time to give to a project, much less to our lives. How do we really bill for once-in-a-lifetime time?

Get good, bill less?

And every new project requires learning curve time. Who pays for learning? If we're trying to deepen our understanding or our work and how to do it, how do we factor in the paradox of billing by the hour when the better and more efficient we get at what we do, the less we can charge?

How much is an hour of my life worth?

What has been helpful for me when bidding on projects is to begin by valuing an hour of my time based on opportunity cost. How much would I want to be paid to be working for the client instead of living my life and spending my time on non-work, like playing with my cats or listening to an audiobook? In my mind, what rate is a fair exchange of value, i.e. time for my client's work vs. time for my life?

Next, I compare that rate to the market value for my services. I may have an inflated or deflated perception of the value of what I do. I determine a dollar amount for my hourly base rate that seems reasonable and realistic.

Time is really know-how

To that hourly base rate for time, I add a percentage for know-how. My time is only the container for what I offer a client. The knowledge, experience, skill and efficiency I pour into my hour is what the client really wants. If I have expertise to bring to the project, the know-how percentage is high. If I have just enough skill to get the job done and the client wants me to do it, the percentage is lower.

To the sum of my hourly rate plus a know-how percentage, I may add a client contact percentage based on my estimation of how much time the client might need or want. Some clients say, "Just do it!" and I don't add a percentage. Some clients want personalized explanations and reassurances or technical documentation throughout the project. That takes both time and know-how so I add a percentage.

I then deduct a learning curve percentage. All projects require ramp-up learning time. If my know-how is almost a one-to-one match for what the client needs, the percentage I add is very low. If the client wants me to learn a new skill on the client's dime, I keep the percentage low also. If I'm taking on the project because the client has provided an opportunity to learn a new skill, I deduct a higher percentage, willing to take responsibility for, and absorb the costs of, my own professional development.

When I do this calculation:

hourly base rate + know-how percentage + client contact percentage - learning curve percentage

I've derived a many-factors-weighed hourly rate for my time.

I estimate how much time I think the project will take:

weighted hourly rate x number of hours = preliminary project cost

The "more" factor

I include a final factor, Bob Pack's mantra: "It will cost more than you thought. It will take longer than you thought."

I double the preliminary project cost to determine a final project bid.

I offer the client a flat rate for the project which, to the best of my ability to determine it, is an ethically derived bid, a good price for good work, with which both of us will feel satisfied enough to want to work together again.

. . . . .

Need help with a problem at work? E-mail your question to advice@handshake20.com.

Please include the subject line "Workplace Advice." Anne regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Valley Business FRONT's Workplace Advice Column, written by Handshake 2.0's Anne Giles Clelland, appeared monthly in Valley Business FRONT from 2008-2012.  A collection of her columns was published in Work: It's Personal.

New Leadership Position? Here's Where to Begin

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 6:24 AM on July 24, 2013:

By Anne Giles Clelland

Dear Anne: 

I was recently selected to head a non-profit organization by the board of directors and the vote was split (a little more than half wanted me, I'm told).  From what I have been able to learn about the organization, the board of directors has been split and primarily ineffective on nearly every issue.  Finances are a shambles, public image is poor, and strong leadership is desperately needed at the director's level. Problem is, I don't have solid backing. What should I do?

Dear Split:

Work: It's Personal by Anne Giles ClellandWhether taking on a leadership position at a non-profit or a for-profit, whether you’re leading a start-up with no structure, an established corporation with a proven business model, or a well-meaning organization that’s floundering, the place to start is the same.  To quote old wisdom, popularized by Stephen R. Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, "Begin with the end in mind."

What did you see was possible for this non-profit organization that called you to accept the position of leading it?  When you resign this position for the next opportunity, what do you want to be able to say you’ve been able to make come true for the organization?  That’s your to-do list and there’s your timeline.  

Clarity on your personal vision, and how you’re going to contribute that vision to any organization’s mission will make you your own first, and best, backer.  From that place of strength, rather than from one of doubt about what to do you, you are much more likely to accomplish your personal vision, build consensus around your leadership, and to achieve the ultimate goal - backing for the organization itself.

. . . . .

Need help with a personal problem at work? E-mail your question to advice@handshake20.com.

Please include the subject line "Workplace Advice." Anne regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Valley Business FRONT's Workplace Advice Column, written by Handshake 2.0's Anne Giles Clelland, appeared monthly in Valley Business FRONT from 2008-2012.  A collection of her columns was published in Work: It's Personal. A version of this column first appeared in the April, 2011 issue.

My Boss Is Almost a Psychopath

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 8:13 AM on October 24, 2012:

Dear Anne:

I was reading a review of Almost a Psychopath by Ronald Schouten and James Silver about the applications of the authors’ findings to the corporate world.  I started to feel the hair rise on my neck - they were describing my boss!  He charms and manipulates his way into the hearts and minds of his employees, ruthlessly steps on and over them to achieve his goals, then completely lacks empathy for them if they complain, grandly extolling his accomplishments.  The terrible paradox is that our company is wildly successful because of his leadership.  The work is fascinating, the salaries are high, and the benefits extensive, but interactions with my boss frustrate me to the point of ruining every day.  How can I keep this great job but still work for an “almost psychopath”?

Dear Neck:

Work: It's Personal by Anne Giles ClellandThe very qualities that make deals happen in business can be dealbreakers in relationships.  A true psychopath is dysfunctional and automatically breaks rules, wreaking havoc in organizations and damaging its people.  In contrast, an “almost psychopath,” as the authors define one, is functional.  He or she can strategically calculate the costs and benefits of compliance with, or defiance of, rules.  The aim of the “almost psychopath” is to achieve power and its manifestations - status, influence, public success, or money - whatever is the motivator.  When power is the goal, what people can do is part of the equation, but not how they feel.  Business may flourish but relationships don’t when people are only valued partially.

When working for a successful boss who wants power, uses artificial warmth or any means necessary to get it, and lacks compassion for the people who assist him or her in achieving power, your skills, not you, are all that’s important to your boss.  You might wish things were different, but they’re not.  Can you accept that your boss does not, and will never, value his relationship with you - and might even be unable to have relationships at all?

If so, you can then step back and decide whether or not the behavior of your boss is a dealbreaker for you.  If you need your boss to value you and his relationship with you, the frustrations will mount.  Can you get your very normal, human need to be in mutually valuing relationships met through your business, personal and community networks?  If so, take your mind, not your heart, into dealings with your boss.  You protect yourself, are no longer frustrated by wanting the boss to provide something you know he cannot, and reap the benefits of working for a successful leader, albeit in a relationship-less state.

***

Need help with a personal problem at work? E-mail your question to Anne Giles Clelland at advice@handshake20.com.

Please include the subject line "Workplace Advice." Anne regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Valley Business FRONT's Workplace Advice Column, written by Handshake 2.0's Anne Giles Clelland, appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT and in the collection Work: It's Personal. A version of this column first appeared in the September, 2012 issue.

Asking for a Raise? What's in It for the Company to Give You One?

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 7:33 AM on August 14, 2012:

Dear Anne:

I work for a small business that has been affected by the current economic crisis.  Money is tight and contracts are hard to come by.  But I really need to increase my income because we have a new baby.  I love my job, but it is necessary that I make more money.  How do I approach the owner to ask for a raise?

Dear Raise:

Work: It's Personal by Anne Giles ClellandBefore you approach a company owner - or a boss, or a supervisor - for a raise, whether in the midst of an economic downtown or economic upturn, always ask this question first:  “What’s in it for the company?”

From your point of view, you may need, merit, and deserve a raise.  From the company’s point of view, its budget includes you doing what you’re doing at the current rate.  The company has a legitimate and basic business question to ask you:  “How will paying you more money make more money for the company?”

That’s why, when you ask for a raise, you’ve got to pitch a project or a role that demonstrates your financial value to the company.

As you think of ways you can use your strengths to be of greater value to the company, be careful of dreaming up projects or roles that will be more work.  You’re already working full-time.  Generate ideas that ask you to work in other ways, not more ways.  Play to your strengths, not to your time, so you’ll be working well for your company and be home in time for dinner with your spouse and new baby.

As one of its employees, you’re an expert on your company.  You’re also an expert on your own skills.  Take that expertise up in a hypothetical airplane ride and look down on you, your company’s owner, and your company objectively.  What could that person - you - do differently or other to make more money for that company and that owner?  The answer is your pitch.

Your company’s owner may say no to your request for a raise.  By seeing your own skills in a new way, however, you will have strengthened your understanding of what you can do.  And by sharing your ideas, along with your request for a raise, you’ve demonstrated to the company’s owner that you are of current value, can be of future value, and you think you’re worth it.  The owner may well have that in mind the next time raises are added to the budget.

***

Need help with a personal problem at work? E-mail your question to Anne Giles Clelland at advice@handshake20.com.

Please include the subject line "Workplace Advice." Anne regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Valley Business FRONT's Workplace Advice Column, written by Handshake 2.0's Anne Giles Clelland, appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT and in the collection Work: It's Personal. A version of this column first appeared in the April, 2009 issue.

The Underperforming Employee

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 8:11 AM on June 26, 2012:

Dear Anne:

My new hire has a strong résumé and a sort of goodness that makes me feel I’m in the presence of a saint. He’s really that nice. You can guess the problem: his work product is below standard. He doesn’t fully follow specs, doesn’t fully meet the specs he does follow, and completes them after deadline. Asking him to redo the project is problematic, because he will improve it, but it takes awhile. Whether coached or confronted, he’s very, very nice. What do I do with this guy?

Dear Saintly Witness:

Work: It's Personal by Anne Giles ClellandThe problem with underperforming, deadline-missing employees is common and frustrating.  When they’re surly, how to proceed seems clearer than when they’re very, very nice.

When we see someone underperform at work, the natural tendency is for us to assume he or she has a work problem.  Probably not.  People tend to be consistent and the odds are good your saint is subpar at work, at home, and as a citizen. 

Regardless of the historical or psychological reasons for your employee’s inability to fulfill your expectations, he’s ultimately supposed to make money for your company.  Time you spend tending him is time you could spend making money yourself or mentoring someone who could.

If your employee is capable of growth, and he may or may not be, people often achieve insights through experiencing the consequences of their actions or inactions.  Withholding natural consequences from the people in our lives compromises us and robs them of a chance to grow.  Set a standard and a deadline.  If he doesn’t meet it, and he’s predictably consistent, he’ll be very, very nice about you letting him go to grow.

***

Need help with a personal problem at work? E-mail your question to Anne Giles Clelland at advice@handshake20.com.

Please include the subject line "Workplace Advice." Anne regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Valley Business FRONT's Workplace Advice Column, written by Handshake 2.0's Anne Giles Clelland, appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT and in the collection Work: It's Personal. A version of this column first appeared in the February, 2009 issue.

Apologizing at Work

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 8:45 AM on April 20, 2012:

Dear Anne:

My boss told me I apologize too much.  I apologized.  He said, “See what I mean?!”  I was taught that it’s polite to apologize when I’m wrong.  How can it ever be wrong to apologize?

Dear Too Much:

Work: It's Personal by Anne Giles ClellandWhen I started my company in 2008, my husband handed me a clipped article from the Wall Street Journal entitled Ways Women Can Hold Their Own in a Male World.  Writer Dana Mattioli paraphrased advice from Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives:  “Eliminate the phrase ‘I’m sorry’ from your vocabulary, unless it’s truly warranted.  Women tend to apologize for situations that they aren’t responsible for, which demonstrates weakness.”

Wanting to be a strong company leader, not a weak one, I resolved to stop saying “I’m sorry.”  I was appalled to observe how often and how automatically the words “I’m sorry” came to my lips for the exact situations Spence cautioned about - ones for which I was not responsible.

As I became increasingly aware of the presence of “I’m sorry” in my vocabulary, I realized I used it rarely to express regret or remorse for my wrongdoing.  I used it primarily as a means of appeasement in response to someone questioning or challenging me, or being assertive, even aggressive.  Rather than engage in direct dialogue about the subject at hand, I apologized first, manipulating myself into a subordinate position so the other person could feel powerful in the dominant position, then attempted to negotiate the deal.  Since those negotiations did not occur between equals, they, of course, did not go well for my company.

That awareness was incentive to continue to remove “I’m sorry” from my vocabulary.  I temper that with having learned in both my personal and professional lives to, as quickly as possible, spot my errors, acknowledge my responsibility for them and the harm they may have caused others, apologize, listen, apologize again, and move on.  I am human, I have erred, and I will err again.  It’s not “if” I will make a mistake again, but “when.”  I give and receive genuine apologies readily.

I have also learned that the best way to avoid “I’m sorry” is to not put myself in a position to need to apologize.  At work, most transgressions are not personal but about not meeting the mark - missing meetings, missing details, missing deadlines.  Job performance is usually within a person’s power to control.  When people choose not to exert that power, they fail to meet expectations, apologize, continue to hear criticism, and then claim, “But I said I was sorry!”  They are attempting to substitute a good apology for good work.  In business, that exchange rate doesn’t work.

About gratuitous or frequent apologies, I become very thoughtful when I hear them from others, whether from women or from men.  I ask myself if people are apologizing for wrongdoings for which they are responsible.  If they are responsible, as a business person I wonder if the number of “I’m sorrys” matches the number of dollars their mistakes cost my company.  If they’re not responsible, I wonder what their motivation is for manipulating me with an “I’m sorry.”  What do they gain from putting me one-up to their one-down? 

When you’re wrong, it’s not polite to apologize - it’s imperative.  If you’re not wrong - what’s your motivation?  That, Too Much, is what your boss wants to know.

***

Need help with a personal problem at work? E-mail your question to Anne Giles Clelland at anne@handshake20.com.

Please include the subject line "Workplace Advice." Anne regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Valley Business FRONT's Workplace Advice Column, written by Handshake 2.0's Anne Giles Clelland, appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT and in the collection Work: It's Personal. A version of this column appeared in the April, 2012 issue.

Texting at Work

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 6:00 AM on March 15, 2012:

Dear Anne:

My co-worker is always texting on her mobile phone.  In meetings, out of meetings, in the break room, walking down the hall, during conversations with anyone at any level.  She’s certainly entitled to her choice about how she spends her time.  The problem is that she doesn’t hear things the first time they’re said and demands a repeat as if she’s entitled to it.  Dealing with her takes double the time of other employees.  I’m the project manager on a team assigned to complete a huge project in record time.  The co-worker has been assigned to my team.  In my view, not only does she short us on labor, she’s a walking, texting deadline extension.  What do I do about this texter?

Dear Context:

Sending or receiving text messages on a mobile device while in the company of others has become so ubiquitous that waiting for someone to complete a text has almost become a social norm, like waiting for a person to complete a sentence because it’s impolite to interrupt.  Texting, however, is almost never a mutual act of mutual choice.  The texter, by taking private action in the presence of another, makes a statement, conscious or otherwise, that the person at the other end of the electronic connection is more important than the person physically present.  That is impolite.

Work: It's Personal by Anne Giles ClellandWith an incessant texter at work, one really has only one choice.  That choice does not include trying to enlighten the texter as to the impoliteness of her texting.  If she were socially aware, she would already know this.

Implement a policy of no mobile devices at meetings you lead.  That means you, too.  This eliminates the connection to data that a mobile device provides for all the team members, but it also enhances focus on the task at hand.  The texter will break the rule.  You will say to her, “No mobile devices at meetings,” and she will say, “I’m just texting.”  This will be a test of your leadership.   You will choose between two options.  You will say, “No mobiles devices at meetings.” Or, you will say, “Well, keep it to a minimum, all right?”  The first option will result in the business of project completion.  The second will result in text-encumbered business as usual.

Need help with a personal problem at work? E-mail your question to Anne Giles Clelland at anne@handshake20.com.

Please include the subject line "Workplace Advice." Anne regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Valley Business FRONT's Workplace Advice Column, written by Handshake 2.0's Anne Giles Clelland, appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT and in the collection Work: It's Personal. A version of this column appeared in the August, 2010 issue.

Stirring Up Conflict at Work

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 9:00 AM on January 12, 2012:

Personal workplace advice from Handshake 2.0Dear Anne:

One of our company’s new hires is really stirring things up by questioning policies we’ve had in place for years.  He asks about sick leave days counting as vacation days and about insurance deductions for single employees and married employees being the same - stuff we just don’t want to bring up for fear we’ll lose the few benefits we have.  I question his motivations.  Is he trying to do the right thing or is he just a troublemaker?

Dear Stirring:

Some employees will stir up conflict so the truth rises to the top toward a greater good.  The means used by those employees may be assertive, aggressive, even sensational at times, but not cruel.  The intent is to reveal the truth.  Occasionally, in their passion for the truth, employees may overstep a boundary.  Upon becoming aware of it, well-intentioned employees will make amends.  Apologizing isn’t a loss of face because the face was turned to a higher purpose in the first place.

Some employees will stir up conflict for the sense of power it gives them.  Any means seem justified because the end is for personal power, not for the moral or ethical high ground.  If an employee’s means are called into question, he or she may change those means in the short-term, but will blame the person who questioned his or her behavior.  The questioner will be accused of small-mindedness, of just not getting it, of over-sensitivity.  To the employee, apologizing would be a loss of face, an acknowledgement of humility, a recognition of limited power.  That employee can be predicted to continue to seek the next pot to stir to attempt to satisfy the need for power.

Wondering if our co-workers will cause us concern - whether by actively generating too much conflict, or passively not generating enough - isn’t the question to ask.  The question is how we’re going to handle it when they do. Co-workers who generate conflict in the name of justice can be exciting and inspiring.  Co-workers who stir the pot for power can be dangerous because they will betray co-workers and the company alike if a sense of perceived power is the end sought.

If your goal is to master what you do and to get paid for what you do, spending time with pot stirrers takes time and doesn’t advance your plans, so the less contact the better.  If justice-seekers are in positions of leadership in your company, that could produce better conditions for all.  If power-seekers are in positions of leadership, watch out.  Their “ends justify the means” strategies could be the end of your career, either by a choice to let you go to better position their power, or by the consequences their choices stir up - or bring down upon - your company.

***

Need help with a personal problem at work? E-mail your question to Anne Giles Clelland at anne@handshake20.com.

Please include the subject line "Workplace Advice." Anne regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

You're invited to read Anne's Giles Clelland's Workplace Advice Column on Handshake 2.0.  Her "Workplace Advice" appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT. A version of this column appeared in the January, 2011 issue.

Taking Home a Pack of Paper? Yes, It's Stealing

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 8:19 AM on September 27, 2011:

Getting a Grip - Personal workplace advice from Handshake 2.0Dear Getting a Grip:

So, I take home a pack of paper from work every once in awhile. I work from home on weekends and print documents for work. Why should I use my own personal supplies for the company’s work product? They won’t miss it anyway. What’s the big deal?

Dear Paper:

With so many people at so many companies working remotely, working overtime, and going the extra mile - all at home - the divide between work and home barely exists. Many people use their own personal computers and laptops, mobile devices and office supplies just to get the job done so when they’re done, they can really be at home.

When employers and employees have clearly expressed expectations of who’s doing what where and for how long, clarity about whose stuff will be used to do the work is straightforward to determine or negotiate. When those expectations aren’t spelled out, or are unspoken, the work/home divide and the company property/personal property divide are ethics-challengingly blurry. Many employees feel overworked and underpaid and can feel they deserve more than they are receiving.

Getting a Grip:

Deserved or not, unless it’s in the contract that an employee is to be compensated with such, leaving the building with a package of paper, highlighters for the kids, or the change left over from a petty cash purchase is stealing.

***

Need to start “Getting a Grip” on a personal problem at work? Need workplace advice? E-mail your question to grip@handshake20.com.

Getting a Grip, a workplace advice column, is written by Anne Giles Clelland. Getting a Grip regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Anne's Giles Clelland's workplace advice column appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT. A version of this column appeared in the December 2010 issue.

Workplace Advice: My Client Won't Listen to Me

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 10:04 AM on August 17, 2011:

Getting a Grip - Personal workplace advice from Handshake 2.0Dear Getting a Grip:

I am a professional in residential real estate and I have a question that could apply to people in a number of professions where their advice and direction is sought. I have a client who simply will not listen to me. She is paying a lot of money for my advice to sell her home, but she goes for advice to her family, her friends, her employer, even the person next to her in the grocery line, then comes to me with it as if it were the final word in real estate. Usually it is illogical, illegal or simply stupid. How do I get control of a situation that has gone awry?

Dear Last in Line:

When our friends ask us for advice, we give it for free, tending to let go of the outcome.  When a client hires us for advice, we tend to attach ourselves to the client taking action on our advice because we believe our advice is important to the success of the client’s enterprise.  For our clients’ well-being, for our own professional ethics, and for the sake of our future business with clients or for the clients’ referrals, we want clients to do what we think is best for them.

Clients ultimately have the right to choose what they think is best for them, sometimes in accord with our advice, sometimes not.  Negotiating upfront that the value we provide in exchange for hire is the expertise behind the advice, not the outcome, can leave both parties satisfied with the give-and take of the transaction.  Attempting to give advice, then control a client’s choice, usually results in frustration and resentment on both sides.

When clients question or challenge our advice, it’s either personal or not personal.  If it’s personal, clients have doubts about the quality or value of the advice we provide.  That requires an upfront, right-now conversation.  “Your satisfaction is what’s most important.  If you’re satisfied with the value I’m providing you, let’s continue working together.  If not, may I refer you to one of our other agents that may better serve your needs?”

When clients consult others and then quote that advice to us, it’s usually not about us.  When people are uncertain about an action to take, they seek a “Yes, but…” from as many sources as they can find to justify waiting, even stalling.  That requires an invitational conversation.  “You seem to be gathering advice from lots of sources.  Are you concerned about proceeding?” 

And, frankly, bad clients happen, or bad fits between clients and advisors happen.  Time spent advising and re-advising one client doubtful of the value you offer could be time spent with two clients who appreciate your expertise.

Getting a Grip:

When an individual is hired by another individual to give advice, whether as an agent, attorney consultant, accountant, coach or counselor, the advisor’s job description is this:  Give advice.  This is not in an advisor’s job description:  Make the client take the advice.

***

Need to start “Getting a Grip” on a personal problem at work? Need workplace advice? E-mail your question to grip@handshake20.com.

Getting a Grip, a workplace advice column, is written by Anne Giles Clelland. Getting a Grip regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Anne's Giles Clelland's workplace advice column appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT. A version of this column appeared in the November 2010 issue.