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emilyrose's avatar

Is it normal as an independent contractor to have different rates for different projects but for the same client?

Asked by emilyrose (2269points) June 26th, 2008

I’m just getting started with my own environmental consulting business and I am applying for a contract currently. Some of my work may involve being out in the field and doing on-site consultation. It is my understanding that as a contractor I can’t change for travel time. If that is so, can I charge a higher hourly rate for work that requires me to make site visits at likely odd hours?

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10 Answers

Knotmyday's avatar

What state are you in, emily? Each state has different regs.

jballou's avatar

You can charge whatever you like. That’s the beauty of being an independent contractor (a.k.a Freelancer).

From my experience (which is solely web and graphic design, but hopefully applicable) you can and should negotiate each project separately. If you feel like you need to bill for time, you can build that into your pricing structure or have a clause in your contract for incidental costs. You can also typically write off travel when it comes to tax time, so you’ll be keeping track of it anyway.

You might want to consult a small business attorney and a small business accountant before you get too far into everything. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say, right? As long as you’re fair and honest and you cover your ass legally and financially, you don’t have much to worry about.

emilyrose's avatar

I live in San Francisco. I am horrible when it comes to tracking things, knowing the laws, etc…... I wish I made enough to hire someone to do that stuff for me. Maybe someday!

jballou's avatar

I live in San Francisco as well, and I used to say the exact same thing- until I found a great accountant on Yelp, who helped me out tremendously. It wasn’t nearly as expensive as I thought it was going to be as he basically just billed me for doing my taxes- not the consultation, which you have to hire an accountant for anyway as an independent contractor unless you’re some kind of tax-law genius (since the laws change every year). But it really is worth it. You can write off your cell phone bill a lot of the time, portions of your rent or mortgage, utility bills, gas, etc.

If you pay for a one hour consultation with an accountant, you will probably end up saving/making more then that one hour cost you when it comes time to file your quarterlies.

emilyrose's avatar

i think this project requires an hourly rate. i heard recently that the #1 reason women make less than men is that they don’t ask for enough money. i know that a lot of people doing contract work have no idea what to charge. others low ball and screw up the market. a friend of mine in SF was turned down for a job because someone offered to do it for $20 hr!!!!!!!!!!! And my friend was only asking $40 which i think is less than half than what she SHOULD have been asking for….

jballou's avatar

It took me a while to figure out how much to charge for my services, but once I did I found it had the nice byproduct of weeding out the clients who were looking for the quickest cheapest quote.

You don’t want those kinds of clients anyway. Obviously when you’re first starting out, it’s hard to be picky. I don’t know what kind of work you do, but http://www.freelanceswitch.com is a great blog for freelancers. It focuses on freelance designers and writers, but I think there are a lot of well-researched entries on there that might apply to you too. Good luck!

emilyrose's avatar

thanks for that website, its GREAT! but i still don’t know what to charge : ( can’t someone just tell me? HA HA!! I know it’s something everyone struggles with. i did read a cool article that said having multiple rates is a bad idea and i tend to agree after seeing why….

marinelife's avatar

If you go to PayScale and plug in your data, you should be able to get some information. I did not know your exact education, services and years of experience. There is also some general data on annual salaries, which you can convert to hourly by dividing by 2,022 hours. You will have to add a % (usually 16–25) since you have to take care of your own benies and taxes.

lilikoi's avatar

In engineering, we typically do not charge clients for travel time, although this is not always the case.

In my field, we would bill design time and site visits separately. We’d give the client a letter specifying the number of hours to be spent on design at what rate (different rates depending on the level of expertise required) and the number of site visits and meetings to be made/attended. After the client agreed to these terms, it became a contract. If the scope of work changed to include more stuff, we would require a fee increase. If the number of meetings requiring our attendance was largely increased, we would ask for a fee increase.

As for the odd hours, I would probably not mention that in my fees. Charge whatever you think is reasonable. In my line of work, odd hours are not totally uncommon.

kfingerman's avatar

To follow up on what @marinelife said, I would caution you to charge way more on an hourly consulting basis than what you’d get hourly for a full time job. Part of being a consultant is that you’ll never get to a place where you’re working 40 billable hours a week every week (or at least probably wouldn’t want to live that way). This game means you need to spend time hustling for work and your hourly rate needs to subsidize those hours you spend drumming up more business.

I also do consulting work now, and think there’s no problem charging different rates for different work (if it’s more inconvenient or your costs are higher because you have to travel farther). You can charge whatever your clients will pay. I charge different rates for different types of clients as well (NGO, government, business).

In the interest of making your life easier, I’d say don’t charge less than $70 or $80 an hour for what you’re describing if you want to be taken seriously.

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