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I work as web consultant (freelancer). I work basically from home at an hourly rate. In my contract which was mostly through email, I am supposed to charge in increment of 30min. If something takes less than in 10 min. to fix, a charge for 30min will apply. If something gets fixed in 40min, charges of 1 hour will apply.

My question is about email support. I often get email from clients asking about various questions and the work that I do. These are not tasks for me but something like, this is not working, the page is broke, it does not work on my pc etc etc. My question is, is technical support chargeable as freelancer?

One might suggest to just add up these hours. However it does not take that long to answer these email, something around 1min to 10min, but it does interrupt my regular work.

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In a comment below you said, "most of the time I mention free email support. What is reasonable charge for such email support?" Could you explain what you meant by "mention free email support"? –  Justin Apr 24 '12 at 12:22
    
free email support = the customer has blocking issue or something they dont have a clue about. They ask me for technical support, what could be wrong, what is the solution, what should I do? This could be site B while my contract was about site A. Basically a ton of stuff can go wrong with client and you are their support even before they will contact their webhost to address the issue. –  enthusiast Apr 24 '12 at 14:00
    
If the question is not covered by the scope of the contract I suggest you provide a scope, define a cost, so you can charge said cost to the customer. It really depends on your contract, helping somebody solve a solution by email, takes the same amount of effort then solving it yourself. –  Ramhound Apr 27 '12 at 14:58
    
@Ramhound, I would still like to know what should be charged for email support. Because it is such a huge facility. You send an email and you get a response/solution which gives you clear direction. What should be charged for this? It might take just 2 min but it leaves all the headache from their head. –  enthusiast Apr 27 '12 at 15:41

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Yes email support should be chargeable. You would charge for telephone support also. Is it on your contract? Only you can answer that question.

When I had to support contracts like this the key was how quickly did they want an answer. If they expect a 24 hr turn around, then you can gather all the ones you receive that day and answer them in a single block of time. But if they want them ASAP, then you will have to treat them as separate jobs, charging a minimum of 30 minutes.

Try to be kind to them if they always follow up with a related question, answer a short email for free every once in awhile.

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This is my first ever contract of this sort. Let me say I am not annoyed with anything, I just want to know the rules. My initial impression was, I will be given task and I will complete it. Of course reading emails will be part of billable hours. However these are emails not related to tasks that I was hired to for initially. This is like My other website is down, I am getting this error, what did you fix this problem? etc. They were not part of contract and I did not expect it. I do not know how to charge. –  enthusiast Apr 24 '12 at 1:51
    
let me add, I provide support on immediate basis without any delay. All support is by email. yes I am very generous in invoice. Most of the time I mention free email support. What is reasonable charge for such email support which were not part of contract. I know lawyers will charge you for greeting card they send to you. –  enthusiast Apr 24 '12 at 1:53
    
@Thecrocodilehunter Support on immediate basis without any delay. Why wouldn't you charge for that? If you didn't have a contractor agreement with them would you do this? Why shouldn't you get paid for this? If you get in the habit of giving them these freebies then they come to expect it and come at you with meaningless mind dumps, they won't organize their thoughts and problems before coming to you. This is because that because it is free they are undervaluing your time. If you charge for their time they will suddenly perceive it as being much more valuable. –  maple_shaft Apr 24 '12 at 12:37
    
@maple_shaft, I agree. However this is my first contract of this nature. My question here basically will help me in my future contracts. Now that I am clear about this, this time is chargeable, Is there a reasonable charge for such technical support which is basically blocking issues for the client and you help them over email. –  enthusiast Apr 24 '12 at 13:54
    
@Thecrocodilehunter How about the same rate that you charge for development? Why make it more complicated than it needs to be? Your time is valuable and you should be charging what you feel is a fair price for your time as a contractor specializing in software development. If they want you to mop the floors then you should charge no less. If this is a big concern for them then consider possibly breaking your chargeable increments of time into 1/4th of an hour (15 minute increments). Most email support shouldn't take longer than 15 minutes anyway. –  maple_shaft Apr 24 '12 at 16:37

For any questions regarding billing, it is of the utmost importance to go directly to your contract and verify:

  • the description of your services for hire
  • the rate of pay for each service you are contracted to perform

If your contract states that you are performing "consulting services" -- which can range from A to Z and anything in between -- at a fee of N per hour (calculated as you've indicated), then yes, charge for email consultation, phone consultation, and any other activity applicable to your work for that client.

Unless your contract states that you are billing very specific tasks at very specific rates, then anything you do that requires effort and thought on behalf of the client is billable.

I would note that mhoran_psprep brings up the good point of the occasional good faith freebies -- and those are always your discretion.

To recap: anything you do is billable unless you have signed a contract that locks you in to piece work or flat rate bid, and if your services and rates are not explicit in this contract, make sure they are in your next one.

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I agree but would add that there should be no surprises and you should offer to aggregate email to reduce costs. Three five-minute answers for a cost of 30min versus 90min because you did them throughout the day is significant, and if the customer wasn't expecting immediate turn-around may come across badly (trying to milk them). –  Monica Cellio Dec 12 '12 at 17:42

To your main question, yes of course you should charge. Anything that takes time, you should charge for. You might want to maintain a count of emails though and charge (say) 10 minutes or 15 minutes per email.

But I'm also struck by your remark that emails interrupt your regular work. This suggests to me that you have sounds or alerts turned on for email while you're working - something you should turn off to allow you to be more productive. Prioritize email down when you're doing project work - you'll be surprised at the difference in your ability to get things done.

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I have regular job so If I see email from client, I just reply to them. If it takes longer than 7min, I hold off till I leave work. –  enthusiast Apr 24 '12 at 13:56

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