I always seem to worry about my fees. I’m not worried that the client might not like it, I worry about whether it is a fair fee. I as most architects probably underestimate the amount of time we will have in a project. After 27 years, I am still basically basing my estimated hours off of how much time I will be sitting at the computer drafting. As you know a project encompasses so much more. So I am typically cutting myself short. Things I think should take me two hours takes 6 - 8 hours. When I think about billing for the 6 - 8 hours, I feel guilty as if I didn’t work efficiently enough for the client.
Then one day it kinda hit me. I had taken my car to my mechanic, a guy I have been going to for over 30 years. I drop my car off and tell him what I need him to check or do and then pick it up when it is ready. I never say a word about his fee. As a business owner I understand you have to set your fees so you can stay in business. I trust this guy, so sometimes when the bill is higher than I expected, I just gulp and write the check. So one day after paying a bill much higher than I expected I thought if I have to pay a couple hundred dollars for something I think is fairly simple automotively, why am I so concerned about my charges when someone ask me to perform an architectural service for them.
Example, I write a letter for a client. I think to myself it may only take me 30 mins to write the letter. I see the letter as the object being paid for and we all know the long discussions we have had with clients that we provide a service, not a product (the drawings). When I add up my time the letter may be in the $200 - $250 range, which seem steep to me for a letter, but based on the time it may be extremely fair.
So when I take my car into the mechanics and ask him to replace some burnt out dash lights and check on something else, not do any work, but check, and in my mind I am expecting a bill of about $125 - $150 and get an bill for $274 - $325, it is sort of a reality check. Like I said, I have know this guy for a long, long time and consider him a friend, but apparently he doesn’t worry about my bill, so why am I so concerned about mine?
I do not send invoices for time spent or work done prior to discussing it with the client. The responsibility of agreeing to a fee before I start falls on me. I’ve said it many times, if I can look a client in the eye and regardless of his reaction, not blush, then I have set , in my mind, a fair fee. Let me clarify that scenario has nothing to do with the client, it has to do with me. Nothing the client could say that would make me blush if I felt like I was fair and had done the right thing. The client may have a different expectation of what he should get for how much. My attitude is , you don’t tell me how to run my architectural business and I won’t tell you how to run your business.
So now I just figure out a more realistic time estimate, charge accordingly and if the client doesn’t like it I thank him for the opportunity and move on. I could tell him to go get his dashboard lamps replaced if he thinks I charge a lot ……..