Have you ever had a client ask you to do something outside of your realm of expertise?
Maybe they want some extensive customization to their WordPress theme. Or a fillable PDF form that calculates based on user input. Or some major Photoshopping on a particular image.
Whatever it is, you know you’re going to have to improve your skill set to complete the project. And that’s going to take more than just an extra hour of time.
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But you’re feeling bold and courageous, so while you’re a little nervous about it, you’re determined to learn how to do it and nail it in the process.
Great! That’s your biggest hurdle – having the self-confidence to try something new and learn on the fly.
Now, who’s paying for it?
Are you going to eat the extra time it will take you to educate yourself (and, let’s face it, make a complete mockery of the first, and probably second, go at the finished project)?
Or are you going to pass some or all of those costs onto your client?
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Use these three criteria to determine whether or not you should charge your client for your learning time.
Is it something unique?
Projects that require learning something unique or client-specific should be covered by your client. Since you won’t be able to apply your newly-acquired skills to anything but their project(s), they should bear the cost of your education.
These might be:
- Learning a proprietary software or web CMS
- Understanding their business data in order to make graphs, reports, or infographics
- Designing a newsletter template in software they have (and you don’t) so they can update it weekly
Conversely, if you’re learning a common skill, the extra learning time should be on you. Some common skills include:
- HTML and CSS
- Preparing a document for printing on printing presses
- Creating a PowerPoint (or other presentation software) template
Will you be able to apply this skill to other projects or clients?
What about those more advanced skills that fall in the grey areas, you say?
Maybe you need to learn Joomla, how to create a drag and drop image sorter using jQuery, or how to perfect bind (with creep) a booklet in InDesign.
These are the types of projects that you should be salivating for – projects that teach you something for potential use with other clients. (“Why yes, I do have some experience with Actionscript 3.0.”)
In these situations, consider splitting the costs with your client depending on how in-depth your education needs to be and how useful the skill might be to you in the future.
Do you need formal or paid training?
By all means, if you need to take a formal class or have a specific certification, your client should be paying for it, even if you answered yes to the above question.
However, you can’t be taking your basic Illustrator class and expect to get away with charging your client. Classes need to be highly specialized and directly related to completing the project, such as:
- Database security/integrity for sensitive information
- Webinars for software, marketing techniques, or web templates they’ve purchased/bought into
This is fairly standard in most industries – for example, printers charge their clients to purchase custom die-cut dies. The second client to want that cut, however, doesn’t pay extra for the die.
How to convince your client to pay for your learning time
Now that you’ve determined that your client should pay for your learning time, you’ve got to convince them into it, too.
Before you talk to your client, prepare your quote. (Not sure how? Read here.) Rehearse your argument to yourself (or your dog or significant other) first, and if you get flustered easily, write an outline or notes to remind you of your talking points.
Expect your client to want to negotiate. Decide where your hard line is and how you can compromise BEFORE your client conversation.
Now for the hard part. This is a time when you’ve got to bite the bullet, pick up the phone, and have a real live conversation.*
Don’t forget these tips:
- Schedule your conversation at the right time.
- Be honest – tell your client you aren’t familiar with this type of project.
- Be confident – assure your client that you can and will do it to their satisfaction.
- Keep your composure – most clients are probably going to at the very least question you a bit. Stay professional and calm. (Rehearsing helps!)
*Note: I’ve found it’s best to do this over the phone rather than in person to avoid awkwardness and provide a quick, clean exit if tension runs high and emotions get rattled. And never, NEVER, cop-out and try to pass it off in an email. Your client deserves the respect of a real-time conversation.
Have you ever charged your client for your learning time?
How did you convince your client to pay for your learning time? Share your tips and stories in the comments on this post!
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