As a consultant, developer, designer or anyone who sells their time versus a product, we must put a value on that time. Many factors go into how we determine what our time is worth. However taking a step outside my own world, I was thinking what that hourly rate says to my clients, potential clients and contacts about me and how I run my Web support business.

However before I break this down to what I think it ‘says’, I wonder if potential clients are actually evaluating service providers on what their hourly rate says about them versus the simple bottom line. Well, that clearly depends on the client and probably most importantly their budget. However with that said, I would argue anyone evaluating an hourly service should focus less on the rate and more on why that rate is what it is.

Experience

Just like a junior employee makes less than a senior employee, experience measured in time, is a valuable asset and service providers are typically compensated based the amount of time they have worked in the field. However as a side note, Web development is an exceptionally tough field because I have met folks who have worked for more than 10 years as ‘developers’ and I swear still don’t know the basics of programming. I have also met folks right out of school with almost no professional experience, who have incredibly impressive development skills.

Expertise

An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field. – Niels Bohr (Nobel Prize Recipient)

Quite simply how good is the service provider at what they do? Web support and development are tough because there are so many ways to accomplish the same task. Any Web developer who says they don’t Google for answers is probably lying. However the question is not whether they know the answer, but how fast can they find the answer? Do they know where to look, have they seen this before, do they have the development principals to solve the issue? Expertise will play heavily into how long it actually takes to solve an issue, which is obviously very important when paying by the hour. Though a Web developer with a higher level expertise may bill a higher rate, it may take them less time to complete the task.

Location

We all know we can hop on oDesk, eLance or many other sites and find folks that will complete the same task for a rate ranging from $5/hr to $150/hr. Given that huge range, we have to figure cost of living for that individual. Obviously, service providers from poorer countries will be bill less than those where the cost of living is much higher. Even within the United States those of use working in the major markets such as New York, Boston, Washington and LA will typically bill higher than those working in smaller less expensive markets.

Guarantee

When talking hourly rates, this is the thing I feel is missed the most in the Web development field and especially when talking about Web support and maintenance. I can’t count how many times I have talked with folks who are frustrated with their current provider’s bills. It’s not always an affordability issue, but simply the invoices are continuously higher than the client expected. So your paying an hourly rate, but what is your guarantee that any one task will take 1 hour, 2 hours, or 5 or more hours? Sure we can make estimates, but code can be evil and hide those bugs well – turning what seems like a simple task into a many hour frustrating ordeal. Personally, I guarantee my estimates. So my rate may be higher, but the cost can be managed.

A little Advice

Don’t assume the cheapest provider will result in the lowest invoice. Consider things like location when it comes to communication, culture and expectations. Consider experience and expertise before considering a rate ‘too high’. With experience and expertise often comes speed and more importantly: quality. Ask your hourly service provider how they deal with estimates, are they guaranteed and how are overages communicated and dealt with?