I’ve been surveying and developing prices for non-traditional printing items over the last several months like: creating QR codes, email broadcasting, setting up websites, and posting social media for others. Especially in these non-traditional areas, there’s one fairly common response that needs review: “Well, I don’t know what to charge so I use an hourly rate.”
While using an hourly rate to establish an initial price is useful; overuse can cost us money and customers. That’s because we need three things from a price plan: fairness, consistency, and quick answers. And our customers need the same things. Using hourly rates exclusively ignores these needs, plus one thing more: customers are highly suspicious of them. Here’s why.
There’s nothing wrong with using an hourly rate to establish an initial price. After all, it’s impossible to estimate something we have never done, whether it’s an email broadcast or our first press run of enameled stock. It’s just that relying on hourly rates for our prices exclusively and forever creates problems. What are they? The rate itself and the time the job takes.
The Rate Problem
When I asked about pricing email broadcasts and social media, a number of people said, “I took my typesetting hourly rate and cut it in half.” Why would they do that? I assume they think they’re not using prepress equipment so the charge should be less. That’s stinking thinking.
Most of us have only one prepress person and they can either manipulate files, set type, or broadcast emails. If they are doing email broadcasts, they aren’t using the prepress equipment. That means your costs are the same when they are doing either. The constraint is the person, not the machine. Machine hourly rates should be used only when you have something like two people manning a six-color press.
Now, carry the logic over to pricing from costing, and the retail rate should at least be the same as your prepress rate. But there’s a reason the rate should be more, not less, and the data I’m collecting bears me out. How many print shops do typesetting? Right—about all do. Now, how many print shops do email broadcasting and social media posting? Only a few. (I find about 18% right now). That means the selling rate should be higher than the regular rate, not lower, because the service is scarce (recommended rates are published in my report).
“Yeah, but the customer can do email broadcasts and social media themselves.” Yes, they can do a lot of things themselves. Some people have others cut their grass. Some of your current printing customers could really produce that work themselves (think of newsletters). They could set it up in Publisher and run copies, but they don’t for many reasons. Among them: you may make it look prettier than they can, you may keep their database current so they don’t have to, and you might help them with copyrights. Whatever! There’s some reason they bring it to you. And let’s not overlook the most obvious: people hire things done that they dread doing. Grass cutting and doing the monthly newsletter are two examples. Now carry this over to email broadcasting and having to deal with HTML sooner or later, and you will find plenty of customers who would like you to do it for them.
Now what rate? Don’t know yet. I am still working on the study, but I can tell you it should be higher than typesetting. A complete report will be available at www.crouser.com by the time you read this.
The Time Problem
The more times we do something the faster we become, thanks to the learning curve. This is especially true with software-based tasks. Therefore, using an hourly rate as a retail price results in the price for the same work going down over time.
The simple answer to that is to increase the rate as we speed up. Nice concept, but hard to implement. Increased production is easy to see when we buy equipment that does something twice as fast. But with a person’s work output, well, it’s harder to see. So the email broadcast you did six months ago, which took two hours, may take only one hour now, even though they are basically the same.