The Billable Hour
There are a few different options when it comes to determining how to bill a client. There are flat rates, where you do all of the work for fixed price. And there are day rates (or hourly rates), where the end cost depends on how long it takes to do. I've done both, depending on the job.
For some design work, especially the smaller jobs, I'll quote a fixed price. I'm fairly confident in my estimations for jobs that take less than a week. But for the larger, more ambitious projects, I favor the day rate approach, which in turn is based on an hourly rate.
A typical 90-120 second animated commercial is a daunting task. There are so many steps, each with varying time costs. And depending on the complexity, it can take months and months to complete. And I never create something that's completely like what I've done before, so there is always an element of learning and exploration that adds to the uncertainty of the final cost. All of this means that, as a contracted artist, I need to keep careful track of the time I bill.
Contrary to what you might think, I do not start at 9am, stop at 5pm and call it a day. Billable hours, as they say, are only those hours where you were actively doing meaningful work for the client. Bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, and checking my email do not count. So, I have my iPhone sitting at the side of my desk with a timer. Whenever I'm painting, animating, or editing, I start the timer. But, say, if I happen to tab over to Twitter, I stop the timer immediately.
What I've found is that getting to 8 billable hours takes at least 9-10 hours of real time. And that's working pretty much non-stop. And when things like dinner are factored in, it can easily take 10-11 hours of the day to make 8 hours worth of money. So, a "9 to 5" doesn't actually produce a real 8-hour day. All the little, seemingly innocuous, things add up fast. A few 5-minute email checks leave me missing a quarter of an hour. And while I'm writing this blog, I'm not getting paid!
When I hear people say they get 16 hours of work done in a day, I pause. I certainly have no doubt that they were on the computer for most of that time. But to truly get 16 hours of real work done in a day is very difficult. Things like commutes, lunch, dinner, bathroom breaks, email checking, adjusting Photoshop shortcuts, chores, exercising, and reading up on the industry take time out of our precious days. Even if you eat while you work, you're not going as fast as normal. Not to mention any family time, entertainment, or getting a good night's rest. So, yeah...I often work from 9am to 2am. But there's no way I can bill a client for all of that time.
If you made it this far, here's an early, early concept I drew last year for the 3D Printing commercial I made. Is this different from the final look, or what? Just goes to show how much things can change over the course of a project.