Independent Consultant: On-Call

ouestque used Ask the Experts™
How do you guys bill a client that wants you 'on-call'? Would you agree to be 'on-call' if someone requests?

Let's say you tell a client up front you will be unavailable on a given week (I.e., Christmas, honeymoon etc.,) and they request you be 'on-call' during that time in case of emergencies.

Would you do it? If so, how would you bill for it?
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David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018
I bill in on call increments.

For example, holiday support + launch support.

Normally 4-12 hours of prepay, which guarantees I've available by phone during these hours.

Then spin up a custom Skype number $5/month to provide the client + forward it to your cell phone.

After the engagement, delete the forward, then let the Skype number die.

This way, then only have a number good for the hours covered + you always have all calls coming to one device.
Owner & Chief Technologist
On call = retainer
If they want you to be on call during Christmas Day, then there would be a premium, paid upfront.
If they want you to be on call during your honeymoon, well unless you want your new bride to become a widow during your honeymoon, I would arrange for someone to cover you and to only call you should an extreme emergency arise.
I feel that if a client wants you to be on call, then it is similar to you being on-site.
Whether you require a retainer or not, whether you make it a premium or not, depends on your relationship with the client.
Being on call for a CPA firm during tax season could be treated differently, then being on call for someone who has a home business.
No matter how you decide to bill, make certain that you put it in writing and agree on how you will be contacted; phone, text, email, etc. And if this client is a really valuable client to you, then make sure you have someone to back you up and that both parties know when and how to be contacted. God forbid you are in a car accident and your CPA firm client's server goes down during tax season.
Lastly, if you are going to be on call over the holidays, make sure that it is worth it.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013
My agreements with clients state availability.  My normal work hours are 8am to 6pm.  Work requested outside this time may be subject to an additional charge.  The hourly rate may be higher or the monthly rate may be higher, depending on the agreement.

That said, if you want clients, you cannot say to them, I'm your guy except when on vacation.  You need to make arrangements to cover the clients when you are away.  I have several folks I can call when I'm on vacation.  And the client's have access to their numbers.
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David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018
Richard said it far more clearly than I did.

On Call == Retainer.

More good advice from Richard... Avoid being on call for honeymoons + anniversaries... or build in a divorce premium into your rate...


So for simplicity let's say the rate is $10/hr. Client wants you to be on call on Christmas, which means, you cant truly relax as you must keep your phone by your side.

Would you bill him/her for 8hrs up front (I.e., $80) and put in writing calls are for emergencies only?

Client does not call. You keep the $80. You did not do any work, but got paid for being available. Do you think this is fair for both parties?
David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018

Correct. You're describing a retainer.

They pay. You keep the retainer, whether you are called or not.

This is standard practice.


I didn't think of retainer. That's a brilliant idea in case they disappear or change their mind. As per the example above, do you think it is fair to charge a full 8 hours for each day they want you to be on call?

Example: They want you on call Christmas week, 24 hours a day. For that week, would you charge 8h/day * 7 days * 10/hr= $560 retainer? or would you do something different? (I.e., Charge for 24hrs/day? (I.e., Charge 8hr/day, but double pay if they call etc.,)(I.e., Charge half pay for 24hr/day, but charge double for accepted calls etc.,)

Assume you have plenty of clients, but you value them each and your main concern when quoting is 'What is Fair?'.
David FavorFractional CTO
Distinguished Expert 2018
You asked, "do you think it is fair to charge a full 8 hours for each day they want you to be on call?"

This will vary between engagements.

Swapping dev sites over to live sites might be 2-4 hours.

Launch support might be a 12 hour window, where you really are online most of the time time.

Your client will tell you how many hours support they require. You will happily take their money.

You asked, "What is fair?"

Best if you flip the sense of this.

Only do what is fair for you. Period. No exception.

If you're good, then you'll always have a long line of waiting clients ready to take the place of an existing client, when you fire an existing client.


Thanks again everyone for the awesome feedback!!

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