2013-11-19

How This Freelancer Hacked His Hourly Rate

What’s your time actually worth? This experiment will get you to peak profitability.



How much is an hour of your life actually worth? It's the first question pondered by any freelancer, and arriving at an answer is seldom easy. Rather than concocting some random number based on the “market,” a programmer named Joshua Gross wanted to let the invisible hand decide for itself--so he began experimenting with his prices.

The Brooklyn-based consultant launched a site called OneHour.me and started selling his time for $1 per hour, increasing the price by another dollar each time an hour was sold. In a matter of days, he was booked for 76 hours of time. Gross, who runs a design and development firm called Planetary, has been meeting with an array of startup founders and developers for the last few weeks in one- to three-hour chunks.

Gross's clients--who range from a software developer in Brooklyn to a Louisiana college student with a fashion startup--have all arrived to their sessions (usually conducted remotely) in the earliest stages of launching a tech business with a distinct need for some kind of insight. For some, it's as simple as feedback on design wireframes. Others seek answers to bigger, more existential questions, such as how to make money from their open-source tech projects.

Startup Therapy: You Can Do A Lot In An Hour Or Two

"It's felt a bit like startup therapy, which has been an interesting dynamic," says Gross. "Since it's such a short amount of time, the client and I have a chat and they talk through their position and problems. Oftentimes, they're able to actually identify their own issues and just need a push to think about the problem in another way."

With initial sessions set at $10 and below, one may expect the project's early days to be littered with half-baked ideas and missed appointments. Not so, says Gross.

"Though the price was set exceptionally low, everyone has had an unusually high amount of respect for my time," he says. "Not a single person has missed a call, even if they only paid a few dollars, and they've been insistent on staying below the allotted time, not wanting to waste my time."

Not surprisingly, the number of hours sold has dropped off as the cost has increased. Indeed, after an initial burst of bookings, the price for Gross's time has remained steady at $76 (meaning he's had that many hours purchased) for the last week or so. That may change as the project gets more attention (perhaps this article will help). In the meantime, he's busy meeting with the forty-some-odd clients that have already booked time through OneHour.me. In each one- to three-hour sprint (he says he doesn't get many two-hour bookings, for whatever reason), he works to identify the core goals and challenges of each client, doing his best to offer actionable ideas in that short time frame.

"You can often find ways to produce huge amounts of value that the client didn't necessarily consider before," he says. "For example, a client might come to you looking to redesign their site to increase conversions, meanwhile, you realize they run a fairly successful but ad-free email newsletter, already have interested advertisers, and aren't taking advantage of that potential revenue stream."

Viable Or Not, This Model Can Drive New Business

He says he plans to schedule follow-ups with each client to see how useful his input turned out to be. Their response will help him determine how successful his experiment is. Whether or not this unique stab at rethinking the typical pricing model turns out to be profitable, there's a clear advantage for Gross, who gets the experience of working with a wide range of clients in rapid-fire fashion, learning from each as he goes. Of course, each brief meeting is another connection with a new person, who may seek longer-term consulting in the future.

"I think a lot of freelancers and consultants could execute something similar to this, really only at the cost of their time, as an opportunity to expand their potential client base," he says. "It's low-risk and only requires as much time as the person cares to give to it, but seems as though it has a high potential return."

[Image: Flickr user hannaneh710]