Since I perform most of my IT consulting work from home, I don't have to travel much for business anymore -- twice a year is a lot for me. My clients can connect to my brain over the wonderful World Wide Web and suck everything they need out of it most of the time. But, every now and then, someone will insist on transporting my brain (precariously packaged within my fragile body) inside a metal tube traveling at over 400 miles per hour across a continent or two.
By the time I make it to the airport, endure the humiliation of Transportation Security Administration (TSA), wait at the airport, and actually fly to my destination, these trips can take up the better part of a day, during which I would otherwise be working. So I make sure to bill IT consulting clients for my travel time. (Thanks to TechRepublic member rjt for bringing up this great subject of billing for travel time.)
Include travel time in your contracts
If you bill for travel time, you need to spell that out in your client agreement -- and be sure to state the amount you plan to charge. When it comes to billing, surprise line items are never popular -- unless they're credits. In most of my contracts, I specify that travel time is billed at half my usual hourly rate. Clients aren't getting any services from me, but I'm not able to bill anyone else, so we split the difference. One client has a philosophical problem with paying for travel time, and since I otherwise like them as a client, I let them off that hook -- but I raise my rate to account for it.
How do you define travel time?
In my contracts, I state that travel time is billable only if the travel was requested by the client. Travel time includes all time between leaving my home/office and setting foot at the client's destination -- either the venue itself or the hotel if I arrive the day before. (I don't bill for sleep time, though I often solve problems in my dreams). I insist on making the flight arrangements myself, not only to best suit my schedule of billable hours but also to make sure that I can catch a ferry both ways since I live on an island.
Working while en route
It's becoming increasingly possible to do billable work while traveling. When I first started consulting, in-travel work was limited to reading printed material and jotting down notes on paper. These days, my notebook PC is powerful enough to carry most of my business with me (yea virtualization!), and with EV-DO, I can even stay online except when in-flight (and even that may change some day).
So I revised my travel policy to exclude from travel time any hours during which I am performing billable work -- whether for the same client or someone else. I bill that time at the full rate because I'm being just as productive as if I were in my office. Naturally, this policy requires some judgment. I don't normally bill full rate for time when I might be staring out the airplane window and pondering a project, unless I've intentionally dedicated my mind to that subject for a period of time. One good indicator of "off" vs. "on" time is whether I have a cocktail in my hand.
Share your experiences
Do you bill IT consulting clients for travel time? If so, how much do you charge? How do you define travel hours? Have you ever met with any resistance to billing for travel time? Has the increased flexibility of working remotely reduced your number of travel days? I'm curious to know how you handle this arrangement.
Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant blog, he also contributes to [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News and his two personal blogs, Chip's Quips and Chip's Tips for Developers.