Time and money

Time and moneyA few months ago I told you about a project I had started for a client who needed help editing her life story. The project still isn’t finished, but we are getting close. (I think.)

Will my client be happy with the end result? I’m not sure. It has cost us both a lot of time and money.

A high price

She’s paying a high price. We agreed on an hourly rate, and I’ve invested a lot of hours—not just scanning all her photos, but also labeling them in a way that will be meaningful to her children if they decide they want the JPEGs. (Not all the scanned JPEGs will appear in the final printed book.) Many of the originals she gave me were torn, spotted, flecked, and yellowed, so I’ve invested time correcting the blemishes and enhancing the color. (She didn’t ask me to do this, but I think she’d regret it if I didn’t.) Sometimes she gave me the same photo more than once with different instructions, and I scanned it both times but named it and filed it differently, and those duplicates became confusing later.

I feel bad that it’s costing so much. I wish it didn’t. For me, it wouldn’t be worth it to pay this much money for a book like this. I would rather spend the time and do it myself.

But I can do it myself. She can’t. (She tried.) Scanning and organizing 500+ photos, and then choosing, enhancing, and laying out roughly 200 of them, and then preparing high-resolution CMYK files to upload to a printer that will print and bind only four copies—well that takes a lot of time and some specialized knowledge. That’s what costs so much.

A limited budget

My client is on a budget, and I know this. I’m trying to be respectful of this. So each time she drops off a new envelope of “must-include” photos, or emails me new details she wants to squeeze into a caption on an already crowded page, or ignores the specific questions I’m asking and sends a rambling story instead—I remind her of how much money she has left and how much time it will take me to do the new things she’s asking. Her main concerns are that her kids won’t appreciate the book, or that she won’t have equal numbers of photos of each grandchild, or that she’ll offend someone she left out. My main concern is that she’ll spend all her money and she still won’t have a finished book.

A gift given

What she’s paying is a lot of money to her. I suppose it’s a lot of money to me too, but it represents weekends and late nights and vacation days that I spent with my hand on a trackpad instead of a tennis racket, alone in my office instead of out with family and friends. Those are hours I won’t get back. She bought them from me so that she’ll have a gift to give her family.

But when we reach the end of her budget, I’ll keep working. Those are hours I’ll give to her so she can get the book she wants. I’ve decided this already.

A decision made

I’ve also decided I’ll continue to track those hours I’m giving. I’ll continue to submit my invoice each month, with the dates and hours worked, and a description of what I’ve accomplished in each session. The invoice will show the dollar value of those hours, but some of them will be stamped “gratis.”

You see, if I don’t give her this information, she won’t know how much this gift is worth, how much it’s costing both of us. She has already suggested that there are other projects she wants me to do for her. I want her to understand why I’ll have to turn those down. I just can’t afford to give this much time all the time!

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Update

I just got a call from my client. I had given her a hard-copy printout of the book and asked her to review it. She was overwhelmed. “Unbelievable,” she told me. “It’s just brilliant. I love the choices you made and the way you put it all together. I cried when I saw it. It was worth every nickel I had to pay.”

For me, that makes it worth every hour I had to spend.

That’s what time and money are all about.

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