Book a call

Why Digital Agencies Selling Time for Services is Stupid

Short on time?

Jump to the TLDR

Let's get started

Ready to accelerate your agency?

Book a call


At The OMG Center, we have long recognised the inherent challenges that come with the hourly billing model, especially for digital agencies offering intangible services like SEO, PPC, Social Media Management, and more. While it might appear straightforward on the surface, billing by the hour presents several limitations that can compromise an agency’s ability to deliver genuine value. Services like SEO or social media marketing aren’t mere commodities; they’re complex, nuanced, and tailored to individual client needs.

I’m here to tell you that this model is not only outdated but downright detrimental to an agency’s success. Drawing insights from seminal works like “Selling the Invisible” and “Built to Sell,” let’s delve into why hourly billing is a misstep and how value-based pricing can revolutionise your agency.

Point of Clarification

While we firmly believe that selling clients on the basis of time is a flawed model, it’s crucial to differentiate between external billing and internal management. Selling services to clients based on hours commoditises expertise and often misrepresents the real value provided. On the contrary, using time internally as a metric is invaluable. Tracking time helps in capacity planning, monitoring project progress, and ensuring that resources are allocated effectively. It’s the outward billing and client communication where an hourly model becomes problematic, not in the internal mechanisms agencies use to manage their workflows and team productivity.

Why Time-Based Pricing is Stupid

  • Undervalues expertise and results.
  • Focuses on hours, not outcomes.
  • Creates pressure, compromising quality.
  • Encourages inefficiencies for more billable hours.
  • Limits flexibility and innovation.

Common Issues from Selling Time

  • Increased client disputes over billable hours.
  • Burnout from trying to maximise billable time.
  • Difficulty in scaling or innovating services.
  • Loss of potential clients due to perceived high costs.
  • Misalignment of agency-client objectives.

The Limitations of Hourly Billing

For digital agencies, the realm of creativity and innovation should know no bounds. These agencies thrive on pushing boundaries and delivering unique solutions that cater to the nuanced needs of their clientele. But when the traditional hourly billing model comes into play, a plethora of limitations arise, undermining the essence of what digital agencies stand for. Here’s a deeper dive into these limitations:

Time Constraints Curtailing Creativity and Productivity

When agencies bill by the hour, projects invariably become a race against time. But creativity isn’t something that can always be rushed. It flourishes in an environment where it’s given the space to evolve and breathe.
1. Compromised Quality: With the clock constantly ticking, the emphasis often shifts from delivering top-notch work to just meeting deadlines. This rush can overlook critical details, leading to sub-par outputs.
2. Burnout Threat: Continually racing against time can also lead to employee burnout. Creatives feel the pressure to churn out ideas within a constrained time frame, which can be mentally exhausting and detrimental to their well-being.

The Challenge of Accurate Estimations

The nature of creative projects means that predicting how long a task will take is inherently challenging.
1. Underquoting: If a project takes longer than anticipated, agencies end up overworking, leading to strained resources and reduced profitability.
2. Overquoting: On the flip side, if agencies overestimate the time, they risk pricing themselves out of potential projects or facing client dissatisfaction when billed hours exceed actual work.

Perception of Purchased Time Over Expertise

One of the biggest pitfalls of hourly billing is the shift in client perception.
1. Commoditisation of Services: Clients may start to view the agency’s services as mere hours bought rather than the expertise and results they bring. This commoditises and undervalues the agency’s offerings.
2. Shift in Focus: Instead of concentrating on the quality of output or the impact of a campaign, discussions may revolve around hours spent, pushing the real value of services to the background.

Misalignment of Incentives

When revenue is tied directly to hours billed, it can sometimes lead to a misalignment between agency goals and client objectives.
1. Quantity Over Quality: There’s a potential temptation to stretch out projects to bill more hours, even if it’s not in the best interest of the client.
2. Conflict of Interest: Instead of seeking the most efficient and effective solution for a client, an agency might opt for a more time-consuming approach to increase billable hours.

In essence, while hourly billing might seem like a straightforward approach, it introduces several complexities and challenges that can hamper the growth and reputation of digital agencies. It’s crucial for agencies to recognise these limitations and consider alternative billing models that align better with their ethos and the value they provide.

Value-Based Pricing: The Superior Model

Where intangible services are the norm, finding the right pricing model can mean the difference between success and stagnation. Enter value-based pricing. Unlike the traditional hourly rate, this model charges clients based on the value of the service provided. Here’s a detailed look at why this method is rapidly gaining traction:

Framing Services Around Client Value

1. Highlighting True Worth: With value-based pricing, agencies can illustrate the actual value of their services, focusing on the tangible and intangible benefits they deliver.
2. Decoupling Time and Cost: By not binding services to an hourly rate, agencies can charge based on the unique benefits they provide, ensuring fair compensation for their expertise.

Encouraging Efficiency

1. Optimising without Compromising: Free from the constraints of an hourly model, agencies can streamline processes and adopt innovative approaches without jeopardising quality.
2. Motivated by Results: The motivation shifts from clocking hours to achieving stellar results, which is a win-win for both the agency and the client.

Aligning Goals

1. Unified Objectives: With value-based pricing, both the agency and the client are on the same page, aiming for the highest quality outcome rather than merely accumulating hours.
2. Shared Success: The agency’s success becomes directly tied to the client’s success, fostering a true partnership approach.

Providing Flexibility

1. Tailored Solutions: Without the pressure of hourly billing, professionals can take the time to craft bespoke strategies that truly align with a client’s needs and objectives.
2. Unleashing Creativity: This model allows creatives to think outside the box and offer solutions that might be unconventional but highly effective.

The value-based pricing model finds resonance in the teachings of “Built to Sell.” Creating a scalable, valuable service is less about the sheer hours invested and more about the systems, models, and genuine value established in the process.

Leveraging Insights for Transitioning to Value-Based Pricing

A shift towards value-based pricing can position an agency as forward-thinking and client-centric. The transition, while offering numerous benefits, can seem challenging without the right strategy. However, by drawing on industry expertise and adopting a structured approach, this move becomes not only feasible but also transformative for business growth.

Assessing the True Value of Your Services

Before transitioning, it’s vital to deeply understand the worth of the services you provide.
1. Tangible Benefits: Look at metrics and direct outcomes, such as increased web traffic from SEO efforts or boosted sales from PPC campaigns.
2. Intangible Benefits: Consider factors like brand reputation enhancement, improved customer loyalty, or increased social media engagement that might be harder to quantify but are crucial for long-term success.

Packaging Services for Clarity and Flexibility

Presenting your services in a clear and structured manner is key to a smooth transition.
1. Tiers: Offer different levels of service – basic, intermediate, and premium – catering to varying client needs and budgets.
2. Bundles: Group complementary services together, allowing clients to benefit from a holistic approach while understanding the collective value they receive.

Transparent Communication of Value

Ensuring clients grasp the value proposition is critical to gaining acceptance for the new pricing model.
1. Benefits Over Features: Shift the conversation from what you do (features) to the advantages clients receive (benefits).
2. Pricing Rationale: Explain the reasons behind your pricing structure, highlighting the value and expertise you bring to the table.

Training and Aligning Your Team

A shift in pricing strategy requires a corresponding shift in the team’s mindset and approach.
1. Educational Workshops: Conduct sessions to familiarise the team with the value-based pricing model’s nuances and benefits.
2. Role Play Scenarios: Engage in hypothetical client interactions to practice discussing and justifying the new pricing structure.

By implementing these strategies and focusing on the intrinsic value provided to clients, digital agencies can confidently transition to a value-based pricing model, fostering stronger client relationships and enhancing overall business profitability.

The OMG Center’s Take on Value-Based Pricing

At The OMG Center, we’ve seen firsthand the transformative power of value-based pricing. Through in-depth consultations, I’ve guided numerous agencies in making this pivotal switch. Client testimonials and success stories abound, attesting to increased revenue, more satisfied clients, and streamlined operations.

Final thoughts

Clinging to outdated models can spell the downfall for even the most talented of agencies. By adopting value-based pricing, agencies can ensure they’re not just surviving but thriving in this competitive arena. It’s not just about selling a service; it’s about selling value, results, and benefits. Remember, as “Selling the Invisible” stresses, what’s unseen is often the most valuable.

Ready to Make the Shift?

Let’s accelerate your agency’s growth together, ensuring you deliver value every step of the way.

  • 🕰️ Hourly billing undervalues expertise and focuses on time over outcomes.
  • 🔥 Issues include burnout, client disputes, and misalignment of objectives.
  • 🎨 Creativity is compromised with time constraints and inaccurate project estimations.
  • 💰 Value-based pricing emphasizes real value over hours spent, encouraging efficiency and aligning goals.
  • 🔄 Transitioning requires assessing service value, packaging, transparent communication, and team training.
  • 🚀 The OMG Center advocates for value-based pricing for enhanced client satisfaction and increased revenue.