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Should you charge your client for your learning curve?

Should you charge your client for your learning curve?

Have you ever had a client ask you to do something that you’ve never done before, maybe something outside of your normal skillset?

Maybe they need you to customize that new WordPress theme, or create a new banner for a Facebook Group, or even learn how to run Facebook ads like a boss.

Whatever the request, you feel a little apprehensive about it and all of these thoughts start racing around your head…. Am I going to do it right? How long is this going to take me?  Of course you’re going to be nervous because it isn’t something you do every day so it’s going to take more time than usual.

If you’re like me, you love a challenge and usually respond with a resounding, “You bet, I’ll get to work on it right away!”

Now comes the hard part, you ask yourself, “should I charge the client for my learning curve?

To Charge or Not to Charge?

There have been times when I’ve charged my clients for learning something and other times when I have not. Sometimes I would discount my time and charge only half of the learning time. I really had no consistency when it came to the question of charging my client for my education.

But then I came up with some criteria that makes it much more simple, check it out:

Is it something that is proprietary?

Is the client asking you to learn something that is proprietary to them, meaning it’s exclusive or owned by them, or maybe it’s something very unique to that client? For example, one of my very first clients used a content management system (CMS) that was primarily custom coded. Since it wasn’t a program that I was familiar with, it took me hours to learn the ins and outs of the program. Whenever I would do something, like a web update that would normally take 5 minutes, I would have to go through twice the number of steps and it took twice as long.

Another example is a client that had so much backstory tied to his business, I would spend hours poring over reports in order to provide data that he could use in his infographics.

All of this takes time and, because it was indeed unique to their businesses, I charged for all of my time.

Can you apply your new skill to other clients?

On the other hand, what about things like learning Infusionsoft or how to market a book on Amazon?

I used to LOVE these types of projects because it added so much value to my skillet that I could use with other projects and other clients. Yay me!

If you are a marketing virtual assistant and your client wants to switch to Infusionsoft, then I would definitely invest in a training program on your own time and dime. Not only will you become more marketable to your existing and future clients, but you’ll be able to charge a higher rate down the road. So if this is on the docket for one of your clients, please don’t pass this up.

On the other hand, if marketing a book on Amazon is not something you do for other clients and have no interest in adding to your toolbelt, then this may be something you may consider splitting the costs with your client. To me, it depends mostly on the client’s expectations and if it’s simple (“here’s a template, just follow along”), or complex (“create a strategy for my book launch”).

There’s always those special situations when it comes to working with clients and if you haven’t come across them yet, just wait you will.  I usually get questions from my students similar to, “What if this isn’t an existing client and they are wanting a quote for something I haven’t done before?”

In these cases, I was always open and honest. If it was something that looked intriguing to me and I saw the value in learning it, I would let the client know that I wasn’t familiar with it but I’d be open to learning it and working on the project. I would also try to provide a flat rate quote (package) rather than an open-ended hourly rate. This way, they weren’t paying for my learning time per se, but I wasn’t selling myself short either. Just remember that you are bring much MUCH more to the table when it comes to existing clients than you think – you aren’t merely working for them but investing in their business.

This isn’t to say that these types of projects can be a little risky because sometimes they led me down a rabbit hole (there’s a reason why he’s approached others and they have all said no lol!) but then other times it was a lot of fun and something I would not have otherwise been exposed to. So just be sure you have the time to do it and the situation isn’t going to cause undue stress.

Tell me, what is your criteria for charging your clients for learning time? Do you have any stories to share? Share your comments below!

  • kara Tanenbaum

    This post could not have come at a better time, Lisa! I was just lamenting to my brother earlier today that it was taking me twice as long to do a project for a client because I have to learn the ins and outs of his business in order to create content for his social media. I’ve been poring through his research papers, reading transcripts of his past guests on his podcast, etc–all so that I can revamp his s/m and create fresh evergreen content. I’m not really learning a new skill, just getting more acquainted with his business to output better product–so can I really charge for that??

    • Bobbi

      If you’re doing things you would not be doing if you weren’t serving this client, I would say yes you should be charging for it.

  • Definitely yes Kara! This would also make a great package – track your time and factor it in to a package. When you present the flat rate, you can also let them know that it’s including all the time you are investing in learning their business, their content, and their style.