My fees are my fees. This is what I state, but this is not always how I operate. What do you do, as a consultant, when a project runs hours over what you initially estimated, and it is not your fault, but the fault of the client?
I had this experience recently. I was brought in to work on a project that another consultant had worked on and messed up badly. The other consultant was paid for her work, but ultimately left the project, leaving the clients with the impression that the project was not only completed, but also a fundable grant proposal.
Representatives of this organization asked some of my regular clients to offer an opinion on the proposal, before planning to submit it as was. My regular clients immediately recognized the work as substandard, and asked me to come in and do a complete overhaul of the project.
My initial assessment of what needed to be done indicated that the project could be fixed in a certain amount of hours. My new clients were a little stunned by the estimate, because they had already paid a consultant to do what they believed to be quality work. Therefore, I was working in a delicate environment: I not only had to persuade them that I could fix their problem, but that it was also worth their while to pay ME in addition to the consultant who abandonded the project. They agreed.
To put it mildly, my estimate was off. However, this was largely due in part to the fact that conditions changed weekly, and then daily: The proposal underwent major revisions. During the last week of the project, before its deadline, I probably worked more than the number of hours I had initially estimated for the project-- on top of work I had already done during the previous month leading into the deadline week. However, the work had to be completed, and I was determined not to leave the clients in the same lurch as their previous consultant. I had a choice: I could either tell them that the estimated hours were complete, so they should pay me and then muddle through on their own, or I could see the project through and then determine how to charge them.
I didn't send them an invoice until nearly three weeks after the proposal was submitted, because I was troubled. The client had already paid one consultant. They were not an organization with limitless funds, and if I were to charge them for the work I actually did, the fee would come to more than double what they had initially balked at. Of course, it was not my fault, nor my problem, that they had initially paid someone for substandard work. However, as I worked with the client, we formed a close relationship. The work on the project was intense, but it was very much a collaborative effort. I grew to like the clients, and also to believe in the overall good of the project. It was a project with a soul.