How to get paid your due

Q. When I bid for a job, if I receive an hourly fee, my incentive is to make the work take as long as possible. If I receive a fixed fee, my incentive is to complete the job as quickly as possible. The employer's incentives are the opposite of mine in both cases. Is there a way to handle this so we both behave ethically and end the contract satisfied?

A. It's important not to go into a business negotiation assuming that the other side is out to take advantage of you. It's just as important, ethically, not to take advantage of the other party. That includes the sort of ethical lapse you're describing here: structuring your compensation so that only one of you can win.

There's a difference between upselling the client on more work from you - a savvy strategy - and keeping an existing job going just to bill more by the hour, which is closer to fraud.

"To extend a job is a no-no," said Claire Steichen, an executive coach in New York City. Similarly, your client is expected to understand what the job entails and how long it's supposed to take.

The key here is to communicate clearly why you're charging what you charge and how you charge it.

"If people know how to properly articulate the value of what they do, and provide guidelines and norms for what others have paid them, there should not be a problem," Steichen said, by email.

Take what you've learned about billing and project duration when working for other clients, and estimate how long this job will take you, she suggested: "It's about understanding the scope of work, and managing expectations."

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