So with any web project, I offer free maintenance for a year. This maintenance includes back end updates, backups, and any content updates. After the year, I give the client the option of one of three maintenance packages to buy in to, all with a price per month. The package selected is determined by the frequency of content updates. For example, the basic package is for those clients comfortable making content updates on their own, but still need system updates and backups (I use various CMS', so I teach them how to do simple updates). The deluxe package is geared towards those who feel they cannot manage content updates on their own. The standard package is in the middle. The price of each is based on a minimum number of hours a month (3 for the basic, 9 for the deluxe), with a discount subtracted from the package price. I am starting to rethink this approach when I found out one of the more popular web companies in the area charges close to what I charge for similar services per month, per YEAR. So I wonder is better; to charge a client for maintenance by the month, or by the year?
It's really a question of what your customers would find the most acceptable. Since you know your customers better than we do, it's really a matter for your personal judgement.
That said, my personal inclination would be to charge by the month - and not to put a minimum period on it. That would mean less of a commitment for the customer, which they might find easier to budget for (and perhaps easier for the manager you deal with to get approval from his higher-ups). But that's just my opinion.
All depends on how you want to market it to your client really. There are benefits and drawbacks to both methods, so you could choose which works best for you or give your client the option.
For example, I offer hosting for my clients and they can choose either monthly billing or one yearly billing with a small discount for paying for the year up front. 9/10 of my clients choose this option ... some may be for the discount, but when I explain that their domain is registered on a yearly basis, your hosting would make the most sense to do that as well. Since it's not a huge up-front cost, that helps too.
When it comes to a maintenance agreement, how you offer up the services will factor in the monthly / yearly decision as well. Do your hours overflow each month if they are not used from the previous month? If they do not, the concept of paying once a year but only getting X hours per month may not be one your clients easily understand (and agree with). You would probably need to adjust it to be a yearly amount of hours available.
As Mike mentioned, there is also the freedom of a client knowing that if they decide to change their minds, they are not "locked in" to a contract. If they aren't doing much maintenance, they can cancel for the following month and feel good with your business still to come back later if needed. If they had to continue to ride out the year and pay for time they don't use, they may cancel at the end and definitely not return for changes down the road.
If the monthly system you are using is working for you and your clients, I wouldn't worry about changing anything simply because other businesses are doing it different. Stick with what works for you.
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