FOOD FOR THOUGHT Looking for advice from professionals who deploy PIAF for a living

Max Power

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I hope this is appropriate. If not, please feel free to move it or delete it.

I am interested in moving myself in the direction of installing/consulting Asterisk, FreePBX and PBXiaF systems.

I have been using all of the above for about 3 years on many levels. I have done some custom Asterisk stuff as well as phone systems for my business, friends, family etc. I consider myself to have a relatively good understanding of the above systems as well as Linux etc. Sort of a jack of all trades master of none.

I have a company that desperately wants me to set up a PBX in a Flash system for them. Budget is not an issue which is nice. I am also setting up the networking in their new offices. This will include file server, PBXiaF server, POE switch, router etc.

My problem is don't really know how to quote or charge for this. They would be open to a service contract but again I don't really know how to structure this or what to provide or even how to sell it. It is model I am aware of I just don't have any experience.

Please feel free to pm me if you are not comfortable answering this in public. I would be willing to pay for a bit of consulting to get what I need for this.

Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time!
 

atsak

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I don't do it for a living per se, but it is an add on service to my existing IT clients if they want it. For deployment I book time only (people change their mind a lot and often don't know what they want with PBX services), then I estimate the time they're likely to need in the future to set a contract if they want guaranteed service levels, or I set an hourly rate at whatever market is, whatever they prefer. Service contracts have been more lucrative for me, but I have found it cheaper for customers and easier to manage to just charge on an hourly basis rather than try to "guess" how much slack the schedule needs to have enough time to meet SLA's between the three of us. Some customers really prefer the predictability of service contracts though, so I just work with whatever they want.

I usually donate a percentage of the money I get from deploying PIAF to the project, to keep the lights on for Tom and Ward (and buy a beer or six now and then). The regular or contract income I usually donate half of the remote services fees. The on site I tend to keep because there's so much overhead in that. For me at least I think that's the fairest thing; since the PIAF or other Asterisk deployments are about 30% cheaper than alternatives this seems to look after everyone's needs reasonably.
 
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Max Power

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I have donated in the past but that is a great idea that I will adopt.

How do you structure support contracts? If you estimate 2 hours per month, and you are worth say $50 per hour do you charge them $100 per month? What happens if they go over? Do you eat the loss and average it out over a year?

I'd also be interested in how you estimate on site vs remote. I guess this is just something you learn with experience.

Also what are typical SLA times in this industry? Hours? Days?
Thanks for your help!
 

billsimon

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A few brief thoughts:

Not all donations back to the software need be monetary (though I am sure the proprietors of the project do appreciate money). Which is worth more: fixing bugs in the project or giving the author $50? It depends. Just food for thought.

Speaking of $50, triple that for your rate. Lower it a little if you don't get any business. Consider rates that are published by Schmooze (http://schmoozecom.com/freepbx/freepbx-support.php). Why shouldn't you put yourself on the same level? Whatever you lack in raw knowledge of the phone system you make up with personalized, focused service for your clients. And you can call Schmooze (or work on forums, or however) if you are in a bind. Your time trawling forums probably isn't considered billable but it's highly valuable.

I agree with atsak's thoughts on hourly and service agreement (retainer) rates. If you agree to 2 hours/mo. and they use 0, they still have the peace of mind of knowing you will be there for them (so you better be), and you can help them still get their money's worth by filling out some of that time with helpful maintenance work. Show them that you spent 0.5 hr doing patches, another 0.5 hr cleaning up the file system, verifying backups, etc. Everyone wins.
If they go over the monthly retainer agreement, bill the overage at your higher hourly rate. If they keep doing it, renegotiate the number of hours.
 

rjaiswal

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Being a technology consultant in NYC, I find that the rate you can charge varies from location to location. I can charge more for the same services that someone else provides in Atlanta.

I also have a higher cost of living than the person in Atlanta. :) So whatever more I charge, I really don't keep.

Also, It all depends how much the market will bear, and it depends on how confident you are in your abilities.

I have a client that pays me extremely well. Because of that, they have 24x7 access, and a dedicated cellphone to call. They are very happy with the service I provide, and because of that, don't mind paying my invoices.

Finally, it depends on the market you want to service. I specialize in working with small financial companies, start ups, and high net worth individuals. Because I decided to focus on these markets, I can charge a higher rate than someone who specializes in small business.

There are a lot of factors involved in setting your rate. You have to be comfortable in asking for what you want. You have to stand up for your rate, and not be afraid to turn down business. You have to be competitive with who else is out there, And finally, you have to make enough to live comfortably.
 

Huckda

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I try and set clients up on a retainer basis: You have up to 10hrs of my time a month, you can choose to use it for any and all services I provide, just call. Depending on the client, what they want me to support, etc. my fee varies.
For non-profits I'm generally 50% what I charge anyone else. If websites are involved and I can't convince them to do it elsewhere, I charge triple so I can sub it out. For PITA clients that I really don't want to do the work for, I charge a premium for putting up with them. I always provide an escape clause that they can terminate the contract 30 days written notice + 1 month fee for breaking the contract duration. Always set up a 12 month contract so they can budget their costs, and I can budget my income and time. Here in the Pac NW... going rate is 'bout $125/hr ... if they retain above 10hrs a month I throw in a nice discount because at $100/hr I'm still do'n okay.
 

rchalk

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I operate a system with 12 offices in 8 different cities, totaling about 70 phones. I charge a flat rate of $150 per month per office, and the actual cost of DID's and minutes averages about $35-$40 each. I include normal support from home at no additional charge, since my overhead is almost nil. For on-site I charge an hourly rate, plus time and mileage. That is for installations, etc. When they request something special, we negotiate a fair price. (I had to set up about 70 inbound routes to direct calls according to the originating area code, which I did not consider "normal configuration changes")
 

voip_user

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I'm not a PIAF consultant just yet, but I'll add my 2 cents in about my experience being a consultant for a living.

1. Have standard builds that can fit about 80-90 percent of what your customers need, and that leaves you with only 10-20 percent of custom work to do.

2. Charge 3x what you want to make is what some people have already said. You will have taxes, and various other overhead cost you need to keep your business running.

3. Don't be afraid of what you cost, all other people you deal with in the business world will try to low ball you or say such and such company charges x. That maybe true, but There is a Reason Cisco Voice consultants charge 200-250 a hour and Asterisk Consultants charge 100 dollars a hour. The cisco guys know there worth.

4. Learn as much background networking as you can, when I have worked with a lot of asterisk guys they have all been Joat Types so the knolowedge of the underlying network was kinda limited. I've seen a lot of problems that have been reported as QoS problems just be too many devices in the same VLAN, or something simple like that. I would suggest that all people who are going to do VoIP at least have a cisco CCNA level knonlowdge of networking.

5. Create bad ass documentation. This is the one thing that will whoo your clients over when presented with pretty pictures and spreadsheets.

hope this helps.
 

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