I've made this clear in some of my other questions, but for the sake of getting a more diverse viewpoint I'm asking a separate question.
I'm entering high school this coming fall, which means I'll have to balance my jobs with my school work, which won't be too hard given the current situation of my school, but that's beyond the point (let' just say I'm not homeschooled).
I've come to realize that charging hourly rates would be something of an impediment to my success, since I won't be able to actively keep track of my hours due to school work and such.
I want to explore some alternatives to charging hourly rates beyond a simple estimate for the whole project.
Even when you don't charge an hourly rate, you still need to know how many hours a given project will take you to complete. While charging by the project means the customer doesn't need to know the breakdown of the time spent on the project, it is still important that you know the breakdown.
Simply put, at the conclusion of a project, you'll want to be compensated fairly for your time and effort. If a project takes you 100 hours to complete, and you want to earn an average of $15 per hour, then the customer would have to pay $1500 for the work. If you don't want to bill by the hour, then you need to be really good at estimating how long a project will take you, and work from there.
Using the same example, before the project starts, if you think it will take 100 hours, bill the project for 120 hours (20% buffer is fairly common) and you should be ok. If, however, you completely missed the target, then you're going to be eating the difference.
I would suggest that until you are confident that you can estimate your project timelines really accurately, you stick to hourly billing, or small component billing (that is, you break up the project into lots of little pieces, each of which will only take you a couple hours to complete). As you gain experience, you can start switching to project-based billing.
In regard to your question about counting time, Basecamp has a time-tracking tool, as does Quickbooks. There are many others available online - or just build your own.
What a joy to see a young entrepreneur with enthusiastism and confidence. I look forward to seeing some of your designs. Remember that there is no shame in mentoring with an experienced designer. think of the martial arts tradition where people mentor with their "teacher" for decades.
Also to note-- building and designing a site are two interrelated but distinct things. You can design as a member of a team -- working with the programmers for the customization of a CMS, writers for the content and
I agree that in your situation billing hourly will not be a good option. You can not charge a customer for your own time learning. And the 'estimating skill" that others reference will come with time -- and by making lots of mistakes!
You have a couple great choices:
Good luck in launching you new endeavor!