Am I Freelancing Correctly?

When I read Dave Smyth’s article What Is Undercharging?, I hoped there would be a magical solution for charging the perfect amount. Instead, it reassured me that I’m not alone trying to determine whether I’m freelancing the right way.

Month to month, year to year, it seems that freelancers are constantly trying to figure out what works best for them. What makes them happiest? What earns them the most money? What platform gleans the most clients? What is the perfect number of hours to work?

How do you freelance correctly?

This isn’t a blog post that will give you the right answer or even the best answer. This is an article that outlines exactly what one freelancer did in non-billable hours in January 2019. In an effort to determine my own self-worth, I hope it helps you, too.

How I Spent My Time Last Month

As I mentioned previously, I started tracking as much as possible, including non-billable hours. I do this to remind myself that even though I’m not getting paid for certain tasks (like writing this blog), I’m still working.

In January 2019, I worked a total of 118.87 hours. Here are some of the non-billable tasks that I track:

  • Finance/accounting: For adding up my hours, creating invoices, sending invoices, talking with my accountant, and managing any other money-related tasks. Total time in January: 1.22 hours
  • Graphic design: For tasks such as designing coupons for my services or graphics for my website. Total time in January: 1.91 hours
  • Job applications/networking/research: Includes consultations, phone calls, coffee meetings, researching leads, drafting proposals, and intentional social networking. I know some people charge for consultations and creating proposals, but I don’t (though I’m considering it). Total time in January: 17.62 hours
  • Training: For online courses, tutorials, live broadcasts, and reading anything that I consider professional development. Total time in January: 0.55 hours (not enough!)
  • Writing/blogging: For writing blog posts and updating my website. Total time in January: 10.72 hours
  • Planning with IWNG: I genuinely enjoy working with the International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam, and it’s growing in a very exciting way! I value my time with IWNG, but at the moment, these aren’t billable hours. Total time in January: 33.46 hours

I worked a total of 65.48 non-billable hours in January. Another way of looking at it: I will not be paid for 55% of the hours I worked in January.

How to freelance correctly: push buttons, have ideas, send emails, profit

Is This the Best Way to Work?

At first glance, that seems like a harsh reality to accept. But look at those numbers again: I worked a total of 118.87 hours in the month of January.

In order to earn full-time pay, a person has to work 40 hours per week (at least in the States), which totals 160 hours per month. But those 40 hours aren’t full of meaningful work. Even for a part-time employee, every hour of scheduled work isn’t always packed with tasks that directly make money.

Before freelancing, full-time work was the only type of work I knew. I still compare myself to that standard, but I’m trying to change that mindset.

For example, I spent 33.46 hours working on IWNG affairs. We planned an incredibly successful event, and as a result, I’ve made some great personal and professional connections. That kind of self-investment is incredibly valuable to my career as a freelancer.

As great as it would be to be paid for all 118.87 hours at my current rate, I’m still happy with the balance I achieved.

So…am I undercharging?

Short answer: probably.

In regards to Dave Smyth’s article on Work Notes, my paid/unpaid balance seems to be in line with what he sees as his golden standard for sanity and happiness that also pays the bills.

The rates I charge (that anyone charges) account for education, experience, materials (including software subscriptions), time, expertise…the factors are endless.

But this is where talking to other freelancers has been extremely helpful. We talk about our areas of expertise, what skills we want to build on, what our strengths are, and how we each balance our workloads best.

While I “figured out” the work hours trick, I now have to determine what I should charge, which will lead to ultimate happiness! Easy enough, right?


Interested in getting to know me? Want to share struggles, ideas, or questions? Let’s talk.