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.

The Hardest Part of Being a Freelancer

As an extrovert, I have found that the hardest part about freelancing is being alone.

This may not seem like much of a revelation, but as someone who has always been proud to be an independent worker and self-motivator, this came as a shock to me.

Being independent is, of course, a very important aspect of working for yourself. But what makes it different from working for a company is that you have no team, no daily motivator other than yourself.

Freelancing: A Team of One

With almost every project I receive, I think to myself “What if the company did this instead?” or “If I include these elements in the graphic, it can be used all these ways throughout their marketing efforts!” or “Didn’t someone tell them that their logo doesn’t translate well in black-and-white?”

But that’s not my job as a freelancer. My job is to be a specialized outsider. My job is not to be part of the team. The company and their work will continue on without me once my project is finished.

That’s hard for me.

I want to give everything I can to a client because I want them to succeed. It doesn’t help either of us if their business isn’t the best it can be, right?

But I’m not supposed to do or be everything for them. It’s not what I’m hired for.

Setting Boundaries and Limits for Yourself

That mindset – it’s not my job – is a toxic way to work when part of a company. As an employee, you may be expected to do more than what was explicitly described in the job posting.

And why not? You’re part of a team, and sometimes the pitcher has to cover home plate to make the play.

But not as a freelancer. As a freelancer, that’s how you can get taken advantage of.

You are hired to create graphics for an annual report, but maybe the client also needs a photo or two to be edited. You’re already using Photoshop, so why not? Or maybe you are formatting the layout, and you notice a couple typos in their copy. It’s easy enough to just swap “they’re” for “their,” or to highlight the extra “s” at the end of a word for your client to review. Why should you allow for these errors?

But that’s how your work takes a wrong turn. You overreach into aspects of the project that aren’t your responsibility. You take it upon yourself to “fix” or “help” when you haven’t been asked. Or if you have been asked, you comply, because for whatever reason, it seems like a worse outcome to say no.

As a freelancer, you are hired as an outsider to complete a specific task. If another task requested, then you accept it only if the client agrees to pay for it. Alternatively, you discuss these options upfront so that an appropriate rate can be determined.

Final Thoughts

Often it seems the best outcome for everyone is to stay in your lane. As a freelancer, you’re the base runner that subs in for the player with a bad knee so that you can score the run. It’s a limited yet important job for the team.

And that’s OK. As long as you do your part and do it well, you can (and will) help the business achieve its goals.

How I Failed and What I Learned

I can’t stop thinking about how I botched an assignment.

I know it’s not popular or common to talk out loud about your own shortcomings or how you failed at your job. While internet memes and online articles tell us to embrace failure as a learning opportunity, is seems we are rarely encouraged to actually share these shortcomings.

So, at the risk of deterring you from reading further, I want to tell you how I recently failed, and what I learned from it.

I didn’t deliver the product the client wanted. I struggled to communicate what their business was about. I realized afterwards what I was missing: the story.

 

The Story of How I Failed

The Story of How I Failed

The client’s business had changed its direction since it first started, and they needed to update their website.

In a meeting, they described the business as it currently existed and what they were trying to achieve. They wanted the copy to walk a fine line between corporate and familiar – refined but still a little sexy.

Sexy B2B copy? Quick, witty, punny, smart – those are corporate tones I love to play with. But sexy? For whatever reason I was so hung up on this idea. In draft after draft, defining this tone became my primary objective.

And that was my big mistake. I was too focused on how to shape this voice. I felt so lost in this goal that I ended up creating copy that

  1. wasn’t sexy; and
  2. didn’t sound like me or the company at all.

It wasn’t until after I spoke with someone else in the company about how the business started that I realized this copy was all wrong. Had I just focused on telling the story from beginning to now, I would have naturally found its voice.

I was so involved with nearly re-branding the business that I lost sight of the goal: to communicate what the client wants customers to know about their business.

What I Learned From My Failure

What I Learned

Writing good copy is important, but the craft shouldn’t distract from the goal. I took it upon myself to design a brand new voice for the client when they didn’t need one.

I also need to allow space for the story to speak for itself: leave out the flowery language and clever wordplay. More often than not, simple and straight-forward is the best way to go.

And while I usually embrace this method of writing, I was trying too hard to write something new, to be something that isn’t myself, and that’s not why I was hired.

The other important thing I’ve taken away from this experience? Being myself is the best thing I can be. That’s why I was hired in the first place. Had I just written the way I normally write, the client and I would have worked together to revise it, and the right voice would have emerged.

There’s just no sense in trying to be something I’m not when I’m hired to be me.


 

If I haven’t already scared you away, you should know this: I pride myself on being a good listener. It’s what I enjoy about copy writing – listening to what people have to say, and then translating it into what they need.

That’s what I want to do for you. Sometimes it’s not enough to tell your audience about the problem you solved with your product – you also have to tell them about where you’re going next and what you can do for them. Here’s how I help you do it.