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.

Follow Friday: Vierde Vrijdag and Susanne Pieterse

Scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw “The Blockchain Tiramisu – Tech Stacks and Pragmatic Engineering,” and thought to myself I like tiramisu, and also blockchain!

Upon further investigation, I discovered that this event was not, in fact, serving tiramisu, but it ended up being a great experience anyway.

Vierde Vrijdag at The Hague Tech is a gathering for people in business and tech to socialize and learn from each other about various trends and developments in the industry. I didn’t know much about the presenters, but the programming sounded quite educational (for myself, at least). People spoke about intellectual property laws, blockchain, and digitizing the city.

Unfortunately I was not able to stay for the whole program, but I had the pleasure of listening to Susanne Pieterse talk about what blockchain is and how it can be useful to a variety of businesses.

Susanne Pieterse and her company Pieterse Innovate

Pieterse started her presentation informing us that she will give this presentation at an event for the Powerful Business Women’s Network, and we were a test-run audience. The PBWN asked her to present not only because of her prestigious status as a powerful business woman, but also because their audience wanted to know more about how blockchain technology can improve their companies.

As a woman interested in networking and being powerful, I was already intrigued.

She went on to tell us about her work experience as a legal consultant who worked in digital zoning for ten years. She had always been interested in computers, so she studied programming last year and then started her own business, Pieterse Innovate. The company advises clients on how to innovate and evolve their processes.

But her enthusiasm doesn’t end there. She also runs blockchain030, a blockchain co-working event every Monday in Utrecht, and she started the podcast Block Rock, which focuses on Dutch blockchain news and projects.

How Blockchain technology is being used

Pieterse gave a great explanation of blockchain technology (safe, immutable, shared ledger), emphasizing that its use is based in trust. While it’s not a solution for everything, it is extremely helpful when

  • More than two parties are involved
  • If there are conflicting interests
  • In the presence of shared common trust

She also gave a few examples of how blockchain technology is currently being used. Pieterse mentioned the Port of Rotterdam collaboration with Blocklab, as well as automated micro-transactions for package deliveries, and an experimental effort to tag social welfare benefits. (Though it was noted that the kindpakket project decided it was too difficult to implement blockchain this way at the moment.)

But blockchain can be used for so much more.

Supply Chain Management: An experiment with a fishery found that everyone in the supply chain had conflicting interests. When an app was developed to solve the problem, many in the supply chain rejected its use because they felt it didn’t represent their interests.

Energy Usage Data: With Oehu, smart meter owners submit their energy usage data to the website. Users remain owners of their data, but the shared access to the information will help improve the technology.

Theater Tickets: GUTS Tickets uses blockchain to create a fair ticket resale market. As a result, it fights ticket fraud while giving fans a better opportunity to attend shows.

Document Verification: The University of Nicosia uses blockchain for certificates, which means future employers or organizations would not need to contact the University to verify the authenticity of the document.

Final Thoughts

Vierde Vrijdag was a great opportunity to participate in a discussion about the tech industry, rather than just reading about it. At first I was nervous because it seemed like everyone already knew each other and was familiar with each other’s work (that’s always the case at networking events, right?).

But when I got pulled into a conversation, it turned out that other people attending also didn’t have a background in programming. My greatest takeaway from the event – as well as Pieterse – was that it doesn’t hurt to just go: go to a networking event, go to a panel, go hard on the paint and start your own business. Just go.

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.

Bamboo Juice and the FDA: Are the Hazards of Fresh Juice Real?

Food Safety News reported that the juice company Bamboo Juice received quite the scolding from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Included in their strongly worded letter was a list of violations, such as:

  • misbranded food (calling a juice “spinach apple” when it also includes other ingredients)
  • unapproved new drugs (claiming a juice is an “inflammation tamer” or is a “natural remedy for kicking colds and clearing sinuses”)
  • inadequate 5-log reduction plan (not enough steps taken to eliminate microbial hazards)

While the first two are more about phrasing choices, the last item may cause harm to consumers. A 5-log reduction plan should be included in the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan, which is a collection of procedures that the business implements in order to prevent outbreaks of food illnesses.

While it was initially required for seafood and meat manufacturers, HACCP plans are now a requirement for almost every aspect of the food manufacturing industry. So what does that mean for juice?

HACCP and Pasteurization

When I worked for a different Georgia juice company, one of my first tasks was to create the HACCP plan.

In addition to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Sanitary Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs), the 5-Log Reduction is a major component of food illness prevention. For those who are not food safety or math savvy, a 5-Log Reduction refers to what steps the business takes to reduce the number of microorganisms (read: bad bacteria) in their final product.

Until recently, that usually meant pasteurization, which is the process of heating up the product in order to kill bad bacteria. As a result, however, the flavor may change and some of the nutritional value may decrease.

HACCP and Pasteurization

 

But with high pressure pasteurization (HPP), the bad bacteria is eliminated through a cold pressure process, therefore preserving the nutrients and flavor while still eliminating the bad bacteria.

But there are many who believe that pasteurization isn’t entirely necessary. Think about it: do you wash your apple in water that’s 160° F for six seconds before eating it? If you juiced that apple instead, why would you heat it up to that same temperature for that same time period?

This example, of course, is not to scale. Juice companies receive huge quantities of produce from a variety of suppliers. It is, however, something to consider when you read about the dangers of drinking fresh juice.

Overall, pasteurizing juice is one of the best and most common ways to prevent food borne illnesses – a “better safe than sorry” situation. Its primary purpose is to prevent the highest risk microorganism, which in most cases is E. coli, clostridium botulinum (botulism), and salmonella.

But there are other steps businesses can (and do) take to prevent the occurrence of bad bacteria: properly washing the produce, culling for “bad apples,” and having good relationships with produce suppliers. That trust of sources can be crucial.

With the establishment of GMPs and SSOPs, some juice companies have two lines of juice:

  • A fresh juice line, which is only sold directly to customers in retail locations
  • A pasteurized juice line, which is only sold to consumers via a retailer such as Whole Foods, Publix, and other local markets

By having two product lines, a juice company can increase its business while also staying true to their mission of spreading good health.

Bamboo Juice and the FDA

According to this letter from the FDA, it seems that Bamboo Juice may not have two separate product lines, even though they sell juice both directly to consumers as well as through third parties.

The letter specifically states:

while your plan includes three critical control points as processing, bottling and cooler packaging and delivery temperatures, none of the critical control points identify and/or include a microbial reduction step. In addition, your “5-log reduction program”, attached to your HACCP plan, indicates the juice is not subject to any treatment that would ensure a 5 log reduction and is therefore not a suitable process to comply with the minimum 5 log reduction requirement for any of your juices.

While there are no details as to what “processing” includes, I read this statement as saying “you’re not pasteurizing your juices to prevent microbial growth.”

Bamboo Juices has made a commitment to not pasteurizing in order to preserve their products’ nutrients. This means, however, that they are not permitted to sell their juices to third party retailers.

Final Thoughts

I do not know whether Bamboo Juice has considered HPP as an alternative to traditional pasteurization. Because HPP is a newer technology, the financial barrier to access it is high – possibly higher than Bamboo Juice is willing to invest.

Hopefully, however, Bamboo Juice will find a way to meet FDA requirements while still producing the healthiest juice they can.


I love to simplify concepts so that customers can make informed decisions. Need help with that? Let’s talk.

Follow Friday: BlueCity

One of the hardest changes I’ve had to make since moving to Rotterdam is not having a compost bin. It breaks my heart to throw away my egg shells, my juicing scraps, my week-old flowers – anything that can be naturally broken down into soil, rather than trapped in a plastic garbage bag.

To the chagrin of my husband (and possibly my neighbors), I am experimenting with making a compost bin on our balcony. Alternatively, I am also tempted to casually scatter my bio waste among the green spaces in the city. (Just kidding…mostly.)

While it may be difficult for me as a resident to dispose of my green waste in a responsible fashion, businesses and entrepreneurs throughout Rotterdam are working towards creating a new economy, also known as a circular economy.

Sterling Schuyler BlueCity

About BlueCity: The Circular Economy

Set up in an abandoned water park, BlueCity is working towards “Bringing Back Balance” by creating circuits of earth-friendly practices. Even its initial choice to re-purpose an abandoned water park set the tone for this incubator for innovation.

But it’s not your run-of-the-mill co-working workspace or collaborative offices. (Did the abandoned water park tip you off?)

Their vision is to create a no-waste economy, one that finds alternative uses for an industry’s waste, ideally coming full circle through various businesses. They want innovators – and the world – to produce waste that can be a building block, rather than unused potential.

BlueCity offers their space as a breeding ground for imagination. Here, businesses can test prototypes in a collaborative environment without fear of failure. It’s a space for trial, error, improvement, and eventually development of scalable solutions.

Environmentally-Friendly Innovation

BlueCity’s space and resources have allowed a variety of businesses flourish. Rotterzwam designs countertop mushroom kits that use coffee grounds so that users can grow oyster mushrooms at home. Their materials are recycled plastic, cardboard, and used coffee grounds from their partner Moyee.

KEES makes clothes from residual and renewable materials, while also employing people who may not be considered “useful” otherwise. They fight fast fashion with their thoughtful designs and uncommon uses of materials. KEES then makes an effort to hire people who have been recipients of social assistance for long periods of time – those who may not have the skill sets to secure a long-term job, but have the drive to work.

Better Future Factory offers prototyping and design with recycled materials. It can be challenging to make upcycling sexy and practical, but if anyone is winning at it, it’s Better Future Factory. From perfume to tiles, they are quite literally reshaping industries. They’re even making glasses frames from pogs (or as they’re called in the Netherlands, Flippo’s).

Final Thoughts

Reducing our impact on the environment can feel daunting, or even hopeless. But knowing that there are people out there working really really hard to curb climate change makes me want to contribute, too.

Sorry not sorry neighbors – my composting experiment is here to stay.