Category: Freelance Life

Freelance Tips: Billable Hours and Invoicing

Billing can be awkward but it shouldn’t be. Successful freelancing requires you to properly value your time, bill for that time and follow-up on invoices (hopefully infrequently since you have such great clients that they pay promptly).

How to Measure Your Time: This Hour Has 45 Minutes

Don’t be stingy with yourself. Decide, based on your work load and/or the type of work you are performing how you will block out your time in units.

There are numerous ways to bill. I’ve encountered the following:

  • Hourly (I usually will bill down to half hours) 
  • By the job
  • By the word or page
  • On retainer

The Editorial Freelancer’s Association has some very helpful guidelines for what to charge.

When charging hourly I always start the clock at 15 minutes to account for emails that I received related to the job but didn’t account for previously. When I was editing numerous small projects for two companies I took to breaking down my hour by 15-minute increments with a 30-minute minimum per day per client. This is not always practical or profitable but it worked for that particularly complicated scenario.

I have known freelance and contract employees who literally hit a timer on their desk when they get up to go the bathroom and pour themselves a coffee. This is a ridiculous practice. You are an adult who deserves paid bathroom breaks and a refresher. However, if you get up and drive 30 minutes round trip for the coffee or take a break to watch the latest Netflix offering? You’re a price gouging jerk.

And seriously, charge at least $30/hour for anything you do. If you’re not making that the project is probably costing you money. You gotta pay for that coffee. And the electricity. And your health care! Oh, and by all means? Charge more than that, particularly in areas where you have expertise. You will not get me to edit anything about construction or architecture for less than $50/hour as a freelance editor. And I will save you time and embarrassing errors on that project, I promise you.

If you take on a project that pays a flat rate be sure that the size and scope (for page counts/word counts) follows the EFA guidelines I linked above. And be mindful of your time! Work as efficiently as possible to ensure you are maximizing your hourly take. The same goes for working on retainer or contract. This is your chance to manage your time so effectively that you net the highest dollar per hour you can. Treat yourself like the qualified professional that you are. I often find that a project editor will contact me and offer me a flat rate and I can say, “Can you go $50 higher?” and they sometimes can. If you do this on every flat-rate project you will net more money in total at the end of the year. I’m a big believer in keeping a detailed spreadsheet of invoices and income broken down by year, quarter and month. It helps you set goals and know when to step it up.

Reasonable companies expect their freelancers to make money from projects. If your clients don’t expect you to make a living wage then you need new clients.

Sending Invoices: Thank You Over and Over

When you send an invoice will depend on the arrangement you’ve made with your client. If I edit a manuscript or any one-shot deal I send an invoice with the edited document. So if I edited your book you would get an invoice from me along with your completed manuscript. However, I always note that I am available for whatever else might be needed. I don’t go back and charge them to answer a couple of questions if they have some. However, this might not work in every situation. You need to manage expectations. Make it clear what you’re willing to do and what it might cost up front. There should be an expectation/ballpark of what a project is going to cost (and this is another area where those EFA guidelines come into play).

For some of my regular clients I had a standing agreement to send a monthly invoice with a list detailing all of the work I did over the month for them.

Send a professional looking invoice with a pleasant note thanking the client for the work. Thank them every time you send an invoice, even if you send one every week. Generally invoices are submitted via email so you should have an invoice template you use (there are many freebies online and even included in MS Word if you don’t where to start). Save it as a PDF before sending it to your client.

I put “net 30” on all of my invoices unless there was some other arrangement. And I will say that if your client can’t abide by a net 30 there had better be a good reason! Try not to let too many invoices pile up from the same company. If they are not regularly paying you on time but expect you to continue to take on work and meet their deadlines? That’s a red flag! Turn down more work until they pay you! You’d be better off looking for new clients than working for one for free.

Collections: Don’t Make Me Break Your Legs

I have never had to deal with this, in all honesty! I think it’s because I’ve taken on mostly publishers that understand how to work with freelancers. I haven’t done that many self-pubbed manuscripts or had individual writers as clients. Indeed, the best way to avoid having to become a collections person is to consistently work to improve your client list.

I’ve had late payments and people I had to cajole. So at the first of the month I review for any outstanding payments. I don’t contact anyone until it’s been 45 days since I sent my invoice. That gives me 30 days plus so I know for sure that I would have gotten the payment in the mail if they’d paid me at 30 days out.

At that point, I send a gentle reminder, usually along the lines of: “Hey, Susie Q, just following up on Project X. I hope you had everything you needed from me. Please let me know if you require anything else as I’m always available. I also wanted to  make sure you got my invoice and were able to process it without incident. Thanks again for everything!”

That almost always works for me. If I still don’t see any payment at 60 days I follow-up with another polite but decidedly more pointed email. I assume there has been some error and I ask if they can fix it. I say something like: “If this is not an oversight, can you give me some idea when payment might be sent?”

That opens the door to politely let me know what’s going on behind the scenes so I understand where I stand, where they stand, and how we might come together.

At 90 days I would probably threaten to lawyer up in the politest way I knew how. And I’d also know that I would not be looking for work from them again because I simply can’t afford go months on end without getting paid.

The Man Who Seduced Hollywood

Got this in the mail recently! I did a copy edit on this book for Chicago Review Press a few months back.

It was a fun project. I felt like I got to put my film studies degree to use (finally).

Mom, had she helped pay for my education, would have been proud.

Freelance Tips: Finding Clients

I have no idea how everybody else finds clients. Before I started freelancing I just assumed people had nice former employers who gave them work. Often because they got pregnant and didn’t want to be in the office anymore. At least that was the only model I’d seen presented in real life.

However, the number one way I got clients was through former co-workers, not former employers. I had been in editorial departments of one kind or another for about a decade when I got laid off. My employer in 2008 opted to operate their magazine without any writers or editors on staff.  My employer didn’t even extend freelance opportunities to their newly unemployed but entirely trained staff! They opted to use a press release writing service for their articles–one that I wouldn’t have price matched if they’d offered.

So, it was my husband that initially contacted one of our friends to ask if her company needed any help because I was looking for freelance editorial work. I wanted to but I was nervous. And I was mad at him for doing it at the time! Of course, that first client is now my employer so I owe him one, I guess.

From that confidence boost, I contacted a ton of friends, former co-workers and acquaintances, only a handful of whom were in a position to hire me. I spent a lot of time laying groundwork that went nowhere. But when a lead paid off? It really paid off.

I made a list of writing and editing skills (based off my own resume) that were selling points. I knew how to write and edit about architecture and construction in addition to book editing (mostly romance and non-fiction sex self-help). So I researched companies and made a list of publishers that meshed with my areas of specialty.  I also kept several lists I found online of top indie publishers and other “top” lists that I would use as my own private job leads list.

I sent queries when I had downtime. Most of those never panned out or paid poorly or had completely insane editing tests. But a couple did pan out and made the efforts worth it.

Overall, I wanted to send out feelers to what I considered to be top tier clients. I wanted to work with editorial professionals who understood the process, who paid on time, who paid reasonably well, and who gave realistic deadlines.

LinkedIn ended up being a valuable tool! Weird, I know. I reviewed tons of profiles of freelancers and, this is probably awful to admit, any that listed their clients I copied over and kept the company names in a Word doc. Now, I was not looking to poach their clients! That’s not my game. However, I figured it gave me a nice list of companies that I knew for certain had worked with freelance professionals at some point. And perhaps they might need someone in the future? I also learned a lot just from reading freelance profiles and looking at freelance editing websites.

Additionally, I joined LinkedIn groups that I thought might be of value. And then I watched the postings. Some were worthless. A couple offered real leads and one group landed me an association that needed editors who had a basic understanding of construction and felt comfortable with construction and health care terminology. It was a complete cold call and it ended up working out beautifully. I went from doing piecemeal work, to a long-term project and, eventually, weekly work.

For me the goal was to have a solid foundation of clients. So nailing down regular work was always a huge victory that was supplemented by piecemeal projects.

Freelance Tips: Starting Your Freelance Business

I’ve had a few people ask me about how to become a freelance writer or editor so I thought I’d pull together some of things I learned while I was full-time freelance. I recently took a full-time job that was extended to me from one of my clients so this website is evolving in a more personal direction. But still, the topic comes up frequently: How did you do it?

I don’t mean to brag but in less than two years I completely replaced my full-time income with freelance income. I know that sounds like an infomercial. But the answer to how I did it is that I was lucky and I hustled like crazy. It’s important to make that clear off the top: luck has a lot to do with it. And the generosity of your friends, former co-workers and even acquaintances can make a big difference.

So I started by getting laid off from a place I was miserable at anyway. And, after going out on several job interviews and finding myself unhappy with the prospects, I took matters into my owns.

Here are the basics:

  • Shake the trees! Tell everybody who might be in a position to hire you or know somebody who might hire you that you are available for work. My husband asked a friend I was too embarrassed to ask if she knew of anything and she hooked me up with her company (who I now work for). It turns out they did need a freelance editor who could turn things around quickly with minimal supervision. So I started out there. Once I realized the hourly pay for freelance editing was reasonably attractive I started seeking more clients. I learned to network and talk to people in ways I never had before.
  • Learn to network. And then wait. I told everybody at parties I was a freelance editor. I was all over social media as a freelance editor. That taught me that laying the groundwork for this takes a great deal of time. A friend of a friend took my card, I friended her on Facebook, and I never bothered her about work again. But six months later she sent me an email asking if I was interested in working with her company and she kept me busy the entire summer with work. Lots of the groundwork I laid never paid off (for example, I’ve been approved as a line editor at Harlequin for over a year but they never sent me a single project) but the ones that did made it worth it.
  • Act like a business even if you don’t feel like one yet. I had business cards made. I used because it was cheap but I can tell you the cards were quite nice! <–not an advertisement.
  • Utilize social media strategically. I’m not great at Twitter. I’ve gotten friendly queries via Facebook. But LinkedIn gave me one of my best paying and nicest clients. Join relevant groups on LinkedIn and then actually skim those groups. Know yourself and pick the social media platform that best suits you.
  • Befriend freelance pros. A friend of a friend invited me out for drinks and told me all about her freelance life and how she managed it. And she said that she loved to tell people how feasible freelance is as a full-time gig. And she was right. Sharing knowledge is something many freelance pros like to do (clearly) and the ones who are confident in their careers very often deliver leads to newbies.
  • Join associations. I joined the Editorial Freelancers Association. It was a bit pricey but they delivered real job leads regularly. They also have a supportive e-mail group that is always ready to help with any questions.
  • Be a great vendor. When you get a client? Always put them first on your list. Always make their deadlines and always deliver your work with a smile. Be pleasant and accommodating. They have plenty of options. And you want to be sure you leave a positive feeling with them in every interaction, particularly when you are establishing your relationship. And make no mistake: It’s a relationship business. 
  • Aim high. Give yourself a living wage. You have overhead, even if you don’t understand what it is yet. You have to pay for the internet and electricity to do business. You need health care. You need to pay for food for yourself and maybe a family. Don’t leave yourself impoverished. Aiming high also means aiming for great clients–ones who pay without hassle, provide a steady stream of work, and are pleasant to deal with. You should always be looking out for better clients, great projects, and a good wage. If you’re not getting it from your current clients? You need to reassess and weed some out so you can get the most from your freelance life.


NaNoWriMo Winner (I Was Wrong About Everything)

I have often started and failed the “competition” that is National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I have failed at it at least three times that I remember. Probably closer to five or six.

In the past I have come up with endless excuses for dropping out that included: this is a silly endeavor that will result in a poor product; this is a waste of time; this isn’t going anywhere so why bother?; I have real work to do!; I hate this story and the characters and myself for writing it; I am really too busy to do this in November!

Needless to say I was wrong about all of those things. And what I was really wrong about was that the lesson (for me) was the journey itself. It was the discipline (which I guess I thought I lacked). It was the journey I forced myself to go with characters (and myself) even when I disliked them (and me). I learned about my creative process. I learned about sticking with something I created even when it was going horribly off the rails. I learned I need to have a better road map for long-form fiction. I can’t keep everything in my head at once, it’s just not who I am.

More than anything? I learned that I really can do what I set out to do with the proper tools and mind-set. And that’s the most important lesson of all.

This has inspired me to tackle some further challenges. I am thinking of editing the entire thing–it needs A LOT of work to put it kindly. So the editing itself will be another journey.

Recently I’ve worked with and known a few people looking to self-publish their own manuscripts and I’m considering going through that process–not because I’m looking to be the next Jamie McGuire or Jessica Park (both self-published and had huge hits with their books that caught on like fire). What I’d like to do is understand the process so I’m of more help to my author clients.

Big Presentation Tomorrow on Social Media Strategies

I’m giving a presentation providing an overview of my social media strategy and challenges to my biggest client tomorrow!

Very exciting. I was pretty nervous about it but I sent my notes and slides over for review and got very positive feedback so I’m feeling good about it.

Basically, I’m giving them a rundown of what I do and why.

I truly believe your social media efforts should serve your core business–whatever that is–and should be thought of as a tool for exposure, customer service, and branding.

However, it’s important not to chase whatever is hot right now because chasing technology only makes sense if that is what your business is/does. For content creators, it can be challenging not to chase technology–if you get in early it can make a huge difference–but it can also eat resources and waste time.

Everything in balance, I always say (when it comes to anything but chocolate).

On the Docket

On the docket today: a 25-page brochure for an association conference–rush job for a regular client; e-newsletter for primary client–takes up a good chunk of my afternoon; and dig in on a friend’s pre-teen-targeted novel to give feedback/notes.

And I gotta find time to vote and stare at the TV for several hours tonight!

What I’m Working On

This weekend I’m editing a planning guide for a trade show. It includes a section on dining out in Orlando and it’s making me want to go there and eat.

It also reminds me of the time I went to Disney with my friend Doug and he wanted to eat a huge meal roughly every three hours.

I learn something from my projects almost every day. Today? I discovered that it’s Brussels Sprout. The Brussels part is plural! I’m embarrassed I didn’t know that.

Tabbie Awards

I found out this morning that my work has garnered a Gold Tabbie Award for Best Use of Social Media for my client! I’m very excited for them (and me).

Here’s a screenshot of the commentary the judges provided:

Click on the image to make it actual size. Perils of screenshots!

This is what it says if you don’t want to bother:

 Judging comments:
Very interactive use of social media tools. Content tone suits the audience perfectly and various formats are appropriately used across several social media platforms. The content is quirky, the interaction shows audience is engaged and the use of social media platforms to drive the content in traditional media platforms is inspiring.”

Staying Connected

Sometimes I feel isolated.

Given that I work alone from home and pretty much only talk to my cats and whoever is in my computer? That’s not so unusual.

However, I was asked to participate in the Editorial Freelancers Association chat today and was surprised to find a great deal of empathy and fellowship among the editorial freelancing community. What a lovely surprise! To read the chat search for the hashtag #efachat on Twitter. I’m sure the EFA will have a link to the full transcript soon.

If you are a freelance editor I’d highly recommend joining the organization! It’s well worth it.