The Hours a Freelancer DOESN’T Get Paid For

How many hours are you NOT paid for as a freelancer?

People often don’t realize how much work freelancers do that they DON’T get paid for. Even I don’t usually realize it because I only time myself when I’m doing the “paid” work (like actual web design and development). But what else is there?

  • Doing taxes/accounting.
  • Marketing your skills and trying to get new clients.
  • Chasing leads — talking to potential clients and drawing up price quotes/estimates for them.
  • Emailing existing clients to talk about the work (but not actually DOING the work).
  • Providing support for pre-made products. (You could argue that’s included in the original price, but these are still hours you’re not regularly being paid for.)
  • Updating your own website(s). (It’s important to stay updated and modern to make a good impression.)

See what I mean? That’s a lot of work that you’re not getting necessarily getting paid for!

So I thought I’d spend a week tracking my time and figuring out how many unpaid hours I’m working per week. Honestly, this was a terrible experience LOL. I’d have loved to do this more often so I could get more data than just a single week, but I’m never doing this again. I don’t mind my unpaid hours so much, but it sucks when I have to remember to start a timer every time I go to respond to an email or support ticket. I HATED IT! So you’re only getting one week of data, sorry. πŸ˜›

Disclaimer: This time was tracked during a very NOT BUSY period of time for me. I’m not taking on new projects and I was just wrapping up the last 1-3 projects I had remaining. So I would have had a lot more hours logged if this had been a more “normal” working period for me.

Taxes/Accounting: 1 hour, 17 minutes

This week, I had to do my normal accounting work, which involves logging some transactions into my accounting system. But I also had to do some things for taxes, including signing up for VATMOSS, which required a phone call to HMRC. Blegh. It was not fun.

Book Host Support: 2 hours, 42 minutes

Now arguably, I am being paid for this since people have their monthly packages. The reason I’m including it though is because I kind of do hourly work but I’m not being paid hourly. I get paid a fixed amount per month from each client, regardless of how much support I actually provide for them. So, yes, I’m still sort of getting paid, but I’m including this anyway because I’m not being paid based on the AMOUNT of work I do. Make sense?

This kind of support has two main parts:

  1. Answering support tickets.
  2. Performing free migrations.

Chasing Leads: 1 hour, 35 minutes

I probably would have spent more time on this if I was actually accepting new orders. My services page is closed right now so people can’t even fill out the “hire me” form. But I still get some emails from previous/regular clients and I still had some proposal write ups and invoices to send out.

Support for Pre-Mades: 1 hour, 53 minutes

This usually just involves responding to support tickets (for my premade plugins and themes). But now and then I also have to login to a customer’s site to do debugging with the code or their settings.

Emailing Existing Clients: 43 minutes

This just includes emailing my current clients. This is going over ideas, getting feedback on mockups, etc. It’s not the time I actually spend designing or developing; it’s just the email communication we have.

Unpaid Helping / Coding: 15 minutes

Okay it was actually a lot more than 15 minutes.. I was just so terrible at starting the timer for this one. Most of the work I did was just answering quick questions and I’d forget to time myself. >_<

But this was basically doing any work for someone that wasn’t really my “responsibility” (had nothing to do with my themes/support/plugins/hosting/etc.) but they asked for help anyway and I gave it.

Total Time: Almost 8.5 hours

At my hourly rate of $50, that’s $425 per week that I’m potentially not being paid for. That’s $1,700 per month! That’s a massive chunk of money. This is almost like being required to come into work on a Saturday, but not being paid for that day.

Now, I’m not complaining or anything. As I said, I don’t mind these unpaid hours. In fact, answering support tickets is actually one of my favourite parts of the day. I just enjoy them for some reason. But I think it’s really interesting to look at all the hours that freelancers put in that aren’t necessarily in part of their actual services (design/development).

I’m never doing this again

As I said initially, I’m never ever EVER doing this again. Having to log my time was actually more annoying than doing the work itself. So I hope you enjoyed this post because it’s never happening again. πŸ˜›

Were my unpaid hours more or less than what you expected?

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I'm a 27 year old California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). I like to inject a little #girlpower into the WordPress development community by teaching women how to be coding badasses. more »

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28 comments

    1. Go us!!

      I think unpaid hours like this is why a lot of freelancers either raise their hourly rates or just charged a fixed rate. That way they can account for some of these unpaid hours.

  1. I’m usually paid on a project basis (of course the time and complexity are taken in account for the final price, but there are other factors too). But I feel I’m wasting time (and money) when making dumb layouts for clients – you know, you have the whole project layout almost perfect already, but the client needs “more options”.
    You know what they need, what you’re going to do, even what they’re going to choose – but they always need some stupid alternative, to think about it first. That drives me nuts. They’re never confident enough just to approve something you come with, or help developing this idea… Meh

    1. Ohh yeah I know exactly what you mean. The client says, “I love it! It’s perfect! It’s everything I want! …But just in case, can you whip up three alternatives?”

      Yeaaaah… 3x the work when they’re already happy… πŸ˜›

  2. I do freelance work too. I spent all day yesterday drumming up new business. I looked at the clock and it was 9:00 and then I looked up and it was 4:30. I have a tendency to think that I don’t accomplish anything during days like this. I just have to remember that all the administrative work that goes into being a freelancer actually counts, regardless if I’m being paid or not because it should be factored into my prices at least a little bit.

    1. I know exactly what you mean!! I’ve been working on redoing some of my sites to match the creativewhim.com design. Because of the systems I use, whenever I update the design on creativewhim.com I have to also update the template on like 2-3 other systems so they all match. I spend hours/days doing this and feel like I’ve accomplished NOTHING, but I have to remind myself that having a cohesive brand is important too.

  3. Wow, that’s a lot of unpaid hours! I hate working extra hours and not getting paid for it. I’m salaried at my job, so I always try my best to get out of there after 40 hrs each week, but sometimes there is just more work that needs to be done! I think you’ve done a great job with your branding, it’s been worth your time for sure πŸ™‚ Keep up the good work Ashley!

    Jade @ Bedtime Bookworm recently posted: ARC Review: The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons
  4. Wow a lot of cash…my father in law have his own business in doing taxes for other people and companies (don’t know how to say in english XD) and even tough the clients complain about the price (wich is very cheap, but they still do), he have to answer their doubts, make phone calls, do stuff for them,go to their work etc…and no one pays for that time and also diesel for the car…so i get that being a freelancer and with bills to pay may be very hard!

    Vera recently posted: 2015: Os meus desejos
  5. Excellent post idea. I think it was more than I was expecting. It’s one of the perks of being employed rather than self-employed that at least we get paid for all of this stuff. I’ve thought of freelancing before and it’s a big jump to make. Time management can be just as important because we can get dragged into pits of work that don’t really help our departments progress, but at least our livelihood isn’t based on it. Lots of these things though probably help you generate more business over time though. How can we ever truly account for these things? It’s like when people want me to cost-benefit advertising, it’s accumulative and difficult to put an exact figure on. R x

    Rachel recently posted: Review: Between the Lives
    1. Yeah I consider myself really lucky that I’m in a position where I can experiment and have a few failures. My husband and I have decent combined income (he works a 9-5 job) but we could rely on his salary alone if we had to. It would suck… but we could.

      So if I have any screw ups or time management issues, at least we have something to fall back on. There are a lot of freelancers who don’t have that luxury!

  6. Honestly, it’s less than I expected! I only freelance part-time, but I use the RescueTime app to track my time, and more often than not, I spend more time doing other freelance-related tasks other than writing. And that doesn’t even count writing content for my own site, since in all my records I have it set up as a client. (Otherwise I’ll forget to pay attention to it.)

    I see a lot of writers moving from an hourly pricing model to a “per project” fee, with certain fees set up with “what you can expect,” and then hourly additions if it involves more work. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but a lot of my “freelance friends” say they end up making more that way. It just seems so hard to come up with what the flat fee should be!

    1. Yeah I don’t charge hourly unless a client comes to me wanting small tweaks but doesn’t exactly know what they want, you know? Because if they don’t know what they want, then I don’t know what the final deliverable is, so I can’t offer a project fee. I just say I’ll do whatever they throw at me for $x per hour. But for everything else (design, coding, big projects, small projects that have a specific scope) I charge a project fee.

      I time myself on every piece of work I do, so I have a very good idea of how long it takes me to design and/or code a website. So if I know my hourly rate, I can combine that with how many hours I estimate it’ll take me. And voila! Per project fee.

      Sometimes I end up way over my hourly estimation, and other times I end up way under. But for the most part, it’s pretty consistent.

      1. Yeah, I need to figure out something better. But since some clients ask for 600 words and some ask for 3000, combined with the differences in research times, I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out how I could structure things. It’s so frustrating! The only thing that comes to mind is per word, but that wouldn’t account for research and seems kind of archaic lol. I guess if I changed services to only offer articles of a certain length, but I’d lose some clients that way. And if I charged a flat rate I’d feel bad charging the same for something that took 2 hours as something that took 10. #freelanceproblems, yo.

        1. Ohh yeah that’s a tough one. I think I have seen a lot of people charge per word, but if you have a lot of research to do then I get why that may not be a good fit for you.

          I don’t know a whole lot about your industry, but I think a per-project fee is the best way to go. At least with web design/dev, here’s sort of how I work:

          * Have a client questionnaire to get to know EVERYTHING you can about the project.
          * Have follow up conversations if necessary to go over any details.
          * Make sure you have a thorough understanding of the scope of the project and what it will require from you (writing x words, and you’ll have to do [a lot/a little/no] research

          From there you can estimate a project based fee. It might be hard at first, but I think this is something that gets easier to estimate the more projects you do. It’s all about anticipating the workload ahead of time. Yeah sometimes you may royally F it up and end up working way more than you predicted, but it’s all about learning from those mistakes so you can account for them next time.

  7. Honestly, that is a lot less than I would have expected! I have to admit that on the one hand I am super jealous of you. You’re doing what you love and scheduling your own time. Plus I work 10-15 hrs a week “free overtime” my boss doesn’t pay for overtime yet still magically expects everything to get completed! On the other hand though…at least I have a guaranteed paycheck and discounted health insurance. That’s worth a lot in this economy!

    Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf recently posted: Cat Thursday – Sun-kissed on a Snowy Day
  8. I’m just gonna sit back here and nod along to everything haha My Monday’s are slowly turning into fully 9 hour work days where I don’t actually do any designing – just catching up on emails and clients, and chasing leads, etc. It’s sad that that’s basically $675 flying out the window but I guess at the same time it’s a good way to ease into the week?

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