The Week In Freelance: April 27th

Posted: April 30th, 2009

  • Carlo Feliciano from Freelance Switch on how he started freelancing with zero experience in his field: “My problem was that I had no idea what I wanted to do exactly. Yes, it was going to involve writing of some sorts. I discovered I had a knack for words (my boss even trusted me to write a press release about a new product we were launching — not bad for someone 6 months out of university!) but I had never been specifically hired and paid by others just to “write stuff.” The biggest question running in my head was: who the hell was I to be charging people for a bunch of words I put together? Luckily, I managed to push through that hump. Within a month or so, I went from being clueless about freelance copywriting to consulting with my first client over Skype.”
  • Freelance Switch has ten examples what the best-of-the-best freelancers do that we probably don’t.
  • Allison Boyer from Bizzia on the freelance jobs to avoid: “… sometimes, people have set out to scam you. That’s the kind of freelancing job you just don’t want – and although the scam-y ads look the same to amateurs, as you’re in the business longer and longer, you begin to see patterns. After just a few years of freelancing, you’ll start the notice the signs of a job that’s a scam (most likely).”
  • Need inspiration for a design or writing project? Zen Habits has a list of thirty inspirations to get you started. My favorite: “28. I find people who do things that seem impossible and try to figure out how they did them. Their quotes are backed by their story.”
  • It is hard for freelancers to realize that breaking out of your routines can help you in the long run. Ritu from Freelance Folder explains how you can actually eliminate some things you do and still come out more productive.
  • Copyblogger tell you how you can be a better writer in the next ten minutes.
  • If you are a graphic designer, hopefully you do not rip off images online, retouch them and use them for your own work. Let it be known, other designers are on the lookout out for this.
  • Are you still without a portfolio website? The folks at Smashing have the ultimate guide to using WordPress for your portfolio. I can tell you first hand that WordPress is definitely the route you want to go for this.
  • Once you have your shiny new WordPress site, you can learn how to use article marketing to promote it.
  • Something taken for granted more often than not is keeping client confidentiality, but in terms of securing the work you do for them. For instance, what if your laptop containing this work is stolen? Though not likely, the thief all of a sudden has access to that work which could potentially be a damaging situation. Georgina at Web Worker Daily explains how you should tackle the issue.
  • To end on a humorous note, ever wonder what the world would be like if everything was made by Microsoft? I’m in the mood for those can of peas professional edition.

Top Ten Signs You Are Not Cut Out To Freelance

Posted: April 29th, 2009

Let’s face it, freelancing is not for everyone. Here are some signs that you may just want to stick with a job.

10. You shiver at the thought of flexible scheduling.

9. You would have to work out of your parent’s pad.

8. You are afraid of becoming an “unemployed loser.”

7. Too depressed on the bad economy at the moment.

6. You fear being laid off as a freelancer.

5. You look forward to being skipped over for the next promotion.

4. Your office cubicle rocks compared to your desk at home.

3. Three words: annual company picnic.

2. You think the difference between freelancing and a job is the free coffee.

1. You have to hire a boss to watch over you.

The Great Mystery Revealed: What Should I Charge My Clients? Part 3

Posted: April 28th, 2009

This is the third of a four part series where we explain the science of determining your freelance rates. Today’s post will cover putting a competitive price on projects and maximizing your earnings.

Alright, now we get down to the nitty gritty on pricing your projects. This will be a little complex but I’ll try to simplify things as best I can in Layman’s terms. Putting a price tag on a project can be broken down into three parts. I’ll explain each one in detail which are as follows:

  1. Research in your market and finding a price for your services
  2. Analyzing your income potential and determining a project price
  3. Optimizing your pricing

Research in your market and finding a price for your services

In the last post, we determined your hourly rate and your break even rate. We’re not ready to start pricing just yet though. One thing I want to remind again, too, is that we want to steer clear of coming up with a project price by multiplying our hourly rate by the time we think it will take to complete it (the reasons are explained in part 1).

What we want to do instead is do some research into what others are charging for the similar services that we are doing THEN calculate if this will be profitable for us by keeping in line with our hourly rate. First, we’ll take on the research.

The best places to research what other freelancers are charging are the major freelance job boards such as oDesk, Guru and Elance. Instead of searching the projects available, you can actually search for freelancers that work in your field and by keywords of the type of project you are doing (i.e. tech writer, PHP programmer). The really handy part is that these profiles have available the projects that these freelancers have completed along with the amount they charged for each one.

Also don’t just settle on the first project that matches yours and think this is what you should be charging. The point is to keep digging and find up to ten similar projects (from different freelancers) and come up with an average from all of them. Though this may be a little time consuming, you can more accurately gauge your market price this way.

Now we can take this result to the next step…

Continue Reading »

Freelancers Are Most At Risk From Swine Flu

Posted: April 27th, 2009

I’m sure you’ve read it all over the place or saw the news bulletin on CNN. Oh man, there is a sudden global “pandemic” of swine flu that started out in Mexico and has spread to other parts of the world, hopefully, putting a scare in all of us. Really, don’t you get the impression this strain of flu will invade your household in the next day or so the way it is “spreading” around the world?

But haven’t we also heard the same story before with avian or aka “bird” flu? This strain was also projected to also be a global pandemic and scared the news-weary public enough to cause hoarding of the short supply of medication that supposedly treated it (remember tamiflu?). Isn’t it kind of funny we haven’t heard about it for a year or two since it was major headline news? Makes you think what the big deal was in the first place and if this swine flu really is something we need to pay attention to.

Now let’s go ahead and switch the subject to employment. Heard any bad news lately? Does this bad news directly affect whether you start freelancing or how you continue your freelancing? To put it in bluntly, did it bring about fear concerning the situation of your career?

The truth of the matter is that the poor state of the economy will affect you in much the same way as the swine flu will. In other words, worrying about either won’t do any good. If by little chance you will be directly affected by swine flu, chances are that this will be dealt with locally by professionals and you will be advised on what to do. So why worry?

The same applies to the economic situation. It may or may not have directly affected your employment but, rest assured, it will if you let it. Personally, I have had to make some adjustments such as spending more time searching for clients and making more of an effort to take care of the ones I do have to gain repeat work. Overall my freelance business hasn’t taken a hit as a result.

Surely my case doesn’t speak for everyone but sitting there and worrying won’t get you anywhere either. This little bit of knowledge, though, can keep you ahead of the masses that do worry. So stop, think and take action… or let the swine flu affect you too.

The Great Mystery Revealed: What Should I Charge My Clients? Part 2

Posted: April 24th, 2009

This is the second of a four part series where we explain the science of determining your freelance rates. Today you’ll see the true definitions of the hourly rate and calculate a competitive price for yourself.

Hourly Rates Explained

Coming up with an estimate for a client is simple, right? Just figure out the hours it will take to complete then multiply by your hourly rate. Well, not quite. It is quite a large misconception that project pricing has to be done this way. I’ll explain to you an essential use of an hourly rate calculation along with another important rate calculation, the break-even rate.

Your True Hourly Rate

First, your hourly rate calculation should not be used for pricing a project, but should instead be a guide to determine if you are in fact earning what you want to. Let me explain further with an example:

In the last post we calculated the total billable hours in a year to be 1,800 which averages out to 34.6 hours/week. We’ll round up to 35 hours/week for simplicity. Now let’s say that in one particular week, you worked 20 of those hours on a project and earned $500 (charging your rate of $25/hour) and the other 15 hours were spent on marketing your business and client searching. With a little math you can determine your true hourly rate for this week of work:

$500 earned / 35 billable hours worked for the week = $14.29/hour average for the week.

Now can you see that the hourly rate you charged doesn’t reflect your true rate per hour? In this case the $14.29/hour is a huge difference from the $25/hour you thought you were earning. That’s why the $25/hour you determined as your rate should only be a guide to how much you should be earning rather than an actual rate you set for any given project.

Keep in mind you probably won’t spend such a high percentage of time searching for clients (though a new freelancer will). It’s essential to know the time, however, that is spent on billable tasks and on non-billable work for your freelance business. The goal is to minimize non-billable time and maximize the income per project.

The Break-Even Rate

The break-even rate is simply the minimum you have to earn per billable hour in order for your freelance business to stay afloat. This takes into account all your business and personal expenses including taxes and those beers on Friday. In the above example, if your break-even rate happened to be $15/hour, then you either need to step up your business or cut costs somewhere (lowering your break-even rate) in order to keep on trucking as a freelancer.

Determining Your Rates

The first step in determining your project pricing is to know your desired hourly rate and your break-even rate. Freelance Switch has a great rate calculator to help you find both of these. There is also one other method you can use to figure out a desired hourly rate to compare with the rate calculation:

Go to and enter your job title to find an average annual salary for the work in your field.

Divide this amount by the 1,800 billable hours estimate to get a rough estimate for a rate to charge.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t reflect the current market in your field and is limited to the U.S. market but it should give you a rough estimate.

Now that we have your hourly rate and break-even rate figured the next step is to figure out how to give an accurate estimate on a project while keeping your earnings consistent with that hourly rate. In the next part of this series, I’ll explain this process without having to do the dreaded guessing.

The Week In Freelance: April 20th

Posted: April 23rd, 2009

  • Fear is probably the single culprit that can kill a freelancer’s career. Leo at Zen Habits tells us “When I was able to overcome this fear of not being good enough, this fear of failure and rejection, and put myself out there in the world, I succeeded. I found out that I was good enough. And I still have this same fear — I still worry that I’m not good enough, that I’ll fail and flop on my face in front of 100,000 people … but I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t.” It’s important to recognize your own fears and find ways to overcome them if you do want to succeed.
  • I’ve seen many lists of what makes a successful freelancer but the one at hits it right on the money. One lesson I recently learned the hard way: “Time Invested at the Start of Projects Will Save Headaches Later.”
  • The Domino’s Pizza scandal landed two morons in hot water after vigilant people managed to track them down to a North Carolina location. Lesson learned is don’t put anything online that can come back to haunt you. Cracked has more interesting cases where a little vigilance helped to track down scum on the internet.
  • Georgina at Web Worker Daily has the 5 warning signs that a project is in danger of non-payment. Here’s a scary scenario that happened to her: “The project had started in the normal way. I took the brief, produced the work, and sent it off in draft form for review with the words, “I look forward to your amendments.” But there were no amendments. My contact at the agency asked for my invoice the same day. I wound up having to chase payment, my contact was avoiding me, and in the end, I only got paid for half the job.” Her article is worth the read since the situation will likely come up for any freelancer.
  • A quick crash course on how a freelancer should approach their marketing.
  • Much of the marketing a freelancer does is initially outbound (cold calling, newsletters, advertising) which lessens as you become established and business is generated increasingly by word of mouth. Eric at Web Worker Daily has some info on how inbound marketing (customers finding you) can drum up more business and can go hand-in-hand with your outbound marketing.
  • Lee Munroe has a list of the 25 hot female designers. I’m guilty of thinking it was a photo spread, but these ladies do churn out some good work.
  • Treating your clients right rewards you with repeat business, good referrals, a great reputation and less time you have to spend on your own marketing. That said, you may want to brush up on how to gain your customer’s loyalty.
  • Ever thought of content marketing for a little side income? From Sonia at Copyblogger: “The whole idea behind content marketing is that you can use your creativity and know-how to make something cool, then take that cool thing and use it to market a product. It’s often associated with Seth Godin’s notion of permission marketing, but content marketing can be a part of any promotion or selling you might do.” She goes on to list 49 ways you can profit from it. One surely has to work.
  • The Supreme Court has decided to preside over a settlement case for freelance writers (from Wired): “The writers had sued the publishers and electronic database services, saying their contracts did not grant the publishers the right to electronically reproduce their work or license it for others to do so. A federal judge in New York approved the settlement. But a U.S. appeals court panel, by a 2-1 vote, threw out the settlement on the grounds that the judge lacked jurisdiction over infringement claims arising from unregistered copyrights.”

Top Ten Caffeine/Nicotine Substitutes So Your Lazy Ass Doesn’t Have To Go To The Store

Posted: April 22nd, 2009

Has this ever happened to you? You just sat down at your desk, a little drowsy, and get up to make yourself some coffee only to realize you’re all out. Then you reach for the box of cigarettes on the table, shake it, hear no noise and scream. Take the day off? Too lazy to go to the store? You can probably get by with these substitutes:

10. Good ol’ backhands to the face never fail.

9. Whip up the cream and sugar you do have into a tasty beverage.

8. Hunt down that leftover 8-ball from last weekend.

7. Duh… have you tried a nap?

6. A couple shots of hot sauce with a ketchup chaser.

5. Make a call to the parents. Have them yell at you a bit.

4. Make a nice cup of tea with a No-Doz dropped in it.

3. Gotta crank up the AC… /DC that is.

2. A session of self-waterboarding.

1. I guess you could recycle those old coffee grounds in the trash.

The Great Mystery Revealed: What Should I Charge My Clients? Part 1

Posted: April 21st, 2009

Image by Steven Depolo (Flickr)

Image by Steven Depolo (Flickr)

One ongoing question freelancers have, that never seems to really be answered fully, is what on earth should I charge for this project? Sure, there are many rate calculators available and, if we do a little research, can get a rough ballpark figure. Regardless, it still seems an inexact science and, truth is, it is to a degree. It is not just figuring out (or guessing) an hourly rate and using that. In fact, it goes way beyond that.

I’ll try to break this mystery once and for all but a general breakdown of the process should be understood first, which I’ll do for this post.

The Billable Hours

Your billable hours for the year can be simply broken down with the following:

Working a 40 hour week, 52 X 40 = 2080 total hours.

Minus two weeks of vacation, 2080 – 80 = 2000 remaining hours.

Minus 10% of time spent on administrative tasks (emailing, billing, estimates, etc), 2000 – 200 = 1800 remaining hours.

Your billable hours may vary but we’ll use the 1800 hour total as a rough estimate.

The Myth

It is a common misunderstanding that you need to figure out an hourly rate and multiply it by those 1800 hours to come up with a yearly income you desire. For instance, if you decide to charge $25/hour:

$25 X 1800 = $45,000 yearly income

There are two issues with this, though. The first is that you are not likely to work and bill those entire 1800 hours. A good chunk of that time will be spent searching for clients and promoting your freelance business, especially if you are new to freelancing.

The second issue is that due to that time spent searching for clients, you’ll never reach your yearly income goal unless you charge more per hour. By charging more per hour, you then run the risk of appearing too expensive and find it harder to obtain projects. So what is a freelancer to do?

Well, there is a way to counter these issues and earn the income you desire… something usually you have to learn the hard way as a freelancer. Understanding the proper method can go a long way in helping make your freelance career profitable.

The Technique

The secret of earning your desired income does not lie in your hourly rate. It is throwing your hourly rate out the door when coming up with an estimate for any client. The idea is to provide a competitive price on a project which is profitable for you, but something you can eventually improve upon and do in less time. Let me explain:

Let’s say you give an estimate on Project X at $500 and you win it. Also, we’ll say you estimated 20 hours to complete it. Isn’t it reasonable to say that the next time you win a similar project for $500, it will take maybe 15 or less hours to complete it since your gain experience and can possibly reuse parts of the first project?

How about the next similar project after that? Maybe it takes 10 hours. You see, the profitability lies in concentrating your services around those skills you are good at or are continually improving upon. As in the example, the fee you charge for the project may not rise, however, the time required for you to complete it decreases and your per hour income increases. This applies to you whether you are a writer, designer or programmer. The better you get at something, the faster you do it.

In a nutshell, this amounts to doing work you really know how to do well (or learn to do well) as much as you can.

This doesn’t mean that determining your hourly rate is not important. This is used in a way you probably haven’t thought of though. It is also true you may be required to provide an hourly rate in some job boards so I’ll touch upon that in the next post. In the next part of this series, I’ll explain the importance of the hourly rate and how it should be used.

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