The other day I was reading a forum and came upon a post from a writer who wrote that she could create four 600-word articles in an hour. (I’m not going to link to it because I don’t wish to embarrass anyone.)
Of course, I was a bit intrigued. What was her secret? More to the point, what was I doing wrong that I could only produce one 600-word article in an hour?
As a read further, I came upon this sentence, “… of course, that doesn’t include time I spent on research.” What?
A little bit later in her post, I found these words, “… not including the time it took to download the article.” Huh …
That’s when I realized that some writers don’t know what should be included in their bill for services.
If you’ve written in article that took a half hour of research, fifteen minutes of writing and typing, and fifteen minutes of downloading to a website or attaching to an e-mail to send to a client–you haven’t created an article in fifteen minutes! You’ve created an article in an hour.
The distinction is important for a number of reasons. Here are a few of them:
- First of all, if you only bill for actual writing and typing time you are going to find yourself doing an awful lot of work for free. You run the risk of burning yourself out.
- Secondly, you are setting your clients up for an unrealistic expectation. The next writer they hire may not wish to do her research for free.
- Finally, the quality of your work may be negatively impacted as you rush through the free parts of your work to get to the parts that pay.
What should be included in your invoice? My golden rule of invoicing is that you should include anything that you would not ordinarily do if you were not working on the client’s project. Let me repeat that. Include anything on your invoice that you would not do if you were not working on the client’s project!
That means that if you are assigned to write an article on fruit flies and you spend an hour coming up to speed on the latest in fruit fly research, then that hour needs to be included on your invoice. (Unless you are a fruit fly hobbyist who regularly spends their spare time researching fruit flies.) That means that if you spend twenty minutes using FTP to download the file to the client’s site, that twenty minutes needs to be included on your invoice. Even the time you use to create the invoice should be included on your invoice!
Ideally, the time that you spend marketing your writing business and querying for writing jobs should be prorated and charged to your clients. (Personally, I haven’t fully implemented that.)
There are different ways to make your billing more accurate. Because I used to work for a corporation that made us itemize our time each week, it is very natural for me to record my work on a spreadsheet. I keep a separate spreadsheet for each project. When I begin a project I “log in” to my spreadsheet by recording my start time and a note about what I am doing. If I switch between projects, then I “log out” of the first project and “log in” to the second one.
I pretty much record everything that I do for the client on the spreadsheet. Since I keep each client’s files in a unique subdirectory with unique subdirectoriesÂ for each individual project, I even include the time that I take to set up those directories.
The benefits of keeping these kinds of records include:
- Historical data. When the client comes back and asks for a second project I can give them a realistic timeframe.
- Rate knowledge. I always know what my hourly rate really was for a particular project. If I find that it was lower than I expected then I can examine whether I need to find some efficiencies in my work (always my first choice) or charge more for my work.
To summarize, I think some writers cheat themselves by not completely understanding what a job contains. Don’t you be one of those writers!
Contents (c) Copyright 2007, Laura Spencer. All rights reserved.