Are you giving away time? Do you even know the answer to this question? I ask, because in our recent survey, several writers asked one way or another about how to handle the time they give away.
I’m talking about the time you spend on a client’s writing project that you don’t get paid for.
It can happen in many ways, but there are four primary causes that if changed mean writers can stop giving away time. They are:
- You’re unconscious about how you’re spending your time
- You don’t think to include everything in your estimates
- You fail to limit the number of revisions
- You drag your feet about invoicing promptly and following up
Let’s look at them one at a time.
Your unconscious about how you’re spending your time
It’s surprising how many writers have no clue about how long it takes to write and polish something from start to finish. Or maybe it’s not surprising. When we’re writing well it seems that’s almost an altered state of consciousness. Time has little meaning during those minutes, even hours of focused concentration.
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If, however, you’re treating your writing as a business, you need to know how much time you’re spending at your work. The solution is to actually track your time. I use Toggl – they say it’s time tracking so easy you’ll use it and I find that to be true. It’s not the only solution but it’s a good one. Even the free version let’s you assign projects to your tracking and it’s truly done with a toggle switch – start and stop.
Track all your writing and the ancillary activities like research, talking with the client, and editing and you’ll have a much better idea about the time you’re actually spending writing. This will help you know what to charge. It will also bring a discipline to your writing that will help you improve your writing skills and plan your days effectively.
You don’t think to include everything in your estimates
When you’re deciding how much to charge clients you fail to include everything in your estimates. Things like time spent talking with the client, researching, interviewing, revising and even thinking time often are overlooked. While you may not show every detail in an invoice to a client, you need to include everything in your thinking about how you spend your time. In fact, once you’ve got an estimate that does include everything it’s a good idea to add a ten percent contingency to it – again, not to be shown to your client, but so you know you’re going to get paid for all the work you do.
You fail to limit the number of revisions
Writers who don’t limit the number of revisions they will do are usually giving away time – lots of it. Although not every client will expect a seemingly unending number of revisions, the ones who do often become real time sinks. You can solve this in advance by naming the number of revisions you’ll do – generally two or three – for the price you’re quoting. You can make it even clearer by adding a statement that says something like ‘revisions beyond this number will be charged at an hourly rate of $xxx.’ Remind the client when they are about to use their last revisions and tell them roughly how many hours you’ve spend on the previous ones and chances are they’ll stop asking for extras. If they don’t, invoice them for the time.
You drag your feet about invoicing promptly and following up
Okay, invoicing isn’t fun, but it’s sure more interesting than not receiving payment. Since you’re running a writing business you’ve got to find a way to invoice promptly.
Creating an invoice is dirt simple, you’ll find instructions here. I make it a practice to invoice the moment I know the project is complete. On some projects I invoice before the revisions are finished, noting that I owe them revisions. On large projects, like books or other writing that will take weeks or months I set up a payment schedule in advance – usually once or twice a month. I generally send an invoice for each of these payments too. I keep a copy so it helps me track what I’m doing.
When someone is late making a payment on an unfinished project, I stop writing until they get caught up. If a completed project isn’t paid for promptly I send a reminder adding that late payment may result in a penalty fee of ten or fifteen percent – which I charge. After all, if I’m late on my internet fees or a car payment I can expect late fees. It’s the way business is run.
Stop giving away time and your writing business will prosper.
If you’ve got questions about giving away time, ask them in comments – or if you spot something I should have added but didn’t.
Write well and often,
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