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The return to freelancing, month three: August recap

Behind the scenes: August 2014 recap

It’s a little bit late, but here it is: the August recap!

How I spent my time:

Harvest report: August 2014

In August, I tracked just shy of 125 hours, a 22 hour increase from July, which breaks down to about 30 hours a week. The fact that I logged more hours than July is fairly impressive considering that the aforementioned adorable-yet-distracting kitten kept me from sleeping for more than two hours in a row for a solid two weeks of the month. (We’ve figured out a system that keeps everyone happy, thankfully. Sleep deprivation is not my look.) In other words: I fuckin’ hustled, man.

Out of that time:

  • 76.32 hours (about 61% of my time) were spent on my business/internal work
  • The other 48.63 went to my clients (including the email, meeting, and admin time for each client, not just writing time)
  • I spent about the same amount of time meeting with prospective clients as I did in July (2 hours), but I spent about half the amount of time pitching in August that I did in July (just shy of 4.5 hours), which makes sense because my client roster got pretty full
  • Roughly 17 hours on email (up five hours from July – eesh), just under five doing social media (down four hours from July), just shy of three hours marketing (mostly the email newsletters), and just over 12 hours on administrative work (a seven hour increase from July, again – eesh)

If you wanna see the whole breakdown of my internal work, here’s a screenshot. It might be useful if you want to set up time-tracking for your biz (which you totally should! Harvest is my jam). As mentioned last month, I like to drill down and be really specific about what I’m spending time on. Which came in handy because I did my first client audit this month and the results were enlightening to say the least–more on that in a second.

How I made my money:

Total income: $3,770.69 – a nearly $1,000 increase from July 2014. CAN I GET A WHUT-WHUT?! And I friggin’ passed my $3,500 income goal. *drops mic* (Fun fact: I actually went to do the “mic drop” motion at the coffee shop I was working at when I wrote that sentence.) 

Business expenses:

  • SAAS tools (Google Apps, Coschedule, Harvest, Clicky): $32 (I cancelled Contactually, SendOwl, and Paypal Pro – yay for cutting down expenses! That saved around $100, even though I immediately spent that money on other stuff.)
  • Coffee shops/meetings: $52.19 (drastically down because I signed up for a kind-of-coworking solution about halfway through the month)
  • Web hosting: $15
  • A gawtdang charger for my MacBook Air since my charger that had been clinging on for dear life finally died: $85
  • A new mic and headphone splitter so I could use that mic: $45
  • Entre: $95
  • Accounting: $200 (I have an amazing bookkeeper working on getting my clusterfuck of a three-year-back tax situation fixed and setting everything up gloriously organizedly for the future…and psst, she has client spots available!)

Total: $524.19 (over twice last month….eep)

Thoughts:

  • An update on the administrative work: I wound up absolutely needing someone (most of that admin work happened in the first half of the month) so I went with my colleague/friend/total badass as a stand-in (she’s also got a few client spots available, though she’s booking up fast) until I’m done with the Zirtual onboarding process. Of course, now I’m still not done with the Zirtual onboarding process and wondering if it’s worth doing all the onboarding with another assistant when Alexis is doing just fine, but there’s still the tax paperwork of a contractor and shit that I don’t want to deal with. I’ll figure it out.
  • Entre turned out to be a fantastic in-between coworking option, is an absolute no-brainer at that price, and has already more than paid for itself in increased productivity. Shenee and I have been going places together to get the most out of it, and working in 45m sprints with 15m breaks together, and it is absolutely crazypants how much I get done working that way.
  • The accounting: It’s just time to fix this and it’s way more than worth the peace of mind.
  • The equipment was fairly necessary (a screencast that I’m getting paid for prompted the mic upgrade, and obviously I can’t work if Raphael doesn’t have a charger) so I have no guilt about that.

My first client audit & the results:

One of the reasons I’m so wildly adamant on tracking your time is so that you can know where your time is going and improve those numbers. This is crucial for me because I charge per-word, not hourly. I generally do this because:

  • I work really fast and hourly rates typically penalize that
  • I think it’s better to have both parties going in know exactly how much will be made/spent
  • It’s a lot easier to sell someone on my per-word rates than what my hourly rates typically break down to

Now that I’m a few months back into freelancing, I wanted to see what kind of hourly rate I was making across the board with clients. So I took the amount of time I’d tracked vs. how much I had billed (or had earned but had yet to be billed because of billing periods or publish dates), and the results were pretty astounding. My hourly rate varied from $45 to $117. Holy ridiculous range, Batman!

In order of time spent, I had 10.28 hours on Client A, 8.10 hours on Client B, and 6.17 on Client C (and several others, but these are the pertinent ones). And here’s the kicker: Clients A and C were the least profitable clients in August, at $45.22 and $45.49 an hour, respectively. (With Client B, I averaged $98.70/hr…so you know, we’re five by five there.)

Over a third of my client time in August (37.5%, to be specific) went to those two clients, but the total income from those two clients was only 24% of my total client income. Not quite the Pareto principle in action, but certainly disproportionate.

My average hourly was $69.30, but once you took out those two low outliers, it went up to around $88. That is a big difference. I’d recommend everyone do this exercise quarterly, at the very least–it was an eye-opening experience, and it gives me a 100% certainty what I can charge hourly if someone insists on doing so ($75 or higher). Because I am making that or more with most of my clients, so there’s no reason for me to take less.

So what did I do afterwards?

  • I heavily weighed what to do with Client A, because while my hourly was comparatively awful, it was also steady work and I did like the people I was working with inside the company. After re-assessing during the first week in September, I told them that I really loved working together, but that with the amount of research and meeting time involved,  I needed to switch to an hourly pay structure of $75/hr, and if that wasn’t doable, I totally understood and I would be happy to refer them to other writers.
  • I was fairly confident in doing this with Client A, because I had just lined up another gig that I’m very excited about, which would more than replace my income from them. So if they said yes, awesome, boost to my bottom line, if they said no, I already have replacement income lined up. They said that wasn’t within their budget and I referred them out, no hard feelings. Awesome!
  • I was all ready to refer Client C to someone else, but then they got back in touch and said that their content strategy is on hold for the time being. So that solved itself.
  • I learned that meetings really, truly are the productivity killer for me, and that the types of assignments/clients I work best with are where I’m given pretty free reign. Both clients required meetings to different extents. Both of them also turned out somewhat different than the original scope (i.e. more time involved), and I’m still pondering if there were any warning signs there that I missed, that I can pay attention to in the future.

Looking ahead and lessons learned overall:

  • I finally finally set up a business bank account! HUGE DEAL.
  • I learned not to sign noncompetes.
  • I’m actually pretty much booked solid for at least the next month or two, and arguably the foreseeable future. I’m not sure why I have this weird resistance to that, but I keep wanting to pitch gigs anyways even though I know I wouldn’t realistically have the time to work on new projects, and I keep qualifying it when I say it to people. (Notice how I said “I’m actually pretty much booked” and now “I’m booked”? What is up with that?) Go figure.
  • I’m interested to see how well I juggle launching Six Weeks to Street Cred with aforementioned full client load. The admin assistance will probably become more and more crucial, along with sticking to the systems and routines I’ve set up.
  • I also did the math and realized that with the word-counts I’ve been averaging (stay tuned for a post soon on how I got my daily averages from 2-2.5k to 3-3.5k or sometimes more) I can work on client work Tuesday-Thursday, leaving Friday entirely for my own writing, including the not one but two books (in addition to the blog posts here. yeah, I’m crazy, I know).
  • I feel like I’ve got some pretty sweet momentum behind me! BRING IT, REST OF 2014.

Yay! How’d your August go?

The return to freelancing series:

4 Comments

  1. Ha! I was about to send you a tweet reminding you about this post!

    Good Job! Congratulations on breaking the 3.5k barrier.

    I have the same hourly problem in my field. I work way too fast and it penalizes me. Since your July recap I started using Harvest to track my times and, well… Turns out I had a ecommerce layout to code and it took me 9 hours to complete it. Thank god I charged for the project on this one.

    I’m still hoping you find the time to write about info products and pricing those.

    Reply

    • Thanks Fernando! Good on you for tracking your time 😀

      I’ll probably write more about pricing infoproducts…just not sure when. I have carefully logged it in my ideas list, though 🙂

      Reply

  2. Kudos for being so transparent. I get tired of only seeing the people making five figure months talking about their income when in reality…we all gotta start somewhere. I track my time with Focus Booster because I also use the Pomodoro Technique. In tracking my expenses, I found I was spending way too much time and money doing coffee shop meetings when I first started my business. Now I meet people for introduction meetings via phone so they are shorter, no commute involved and no coffee! Then, if they are local, I’ll meet them in person if I feel I need to.
    I’m always looking for ways to cut my monthly subscriptions and expenses because the bigger I get, the more other types of monthly expenses re: outsourcing, I’ll need.
    This is a great post.

    Reply

  3. Pingback: Behind the scenes: September recap -

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