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How to Beat the Freelancer’s Dreaded Nemesis: Unbillable Time

by Laura Spencer

on November 21, 2014

in Freelancing Life

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“Time is money.”

You’ve probably heard that saying before, but when you’re a freelancer those words take on a whole new meaning. If you’re freelancing and you’re not working on a billable project, you’re not making money.

As I point out in an earlier post, you don’t really have eight billable hours each day. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be trying to fill your freelancing day with as much billable work as you can realistically manage.

The truth is when you’re a freelancer, anything that keeps you from doing billable work is taking money out of your wallet.

In this post, I’ll identify seven culprits (including the administrative tasks I discussed in the earlier post) behind unbillable time. I’ll also explain how to minimize the amount of time you spend on those unbillable tasks so that you can earn more money.

7 Culprits That Keep You from Earning Money

Take a look at how you spend your time now.

On any given work day, how much of your time is spent working on billable tasks? How much is spent on other things?

If you’re like many freelancers, you’re lucky if you’re able to spend four hours of an eight hour work day on paying projects.

So, what’s taking up our time and keeping us from billable projects? Let’s take a look:

  1. Administrative tasks. Marketing, accounting, invoicing… the list of administrative tasks goes on. And if you’re running a business, they have to get done.
  2. Wasted time. While you can’t totally avoid non-billable tasks, many freelancers waste time without even realizing it. have you ever wondered where your day went?
  3. Time spent with non-clients. It takes time to answer a prospect’s questions. It takes even longer if you end up sending the prospect a proposal.
  4. Crisis time. Everyone has events in their life that they can’t control. Illness, family emergencies, and equipment failure are just a few examples.
  5. Rework, revisions. Most freelancers don’t include the cost of doing revisions in their estimates, yet rework is often needed to keep the client happy.
  6. Interruptions. Each time you are interrupted, your productivity goes down. You know what I mean if you’ve ever stopped working to answer a phone call.
  7. Worrying. Worrying about matters beyond your control or being under a lot of stress can take you away from billable work or make you work less efficiently.

With a challenging list like that, increasing your billable time may seem impossible. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to overcome these culprits.

How to Overcome the Barriers to Billable Time

So, what’s a freelancer to do? With the right planning, there are some steps you can take to increase the amount of time you spend on billable projects.

Here are seven steps to take:

  1. Get help with administrative tasks. Hire a virtual assistant to help you with your most routine tasks. Be sure to charge what you are worth so you can afford the help you need.
  2. Establish effective routines. We often redo tasks unnecessarily because we don’t save our prior efforts. For example, if you have a proposal that worked well, use it to create future proposals.
  3. Use tools to improve your focus. Place a strict limit on the time you spend on social tools and other non-essential sites. If needed, use a tool like FocusWriter or Anti-Social.
  4. Qualify your prospects early. Not everyone who contacts you about work is a serious prospect. Ask the right questions as soon as possible to avoid wasting your time.
  5. Establish a revisions policy. Did you ever have a project where the revisions took more time than the work? Add a revision policy to your work agreement that limits the number of revisions included in your price.
  6. Control your work environment. Turn the ringer off on your phone while you work. (Voice mail will get it.) Shut your home office door and train family members not to bother you when the door is closed.
  7. Manage Your stress. Find an outlet for stress. Often exercise is a healthy way to relieve stress and has other benefits as well. If you need to, get professional help to manage your stress.

Your Turn

What other ideas can you think of to give yourself more billable time? Share your tips in the comments.

Learn how to earn $125 or more per hour as a freelancer - Free Test Drive

About Laura Spencer

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy LauraĆ¢??s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts. Laura is also on Google+.