I’ve always been a little vague about numbers. One result of this vagueness is a peculiar amnesia about how much time I spend on any activity, including work activities. With such a dysfunctional view of time, it is a miracle that I have survived as a freelancer as long as I have.
After I read Laurie Lewis’ What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants (2nd edition), I now understand that my ignorance is costing me money when bidding on a project basis. Lewis suggests that as a general practice, we should log EVERY activity on every project and then mine those logs to understand more clearly how long the tasks of a prospective project might take. You can see how to do this in Chapter 3, where she explains how to use these logs to estimate any new project. Laurie argues: “For 6 months, keep task-oriented logs on every project you do, whether you are paid by the hour, the day, the job, or whatever. After you’ve used the information in your logs to price other jobs and to manage your business better, you will be convinced that the little bit of record-keeping effort was totally worthwhile” (p. 34).
I’m convinced! Before I had read this book, I had estimated and bid a training customization at 3 hours―but it actually took 13 hours. Of course, I couldn’t charge for the 10 extra hours. You can bet that I’ll use this painful experience to bid more realistically next time.
Chapter 8 shares some excellent negotiating tactics. One that I have used with success appears on page 96: “Call your suggested project rate a cap, and say you’ll try to make the final bill less.” Another strategic suggestion is not to suggest your price right away―continue to ask questions and maybe they will reveal their budget for the project. In any case, you’ll get more insight into the project before you commit to a price. I was also fascinated with her triple-scenario, multiple-rate, task-based estimating method. In addition, Chapter 9, p. 111, provides some useful examples of letters of agreement.
Lewis’s book can help three audiences: new freelancers, experienced freelancers, and employees. New freelancers will get a glimpse into a rational method of setting rates and negotiating. Experienced freelancers will understand the value of keeping detailed task logs (it always seemed so compulsive to me, but now I am a convert). Employees will learn how (and why) to keep a task log that can help them justify time estimates for projects that management may be underestimating; they will also learn some negotiating tips and tactics for their next raise or job negotiation.
I recommended What to Charge to fellow AMWA-RMC member William Brown, MD, who has recently launched his editing business. Here is his brief review: “Establishing a medical editing service is a daunting proposition. I have written and edited medical research articles for over 40 years, but when I recently began to set up a for-profit editing service, I encountered many unanticipated hurdles. What to Charge has given me sound advice on several issues, with clarity and directness. The book’s figures, illustrating essential items such as records of income/expenses, time expenditure, and sample contracts, are particularly useful.”
What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants (2nd edition) by Laurie Lewis
Denver: Outskirts Press, 2012