How Much Time Should I Devote to Freelancing?

Probably one of the questions that I get asked most often is “How much time will I need to spend on my freelancing business to succeed?”

The answer is…it depends.

I know freelancers who spend far more time on their freelancing business than any employer would ask of an employee. I also know freelancers who earn a good living working part-time hours.

In this post, we’ll discuss the amount of time that freelancing actually takes. At the end, I’d love to hear your feedback on the topic. Let us know how much time you spend on your freelancing business.

Unexpected Tasks

Many freelancers have unrealistic expectations when they start freelancing. Some expect to be able to earn money with little or no effort on their part.

Most, however, do expect to do some work. It’s just that most freelancers don’t realize all of the work it takes to run a successful freelancing business.

Here are some of the unexpected freelancing tasks that take new freelancers by surprise:

  • Accounting–As a freelancer, recordkeeping is important. You need to keep an accurate of all your business transactions. That means records of all income coming in and all business expenses going out. Most freelancers must also file a quarterly income tax return. Don’t forget that you’re now responsible for invoicing clients and for collections.
  • Blogging–Nearly all freelancers maintain a business blog. While a business blog can be a great source of new clients, running a good business blog can be a lot of work. Posts need to be written. Software needs to be updated. Comments need to be moderated. Remember, your business blog isn’t really helping your business if it’s not updated regularly with quality content.
  • Learning–As a freelancer it’s up to you to keep your marketable skills up to date. For most of us, this means taking additional classes–either online or in person. To get the most from your classes, allow yourself adequate time for learning. You’ll also want to follow relevant blogs and magazines in your field.
  • Marketing–Freelancers spend a lot of time getting their freelance business message out and looking for new projects. Networking and relationship building doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve heard some freelancers estimate that they spend nearly half of their time on marketing and looking for work. Don’t underestimate the importance of these tasks.

Of course, some freelancers do earn a full time living while working less than full time at freelancing. One key to this is working smart.

Work Smart

As a freelancer, you could easily find yourself working long hours. The truth is that while you may finish a project, you’re never really “done” with work when you’re a freelancer. There’s always something else that you could be doing.

If you’re working smart, though, you’ll be spending time on the things that really matter. Things that:

  • Bring in income
  • Increase your skills
  • Make work easier for you in the end

Most freelancers that I know have two lists. A must-do list and a would-be-nice-to-do list.

Also, be sure to avoid reinventing things. For example, you wouldn’t send a completely different invoice out every time you billed a client. Instead, create a standard invoice template and customize it with the details for each specific project when you send out a bill for your services.

But even if you’re working smart, you might still wind up working more than you did when you were an employee.

Beware of Overcommitment

Freelancers sometimes overcommit themselves and wind up working more than would if they were working in a traditional job.

This happens for two reasons:

  1. The freelancer is nervous about getting enough work.
  2. The freelancer seriously underestimates the amount of effort a particular project takes.

I’ve made both mistakes in the past, and believe me it’s no fun being over committed.

You can avoid taking on too much work if you are careful during the negotiation phase of a project. Often a deadline can be pushed back so that you can work comfortably on another project. You just need to ask. You should also make sure that your understanding of the scope is accurate. Get the client to be as specific as possible.

Your Turn

How much time do you need to spend on your freelancing business to succeed?

The answer is different for everyone. But if you follow some of the tactics described above you can earn a good living and avoid overworking yourself.

Have you found that freelancing requires more, or less, of your time? Why do you think that is so?

Image by numb3r

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Laura: You have some excellent points. I think the primary point to the individual is that the time spent is going to be different, depending on their needs.

    For example, I left 30+ years of corporate life of long days, working weekends, and not taking time for a personal live. I promised myself I would not do that with my business writing company. And I don’t. Also, I have family responsibilities that pull me from being as productive as I could be. And that’s okay with me. The pros far outweigh the cons.

    So, I have to adjust my thoughts on my income and the way I work. That’s not always easy for a reformed workaholic. :-) But, I am healthier and happier for recognizing the difference.

  2. says

    Cathy Miller,

    Thanks. One thing that inspired me to write the post is the fact that I know that many freelancers underestimate the amount of time it takes. I’ve been guilty of that myself. Hopefully, this post will help freelancers to better plan their time.

  3. says

    The biggest mistake I made when I started freelancing for my SEO business a couple of years ago, was that I never thought about all the unbillable time I was going to spend during the week. I went from a 40 hour a week job to a 60 hour a week job, but still loved it in the end.

  4. says

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks a lot for this great post. I think that becoming a freelance takes a lot of courage and I admire freelancers. However, I noticed that on many occasions, people decide to become freelancers without really having a plan or thinking that work will come in without making any effort. In other words they take is a little bit too easy. It doesn’t mean they are lazy, but freelancing is just probably not for them. On the other hand, I know many translators who devote a lot of time to developing their business (and even their own brand). Those people usually work A LOT but have a real passion for what they do so it doesn’t feel like “work” for them. I actually wrote a small post about becoming a freelance translator, maybe you will find it useful? http://mhlanguagereviews.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/10-things-you-should-do-when-starting-as-a-freelance/

  5. says

    Further to what Bob said, it’s that unbillable time that will get you. People don’t realize they need to take that into consideration when they are figuring out their budgets and setting their rates.

  6. says

    I usually make it a habit to work from 9pm to 11pm after normal daily work. Just as you said, I would do the blogging and the marketing bits together when I don’t have the jobs and plan a new strategy to get some work in the future.

    Previously, I usually have to work on Saturday but now I don’t have to anymore. I find it a good time to update my blogs with portfolio, which I think worth to be seen and read some articles or watch vids on youtube on how to improve the freelance business and other relevant skills.

  7. says

    Just following the comments I agree about unbillable time. Getting the right hourly rate or daily rate taking this and holidays and sickness into consideration is vital. I have spoken to guys in regular jobs that think I must be making a fortune, but making the calculations drops that overall net pay right down.

  8. says

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    own pet who recently passed. Giving grass the same amount of water
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  9. says

    When I first started out freelancing, I was too busy being busy. I must of been doing 80 hours a week when it should have taken me 40-50 hours. I think the key to breaking out of this was to really track where I was spending my time and making an assessment at the end of the week.

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