How to scope your work as a freelancer so you never work for free

Do you often feel like your projects are taking much longer than you anticipated? That your hourly rate is like $15 for one hour of deep work? Is your client bleeding you with endless iterations on your project? Can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel? The bad news is that it is almost certainly your fault. The good news is: I’ve been there too and I’ve done a good portion of work to escape from this trap. Through the system I’ve created, I’m able to comfortably reach my target hourly rate and I’m willing to share my way with you through this ultimate guide. Beware, I’m not offering any magic pill here, rather ideas and systems which have been proven in the freelance field.

How billing upfront as a freelancer saves you $3,000+ per year

So I’m in the freelancing and online business game for more than a decade. Same as everyone else, I started as a rookie, making the same rookie mistakes, which were then reflected in my monthly earnings (or absence of them). A typical mistake is starting the work without receiving payment from the client. I’ll show you how doing this will cost you thousands of dollars in the long run. And yes, I have the exact numbers.

Personally, for projects under $1,000, I require 100% of the payment upfront. For bigger projects, I define milestones with the client and the payments arrive in chunks, but are still paid in advance.

Productive Hour – The Answer To How to Track Your Freelance Time

For me, a Productive Hour means 60 minutes of uninterrupted deep work with a full focus on the given task. If I’m interrupted or just pause (answering team mate’s question, lunch, etc), then I’m stopping the timer for this task and track it as a “not-productive” time. My daily average for development is around 4.5 productive hours and I can push myself to do 8 – 9 hours when doing a less mentally demanding activity.

Immediate benefits of using the productive hour for tracking your work

Normalization and objectivity – now you have a unit which can be compared (for previous days/weeks, or with different persons), you can measure your productivity and figure out ways to improve (earn more money).

Effectiveness – new KPI – I track “non-productive” time as well. So, I can introduce these metrics:

  • Time in the office = productive time + not productive time
  • Effectiveness of work = productive time / Time in the office

My average productivity is 76%. This means, during 1 hour spent in the office, I’m productive for 45.6 minutes. I can use this information in multiple ways:

  • I can optimize my productivity, so I work 50 minutes instead of 45.6.
    • By being roughly 9% more effective, in theory, my income could be higher
  • I can track the influence of my behavior on my effectiveness. There are various things which can impact on this, such as; sport, meditation, ketogenic diet, drinking coffee, green tea, nootropics, consumption of alcohol and partying etc.