Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Billable hours in a freelancer's life

On the the blog Precedent: The New Rules of Law and Style, there is an interesting item showing the likely impact of "billable hours" on the lifestyles of young lawyers.

We thought it would be interesting to do a variant of this for magazine freelancers. We have assumed a 5- day work week, 8 hours sleep a night and two weeks vacation.

Waking hours per day 16
Waking hours per work week (5 days) 80
Days per work year 250

Waking hours per work year 4,000

Preparing, eating meals (1.5 hr/day) (375)
Hygiene (1 hr/day) (250)
Exercise (1 hr/day) (250)
Household chores (1.5 hr/day) (375)
Watching TV (1 hr/day) (250)
Work avoidance (1 hr/day) (250)
Phone/e-mail (1 hr/day) (250)
Sex (1 hr/week) (50)
Socializing (3 hr/wk) (150)

Total non-freelance time use 1,950

Total time left* for freelance work 2,050

Average full-time freelance pre-tax income (PWAC study) $29,235

Hourly wage $14.26

*Of course this assumes that every hour is used productively.



Blogger Paul said...

Freelancers need to know how many billable hours a week they can work. They should apply the billable hour concept to the per-word rates that magazines and newspapers pay. For instance, most full-time freelancers can work 20 to 25 billable hours (hours they are working for pay) per week. If a freelancer works 20 hours per week @ $100 per hour for 50 weeks, he or she would earn $100,000 per year. Far above the PWAC average for writers.

If your goal is $100/hour, and a publication offers you $500 for a 1,000-word article, you have to complete your research, writing and revisions in 5 hours to meet your hourly goal. Tough to do. Not impossible, but very tough.

However, many publications pay less than 50-cents per word, and it could take 10 to 20 hours (or more) to write a 1,000-word article. If you are working for a publication that pays $1 per word ($1,000 for a 1000-word article) and it takes you 20 hours to research, write and revise the article, you are making $50 per hour.

I know writers who would spend 25, 30 or more hours on such an article. They don’t dare do the math to calculate their hourly wages. It is, unfortunately, getting to the point where freelance periodical writers are working for McWages. Let’s face it, $1 per word was the holy grail of freelance writing in the ‘60s! That, my friends, is why freelance writers are, in increasing numbers, looking to corporate work. Many of our brightest and most creative voices are being silenced. And nobody seems to give a darn.

If you want to know the maximum you can make – the per word rate ceiling – freelancing for newspapers and magazines, read Freelance Writing: Do the math online at (posted December 15, 2006).

10:53 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...and it could take 10 to 20 hours (or more) to write a 1,000-word article... I know writers who would spend 25, 30 or more hours on such an article. They don’t dare do the math to calculate their hourly wages."

This is the key point. But I'd reslant it slightly: they don't dare log their hours to find out how long it really takes, and/or they're very forgiving about what activities "count." I am constantly running up against writers (competitors in my local market) who insist it takes them 4-5 hours to "write" a 1000-word, 3-source article. I track my time electronically. Knowing exactly how much time goes into tracking down sources and reading backgrounders makes it awfully hard to write it off--or "gift" it to the client. Trouble is, when the client, who insists on paying an hourly rate, gets one estimate of, say, 4 hours for a 1000 word piece, and another of 8-12 hours, it's not hard to figure out which one he/she will go for. And not hard to see how that drives rates down.

11:13 am  

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