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Paul Cipywnyk

Time, Money and the Freelance Life

Piggy bank and money

For a creative professional or craftsperson, the business side of freelancing can be challenging. “I don’t want to run a business. I just want to write!” Or edit, or photograph, or paint or sing.

Yet by selling your services or products, you are running a business. Why not run it well? So well that the business part of being in business goes so smoothly that your creativity and productivity have more time to soar.

I struggle with running my business. Selling and marketing do not come naturally to me. I hope that by sitting down and focusing and writing this short piece, I may inspire myself as much as I may potentially inspire others.

Many of us living in a modern western society worry about time and money. Time, because our time here is limited, and most of us would like to maximize our happiness and fulfillment. And money, because whether we like it or not, we need it to satisfy basic needs such as shelter and food. Of course there are other things that require money — desires such as books, music, education, travel. Even altruistic endeavours such as helping others and supporting causes dear to our hearts go better when we’re solvent and may be able to donate some cash.

Piggy bank and moneyI’m not going to go Gordon Gekko on you, but, to slightly paraphrase, money is good. And we are in business to make money, to support ourselves and our families. Businesses make money — they use that money to employ people and to keep economies running. As a freelancer, you’re in business for yourself. You are keeping yourself employed.

There’s another word that some of us are averse to: profit. Yet as a business, you need to make a profit. No profit — soon, no business.

So there you have it. Money is good. Profits are good. Time is limited.

Okay, if I still have any readers left after such a crass, materialistic statement, let’s explore time and money a bit more, so that we freelancers use time effectively and earn more money.

To use time effectively, we need to schedule and stick to those schedules. Horrors! Yet we know that creativity requires effort and work. We know that successful authors and artists put in regular hours. Successful editors know how much work they can take on and still deliver quality copy.

Operating a healthy business with the least possible stress requires putting in regular running-the-business hours. We need to put in a few hours every month for bookkeeping, marketing, sales and some basic business planning. We need to schedule regular blocks of running-the-business hours into our calendars. A few concentrated hours a month, every month, is all it takes.

As for money, don’t be shy! The more money you make per hour, the fewer hours you have to work, eh? That’s more hours you can read. More hours you can cuddle with your cat. More hours you can volunteer with your community. Or even spend with your family!

If a client accepts your rate on the spot with nary a second thought, you may not be asking enough.

Average sector rate surveys are available out there. Look them up. Remember that you are also your own medical plan, insurance plan and pension plan. As a freelancer, nobody is covering that for you. If you can’t find clients who will pay you reasonably, you haven’t found your niche.

I remember years ago when I was averaging $50 to $60 an hour, and I was approached to do an editing contract for a local consultancy. When asked my rate, I gulped and blurted out: “Seventy dollars an hour.” Fine.

Whaddaya mean, “Fine,” with no hesitation? Dang!

I later discovered that I was charging them less than the lowest rate that they charged out for any of their staff, with their rates starting at $75/hour for the person who operated the office stapler. They also had a note on their rate sheet about raising their fees annually, so remember to regularly raise your rates, too.

So you’ve researched fees, now ask for the high end. What’s the likelihood of a client saying, “Whoa, you’re not charging me enough”? The only direction negotiations go after the initial figure, if there are negotiations, is down. So start high. And have the fortitude to turn down ill-paying work.

For more, try The Business Side of Creativity by Cameron S. Foote. Self-Counsel Press also has lots of titles on running small businesses.


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5 Comments on “Time, Money and the Freelance Life”

  • Setting rates is always the hardest part for me. I write mostly for not-for-profit (silly me), making it even more difficult sometimes. Is there an online source you use to help price jobs?

  • Many professional associations such as the Editor’s Association of Canada survey rates, but access to such information is often limited to members only. One survey that focuses more on the graphic-design sector, but that also has rates for copy writers, photographers, etc. can be found here:

    If you Google something like «average billing rate full-time freelancers» and add some sector descriptors you can find lots of info.

  • Following up on your NPO comment, yes, to get the higher rates you have to find who has the money. Generally speaking higher rates are associated with larger corporations and federal governments, and budgets gradually diminish the smaller the company, govt or org.

  • To get some sense of why you should raise rates annually, try the Bank of Canada inflation calculator at the link below.

    For example, if you were charging $50/hour in 2000, you’d have to charge $66.63/hour now in 2015, just to keep up with inflation.

    And that doesn’t take into account more experience, more education and upgrading, etc.

  • Rosemary Shipton


    Basically, the rate depends on who you are working for (corporations, governments, self-publishing authors, or publishers) and what you are doing (all levels of editing, copy editing only, rewriting, project management). Experience and excellence should also come into play, but they are sometimes ignored by clients who know little about editing.

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