A constant struggle I am faced with in my day-to-day business, is finding the right balance between billable hours and non-billable hours. I want to put a lot of my focus on billing as many hours as possible, but one of the most effective ways to get new clients, is by putting in non-billable hours. This includes posting to social media, engaging with your audience, creating content (such as this blog post), and working on your overall brand.
I maintain a to-do list for all my client and have an even longer list of all the things I need to do for myself and my business. Some of these items include content planning, updating my website/portfolio, and engaging with my social media following.
The goal is to generate enough income from billable hours, to cover the non-billable activities necessary for growth. Easier said than done. Here are some tips:
Know your clients. Which clients require more non-billable hours?
Non-billable hours with a client is one important side of being a freelancer. It comes down to your process and how effective your systems are. A certain amount of time should be allotted to time that goes into on-boarding and off-boarding a client. This time can include contract negotiations, out-of-scope requests, numerous revisions, and getting paid. It is important to establish a strong working relationship with your clients right off the start. Set boundaries and ensure that they are as committed to the project as you are.
I do this in a number of ways:
- Request a deposit before the project even starts (this ensures that the client is now financially invested).
- I have my branding clients fill out an on-boarding survey that allows me to review their answers before I get started. It forces the client to think about and communicate what they want very clearly.
- Use a formal invoicing program (I use and.co) so that all payment tracking is official and organized.
- Use a program like Trello (or something similar that allows you to create checklists and deadlines) to track project progress and follow up when necessary.
Every client is different and may need more support at different stages. My advice is to be proactive with systems and ensure that at least part of this is automated. Giving away hours to clients can help to build trust but can also cost your business a lot of money. It is important to find the right balance of both.
Non-Billable hours are still profitable
Spending time on building your network, engaging with potential clients, strengthening your team, and building your skills are all activities that will make you more profitable. As you grow and learn more about your business, you will increase in value and your prices can reflect that.
Your non-billable hours are for expanding your knowledge and professional capabilities. They also keep you in touch with your business and allow you to remind yourself why you are doing what you do.
It is okay to overbook yourself a little
In the freelancing world, you are going to have inconsistencies. Some months will be very busy while others very slow. It is okay to prepare for this and ensure that you will have enough work to carry yourself through.
If you account for the drop off concept, and overbook by about 110% then you will eventually actually even out to 100%. Unexpected situations arise and sometimes client timelines end up going on longer than anticipated.
Of course, this may result in you having more work to do than you want to, but welcome to the fun part of freelancing! The certainty of having an entire week full is an exciting feeling – especially when first starting out.