Time and I don’t get along.

I have this inescapable, urgent sense that things are about to end any minute. And I have the therapy bills to prove it.

So, when I heard the ATO wanted Australian freelancers to keep a work from home logbook (barf), and that the best way to maintain that logbook was to use a time tracker (double barf with extra sound effects), I did what I do best.

a red clock is held aloft by two arms with the script how a time tracker became my new freelance bff

Photo by Malvestida on Unsplash

I balled up like an armadillo and rolled right away from that request. And I kept rolling for about four months.

But one day, I thought it was time to get with the time tracking program.

I (reluctantly) began using Rounded’s time tracker.

And something magical happened.

The dopamine hit I get from crossing stuff off my TO DO list got turbo charged. It felt like a fun game that got me excited to see my progress. And the more I did, the less Imposter Syndrome I felt.

The effort I was making on my marketing, writing, for clients, and in the Freelance Jungle started adding up. Scrappy small things that flowed throughout the working day but never found a proper place on a TO DO list, finally found a container to sit in.

But it wasn’t only about productivity.

Guilt about missing workdays plagued me as a freelancer with disabilities and chronic health issues.

Then I realised workdays were irrelevant because I:

  1. Still made great work
  2. Made up any necessary the time up, eventually

I also became really conscious of what was and wasn’t making a difference in my business.

I have evidence of the time eaten away by:

  • Having meetings
  • Taking the phone calls
  • Accommodating last-minute changes
  • Redoing work with a client’s flash of brilliance
  • Underquoting – in hours and money

I finally had the evidence needed to make better business decisions.

a time tracker screen shot showing graphs and time over days

I raised my prices

Freelance rates vary wildly. We charge anywhere from $25 to $275 per hour for the same services. This applies to everything from coaching to web development.

That’s not a difference in experience.  That’s a difference in confidence, pricing knowhow, and money mindset.

I believe it’s easier to ask for your day rate if you know why you charge that day rate. And it’s easier to defend it if the client baulks or freaks.

Conventional wisdom on pricing yourself looks at:

  • Your skills
  • How experienced you are
  • What the market will pay (demand and expectation)
  • Your offerings
  • Your available work time
  • Competition
  • Expenses

That’s work most freelancers won’t do.

Besides, pricing has more mental baggage than the world’s largest business airport.

Pricing looks more like: 

  • How confident do I feel about what I can do?
  • How do I feel about the project in front of me?
  • How desperate am I for work?
  • Will I be able to handle this client rejecting me – creatively, financially, or emotionally?
  • How badly do I want to work with them?
  • Can I still meet their expectations if I charge a high rate?
  • How much handholding does this client need?
  • What does it say about me if I charge $XXX?
  • How bad is my cashflow right now?
  • Do I look greedy charging this?

I had a major realisation about pricing:

I can stop making it so personal by using the time tracker data to do it for me.

I tracked retainers and projects.

  1. I setup all my clients
  2. Paying clients by name
  3. My business (Unashamedly Creative)
  4. My side project (Freelance Jungle)
  5. I setup a project under each
  6. Billable time (i.e. time spent working on the project)
  7. Non-billable time (e.g. email communication, admin, meetings, onboarding, etc.)
  8. For retainer, ongoing, or staged milestone projects, I also collect the hours for each month (e.g. Freelance Jungle is a client, FJ Feb is a project so I can track the time I spend on the Freelance Jungle during February)
  9. Use consistent task labels – (e.g. Community Management, Emails, Team meeting, etc.)

That way, I could:

  • Track the hours spent on the scope of work
  • Spot potential blow outs
  • Notice changes in how high touch the customer service needs to be
  • Look at the time spent looking after a client against what I’d charged them
  • Slim down the workload by working smarter instead of harder
  • Streamline communication and reduce excessive meetings
  • Estimate the next stage better
  • Make sure where I was spending my time had a good return

The time tracker helps me gather the courage to ask for a higher pay rate. I can keep tabs on where my time and effort go for each project and see if that lines up with what I’m getting paid.

Result: I doubled my day rate and still got bookings. And I refreshed the Patreon for the first time since it launched in 2018.

I got better time estimates

The Freelance Jungle and other forums are full of questions that start with “how many hours do I charge for a <insert project here>”.

The problem is all humans suck at time estimation. Freelancers learn the hard way. Often repeatedly. And that invites resentment and burn out.

As a card-carrying giver, I’m definitely not immune.

Both clients and freelancers have the same problem – we start projects with a best-case scenario time estimate.

Clients find the idea of a long project fatiguing. Usually because it’s work on top of everything else they’re juggling.  Freelancers want to appeal to clients, not rinse their wallet or look like a big-time sucking headache.

If nobody’s honest, that’s a recipe for a late running project disaster.

Time tracking depersonalises things. It removes the guesswork.

I put in:

  • Meetings
  • Writing time
  • Marketing
  • Community management
  • Leads and business development
  • Emails and communication
  • Planning
  • Education time
  • Accounting and invoicing time
  • Coaching, teaching etc
  • Administration

For clients, I logged:

  • Time taken to land the lead
  • Onboarding
  • Project time – split under categories like writing, editing, feedback integration, publishing
  • Meetings
  • Communication including calls, emails, etc
  • Administration – e.g. collating notes from meetings or coaching sessions
  • Invoice chasing
  • Time spent with project management software

There’s power in saying, “a similar project I recently completed took XXX hours and Z months to complete. I suggest changing the budget and timeline to match.”

It’s a way to make your stance clear with the client and avoid unrealistic expectations.

Result: I can scope projects much better and ask for the time we need to complete them.

I challenge client inefficiency

I was talking to a fellow freelancer (Hi JB!) that uses Rachel’s List rate card to respond to clients who say her prices are too high to prove her rates were industry standard.

It got me thinking about my biggest bugbear, client inefficiency. All inefficiency irritates me. From death-by-committee to chronic meeting addictions to half-baked ideas, I struggle.

Without data, I’m left with emotion-based decision-making.

That’s not good for my business bottom line (or my office dog’s tennis ball addiction).

Two examples of time tracking changing things:

  1. I almost walked away from a disorganised client. But I started submitting a timesheet, so they could see the inefficiency, too. Instead, they worked with me to fix things
  2. I waited for a client to get over their branding and messaging crisis. But no matter how many town halls and message house discussions I logged; things didn’t change. I left, and I didn’t take leaving personally

It’s also given me the courage to push back on smaller inefficiencies.

By talking about ‘time as money’, I got clients to think about:

  • When was the right time to bring me in on the project?
  • How much did it cost to make and take phone calls or be at meetings?
  • How much time was spent on actual deep work versus nice-to-have ideas?
  • Which meetings were important, and which ones were just for show?
  • Did internal disagreements and office politics cause project delays and budget problems? And if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be smarter to fix them before adding me to the mix?

And it also helped me make my own choices.   

  • Is this a project problem or a leadership one?
  • Are these problems I can solve? If not, am I OK to stay until they figure them out?

It’s one thing to suspect something is costing you time, money and brain space. But if there’s proof, it makes it so much simpler to make the right decision.

Want to know more about how Rounded can work for you? Check out this free month trial Rounded have generously made available to the Freelance Jungle

Please note: This blog post is sponsored by Rounded as part of an ongoing exploration of Rebekah Lambert’s approach to her freelance business. The idea is to open up Rebekah’s finances so she can improve – and help you, too. Any financial information provided serves as a general guide and should not be considered professional advice. For personalised guidance, consult with your accountant or financial advisor.


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