Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tracking Time (Part I)

I used to resist tracking time.

Of course, I'm diligent about tracking time when I do hourly work. But with projects that involve a flat fee, I haven't been so good about keeping tabs on my hours.

I'm the creative, multitasking sort who often jumps between projects—while I'm working on one project, I may get an idea for a different story I'm working on, so I'll hop over to that document and write things down before I forget. Then I'll jump back into the original project until something else pops in my head.

I may start the day out writing my time down on a notepad, but then four hours and three projects later I realize I didn't keep up with it. After the fact, going back through the day and figuring out roughly how much time I spent on things is frustrating—so often, in the past couple of years, I've just skipped it.

Recently, however, I've come to value the importance of tracking work time—all time, even blogging for no cash and those business tasks like invoicing and following up on queries that don't actually bring in any money directly. Here's why:
  • When someone asks for an estimate of how long a project might take, I can get them a pretty accurate number based on how long I've spent on similar projects.

  • If rates change on a regular project—say, the flat fee for proofreading goes down or I'm getting paid less per word—I can run the numbers to see if accepting the assignment is reasonable given the time it takes me.

  • If I'm swamped and need to cut back on something (if only we all had this problem right now, right?), it's easy to identify the least profitable project.

  • I can keep myself on track—when I track everything including reading RSS feeds and sending emails on a given day, I can determine pretty easily how much time is "billable" and how much isn't. It's great motivation to work more and procrastinate less.
I still slack off on my tracking often, but I'm getting better. One thing that has helped is implementing a time-tracking system. That's what I'll post about next time.

In the meantime, I'm wondering: Do you track time and, if so, why do you do it? What's your method?

If you don't, I encourage you to try it this week. It can be a challenging practice for creatives to get into, but trust me, it's worth it in the long run.

Learn More
Tips for Tracking and Analyzing Your Time Use - Part I (Smartlife)
Four Tips for Tracking Your Time Better (

Photo: ToniVC via Flickr

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Diversify, Diversify, Diversify

I keep my eyes peeled for freelance work on online job boards, through freelance writing newsletters, wherever I can find possible opportunities.

As usual, there are plenty of online writing opps out there—some worthwhile, some frighteningly underpaid and a bit shady. That's the nature of the game.

But I'm also seeing a lot more proofreading jobs than I used to. I wonder if this is partly because of the economy—more companies are handling writing in-house, but farming out proofreading to someone with fresh, experienced eyes.

Regardless of the reason, it reminds me that when writing jobs are tougher to come by and paying less than before, the freelancers who succeed often are the ones who diversify.

What services can you offer beyond your usual print or online article writing?

Proofreading and copy editing are key components of my freelance business. In fact, at certain times I find I do a lot more of this type of work than I do writing.

I realize, of course, that not everyone has the eye for detail and the grammatical skills needed to become a proofreader or copy editor. If you're interested in pursuing that type of work, however, why not take a class to bone up on your editing abilities? Now is a great time to find an online course or enroll in an editing class through community education or a local college.

The same goes for other areas. If you've dabbled in web or print design before, why not take some classes to improve your skill so you can offer basic design services along with writing? Interested in photography? Maybe now's the time to get serious about it.

I know freelancers who supplement their income by becoming prop stylists for photo shoots, creating craft projects that are featured in magazines (and sold on Etsy), and teaching at local colleges.

Get creative. What skills can you put to use?