“Time is money” isn’t just an adage when you’re a freelancer, it’s a way of life. When your business model is to sell your time and expertise, it’s important to monetise every moment of every working day.

The huge challenge facing freelancers in how to monetise their time is how to avoid giving work away for free when trying to win new clients.

Overcoming the challenge of giving away free work, however, starts elsewhere. First, it’s important to eliminate as much non-billable time from your working week as possible. Only when you’re able to focus on the billable time, can you reduce the amount you give away for free.

Eliminating non-billable time has two stages:

Outsourcing ‘life admin’

The concept is simple: If you can pay someone to complete a task for less than you’d charge for the same unit of time, outsource it.

For example, you can easily spend an hour reserving a restaurant to take your Mum out for her birthday. If charge £40 an hour for your skills, that piece of life admin has cost you £40. If you can outsource this to a virtual assistant who charges you £15 an hour, you are £25 better off.

There are hundreds of bits of life admin you can outsource to allow you to concentrate your working day on billable tasks: managing your social media accounts, filing your tax return, remembering birthdays, booking travel arrangements, etc, etc.

If your time is in demand, you should outsource absolutely every life admin task possible, leaving you to concentrate on paying work.

As a freelancer, you’ll know, the growing gig economy and the rise of the freelance marketplace has made finding a trusted, local virtual assistant a great deal easier. And financial technology including virtual, prepaid credit cards enable you to reduce the risk of outsourcing things that involve giving your virtual assistant a budget.

Automating Repetitive Tasks

Technology is making it easier and easier to take care of time-consuming repetitive tasks. There are hundreds of business applications that reduce the time you spend on repeating a task. Reports can run themselves, invoices can be created, received and processed automatically, you can even automate the kettle so it turns on when you walk into the office!

Now focus on avoiding giving work away for free

Through outsourcing and automation, it’s possible to eliminate a sizable chunk of your non-billable time. Now you can focus on reducing the amount of free time you give away when pitching and trying to win new business.

Be extremely selective

As a freelancer, you’ll be presented with hundreds of new opportunities every day. But it’s important to be extremely selective about the ones you pursue because each application you make costs you non-billable time.

For example, as a PHP developer, it may be tempting to start applying for web design projects because you’ve dabbled with design here and there. The trouble is you’ll be competing against seasoned web designers with great portfolios and fresh ideas. More often than not, the client will pick quality over price, so even if you were to go in with a really low price, you’d not win the project.

By the time you’ve read the brief, put together your response and sent it, each application you make could take up to 30mins. Assuming you’re charging £40 an hour for your time, that’s £20 wasted for every speculative application you make.

Instead, by focusing on the projects you have a high probability of being selected for, you can reduce your non-billable application time. Firstly, your experience will help you digest and respond to the brief in less time and your portfolio of previous work should help you get selected more often.

The advice of ‘be selective’ may work for an experienced freelancer with a solid portfolio, but what if you’re just starting out as a freelancer in the gig economy? How do you avoid giving work away for free if it’s the only option you have to prove yourself?

Offer Win-Wins

The overriding concern for most clients when they approach a freelancer is trust. They want to be sure they can trust the freelancer to deliver the work. And the knee-jerk reaction is to ask the freelancer to produce a piece of work as a trial.

The solution is to suggest a win-win alternative. Pilot projects are a great example of win-win. They de-risk the project for the client and they eliminate the need for a free trial.

When proposing a pilot project, take a small element of the client’s requirement and scope it out as a pilot project. For example:

Client – “I need a website. Can you send me some designs and if I like them, I’ll pay you to build it.”

A win-win counter – “Normally, I’d charge £2,000 for a complete set of designs. Here’s a suggestion. How about I design your home page for £250, and if you like that, I’ll design the rest for you.”

The client wins because they get to assess you’re right for the project without committing to a huge cost and you win because you get paid for your time and have an incentive to do a great job.

To summarise

As a freelancer, it’s as realistic goal to eliminate nearly all of your non-billable time:

  • Outsource all life admin tasks to allow you to focus on being productive
  • Automate as many repetitive tasks as possible
  • Be selective about the freelance projects you apply for
  • Negotiate pilot projects instead of agreeing to complete free trial work



Gary Elliott

Marketing Director of weliketowork.com – the UK’s freelance marketplace, where we believe high quality work deserves a fair price.


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