How many days a month do you need to work?

Posted on: August 23rd, 2010

In an ideal world, we’d be kept busy with client work every hour of every day and send in lovely big invoices at the end of the month.

But how many days’ work do you actually need to do in order to earn a salary you’re happy with?

The figures I’m using here are hypothetical but, say, you wanted to earn £3,000 a month and your hourly rate is £50, it doesn’t take a mathemetical genius to work out you need to bill 60 hours a month.

Two weeks a month

If you aim to put in six billable hours a day (don’t forget the distractions you’ll encounter and the procrastination), you’ll only have to work two weeks a month to earn £3,000. FANTASTIC, I hear you say. That’s the same salary as I was earning as an employee, yet I only have to work half as much!

But, before you start working out how you’re going to while away all this newly-found time, there’s all the other stuff you need to do that you DON’T get paid for.

I’m talking about the marketing activities you need to be implementing (otherwise how will you get those 60 hours of work in the first place?). Then there are new business meetings to attend, networking sessions, day-to-day admin….and so on.

My timetable

Here’s a monthly timetable that showed how I spent my time last month.

  • Billable client work: 10 days
  • Marketing activity: 2 days
  • New client meetings: 1 day
  • Networking lunches: 0.75 day
  • Training seminar: 0.5 day
  • E-learning course: 0.75 day
  • Admin (VAT, invoices, accounts etc): 1 day
  • Meeting with accountant: 0.25 day
  • Submitting quotes/work examples: 0.5 day
  • Unproductive time: 1 day
  • Blogging and social networking: 2.25 days
  • Days off: 2 days

This comes to a total of 22 days – that’s the number of working days in a month when there aren’t any public holidays. So, although I’ve spent 10 days on client work, I’ve actually spent 20 days on my freelance business, plus I had two days off.

So, your hypothetical hourly rate of £50 is actually about half this, when you take into account all the time you need to spend running and promoting your freelance business.

How many billable hours do you aim to charge each month?

6 Responses to “How many days a month do you need to work?”

  1. Pawel @ Self Employed Cafe
    August 23rd, 2010

    I think you have touched on the greatest self employment illusion EVER, which states that one only needs to work X (usually lower amount of hours compared to standard full time employment) to make much better money.

    In reality, the hours you are actually being paid for are only few compared to all the hard work you have to put in to get those few hours in the first place.

    Brilliant article Carole.

  2. Lukas, Designer
    August 23rd, 2010

    Hi Carole,

    Great to see that other freelancers are going trough the same story. I must say it is nice when you are working for someone and the job is ‘given’ to you, so in my case I can do design work all day – once you go freelancing you are not designing any more. Mostly you are looking for clients.
    This is what is happening to me – it takes me around 4-5 days to find one good client. Maybe because I am have started my freelance business 2 months ago, but I think it will always be that way, specially if I focus on small businesses and new companies.
    Meetings, social media, cold calling -it takes much more time than work itself does.
    Great topic and I hope most freelancers will read it. Maybe than they will understand where all those money are really coming from and how hard it is to earn them. Not that I am being pessimistic – it will be just a wake up call for many.

  3. Carole
    August 24th, 2010

    @Pawel: And when you include summer holidays and time off sick in the equation, the money for the hours we are paid has to stretch EVEN FURTHER!

    @Lukas: you’re so right when you say that ‘meetings, social media, cold calling – it takes up more time than the work itself. When you look at the breakdown of my month, I spent 10 days on client work, 10 days on all the rest and two days off.

  4. Pawel @ Self Employed Cafe
    August 25th, 2010

    Well, look at the bright side Carole …. you get 2 days off (excluding weekends). Which white collar worker experiences such luxury. ;)

  5. dojo
    August 25th, 2010

    In my case it’s still all “fuzzy” and I try to work as much as I can, when at home. Especially since I also travel quite a lot for a lucrative freelancer and have “downtimes” when it comes to work

    Your plan sounds excellent though, will try mimic it too ;)

  6. Carole
    August 26th, 2010

    @Dojo: Yes, that’s the beauty of freelancing, if you want to go travelling, you can. A few years ago, a friend of mine who worked for an ad agency wanted to take three months off, unpaid, to go travelling in the Far East. She was only allowed two months. But most companies won’t allow even that.

    Thanks for commenting, Ramona, as I had mislaid the link to your Freelance Forum. I’ll add it here, so that others can access it:

Leave a Reply

Type your comment in the box below: