Time management experts and accounting gurus and design professionals can talk all they want about maximizing billlable hours and minimizing non-billable hours, but when it comes right down to it, some of the most important work I do every single week can never be billed.
I know the idea is that if you build up your client base sufficiently, you can get to this holy place where you don’t really have to do all that non-billable stuff because your clients are just constantly coming to you with paid work.
But that presumes that the majority of the non-billable stuff most of us do is related to client-getting, and I’m here to tell you that if you’re running your own freelance business, or you’re a creative entrepreneur of any kind, that’s just not really all that true.
So here, in no particular order, is a list of everything I can think of that I do on a semi-regular basis (like once a week or maybe every other week) that can never be billed to a client.
I’m sharing this list because I hope it will help you become more aware of how you spend your working hours.
- self-promotion / marketing / keeping in touch with past clients (this is client-getting work) (this includes things like updating my portfolio, posting on social media, pitching stories to blogs and magazines who might want to feature my work or have me guest post, or checking in with a client or licensing partner that I haven’t worked with in a while)
- backend maintenance and updates (this could be updates to my website, mailing list maintenance, etc.)
- system implementation, upgrades, and migrations (i.e. switching email providers, setting up a new client relationship management program, setting up clients and tags in my time-tracking program, etc.)
- side projects (in a really indirect way these are sometimes self-promotion and/or marketing and are therefore client-getting work, but often on their face they’re just fun things I do to stay creative and happy)
- research (of all kinds) / learning / inspiration-gathering (this might be reading a business book, listening to a podcast, taking a class, researching the best software option for a particular problem I need to solve, etc.)
- connecting with peers (we bitch, we moan, we advise one another, we learn together, we brainstorm and daydream, we bounce ideas back and forth between us)
- developing passive income products
- pro bono work (I don’t do a lot of this, but I do some - my favorite is that I lay out the monthly class newspaper for my son’s third grade class)
- blog / write my newsletter / create freebies and other content (this certainly falls under marketing, but I also feel like for me, anyway, it’s also its own creative thing and kind of deserves its own line item)
- develop offerings and products (of the non-passive variety)
- various administrativia (like checking email, unsubscribing from newsletters, processing spam, troubleshooting problems I might be having, setting up zaps in zapier, looking at my google analytics, etc.)
- file and asset organization (this could honestly be its own full-time job, organizing and keeping track of all my files and digital assets; certainly the better I am about doing this regularly, the less time I waste when I’m working on paid client work, which is GOOD since I bill on a project basis, not an hourly basis)
- bookkeeping and accounting
- straight-up practicing my skills and learning to use new creative tools (new pens, new tablets, new techniques)
This list doesn’t include things I only do occasionally, like answering questions for students or attending professional meetings or sourcing materials for a project or redesigning my whole website. I stuck to just the stuff I do most weeks.
So why does all of this matter?
Next week, I’ll take this all one step further (and explain why knowing all of the non-billable stuff you do actually matters) and hit on the (only?) three metrics you need to know in order to make a profit.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear if you have non-billable stuff that you do on a regular basis that I haven't mentioned here. Leave yours in the comments.