Five words that strike fear into every freelancer's heart (and how to overcome them!)

“Have you got five minutes?”

As an employee, these five words struck fear into my heart because I knew the resulting “five minutes” would always be taken up with a horrible HR issue somebody wanted to wash their hands of.

Now, as a freelance writer, those same five words strike fear into my heart because I know somebody is about to ask me a “very quick question”, or ask me to “just look at something for a moment”.

The reason these words are so fear-striking to freelancers is because they imply that what you’re about to be asked won’t take up very much of your time – so surely you won’t have to charge for it?

It might sound a bit petty, charging for something that “only takes five minutes”.  But the thing is: if I didn’t, I would have gone out of business some time ago.

Respecting your time and expertise

If you’re a freelancer, you might well have faced a similar issue.  Just when do you start the charging clock on casual queries?

I remember doing work experience in a solicitors’ office back when I was sixteen (cue swirling mists of time), and being surprised when the solicitor I was working with made a ten-minute phone call, put down the phone and then recorded it to be billed to the client.

“Every second of my time at work has to be accounted and paid for”, he told me afterwards, explaining that people were paying for his professional expertise.

I don’t account for every second of my time at work, but if somebody asks me to read a letter they’ve written and suggest some improvements, read through some web copy they’ve written, or suggest an idea for their next blog post, I always explain that I’m happy to do it at my hourly rate.  This is mainly because these tasks never take the simple “five minutes” that some people think.

As a freelancer, I’ve learned that I have to respect my time and my expertise in order to stay in business – something that (hopefully) benefits more people than just myself!

Understanding what’s really important

I’ll be honest, though; if something really is only going to take five minutes, I do feel petty about charging, so I generally don’t.  As well as respecting your time and expertise, it’s also important to be realistic and flexible when you work for yourself.

I don’t have to be as stringent as that solicitor about accounting for every second of my time (which makes me wonder who he charged toilet breaks to!).  When it really comes down to it, I think charging for casual enquiries is all about using your own common sense to work out what is and isn’t appropriate – and perhaps putting yourself in clients’ shoes.  What would you be happy to pay for?

If you’re a freelancer, I’d love to know what you think about those “have you got five minutes?” enquiries. And if you’d like me to write something for you, you might be happy to know that I don’t charge for friendly chats over coffee! So if you’d like to arrange one, please get in touch.