Author Topic: Deciding how hard to work.  (Read 1200 times)

startingsmall

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 745
Deciding how hard to work.
« on: September 01, 2021, 12:16:58 PM »
Roughly six years ago, I started a side hustle as a freelance medical writer. It grew and grew, to the point that I eventually quit my day job. Recently, I've found myself struggling a bit with how much I really want to work. Up until now, the goal has been growgrowgrow, but now I don't know if I want to grow, stay where I am, or scale back a bit. I should make ~$120k this year working an average of 30-35 hrs/wk.

Some background: My husband has a somewhat conventional job, so working from home and the flexibility that brings make me the de facto primary parent/housekeeper/etc. Daughter is in elementary school and involved in acrobatics and violin, so I handle lesson transport and daily violin practice. I also do most of the housework and "household management." We're roughly 7 years from FIRE if I keep working at my current rate and husband continues his current job.

My newer clients pay me well (roughly $1/word), but I have some older clients who pay me much less (in the range of $0.25/word). Dropping the older,  lower-paying clients seems an easy way to scale back a bit (I'd ask them for more $$ first, but they have a set pay structure and I don't think they could accommodate that)....but I've been working with some of them for 5 years. They feel like friends at this point, which probably means emotion is clouding my decision and I know that's not a good  thing. But there's also something to be said for a client who has been giving me steady work for 5 years, vs. some of my new clients with whom I've been working for a year or less.

I've considered possibly taking on an employee, but that sounds like a daunting task. I think the amount of editing I'd feel obligated to do would negate the benefits of outsourcing the writing.... unless I could find someone really awesome, but then they'd want the pay and their own byline, I'd imagine.

My goal post-FIRE is to complete my state's Master Naturalist program and get involved in some fun nature-based volunteer projects. That desire would be my primary driver behind cutting back - I'd love to start that now instead of waiting for FIRE. At the same time, though, I wonder whether I'd really feel comfortable continuing to send our daughter to afterschool care several days a week, just so I can go volunteer somewhere (you know, mom guilt... blahblahblah). Ultimately, I wonder if working a little less at this stage in our lives would just mean more time spent doing mom/wife/domestic things, in which case I'd probably rather just hurry along to FIRE.

It's hard to discuss this with people who aren't self-employed because they don't usually have control over their own schedule, but hopefully someone in here will have some insight!
« Last Edit: September 01, 2021, 12:30:58 PM by startingsmall »

Botany Bae

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 751
  • Location: PNW
  • Just another dharma bum
Re: Deciding how hard to work.
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2021, 12:36:12 PM »
This reads as a twofold issue: 1) getting paid what you are worth, 2) work balance.

1) This is always tough, especially when you have gone a long time without a rate change. The way I handled this some years ago when I realized I was undervaluing my worth was I introduced a laddered rate hike to my valued old clients that were paying well under my current rates. Basically, rates were going to increase at a set percentage every quarter until it reached a set base rate. Some clients left immediately upon receiving the news, some slowly transitioned away, and quite a few stuck around.

2) You don't mention whether or not you have a set schedule. This is the first task -- have a schedule! Mine is pretty loose -- I work 5 days a week, usually Mon-Fri but I will alter it occasionally if I need a weekday off. I stop working  by 4pm, no matter what. I do not work between 4 pm and 7pm, no excuses.

This does limit my income. There is only so much writing and research I can do in those hours. But for balance's sake, I set my work hours first and that pretty much determines the income range. I've tried  hiring on a writer in the past (I provide website & newsletter content with an environmental/sustainability angle for small businesses), but the administrative headaches and increase in editing work on my end made it impossible unless I raised my rates well above the industry standard. I'd have to scale the business upward quite a bit more than I want to deal with in order to make it pay off in my case. Your mileage may differ, though, as medical writing is more specialized than what I generally provide. You may be able to find a real gem able to come on as a contractor. Not providing a byline to contract writers is common in my line of work, but I don't know how it is in yours.

startingsmall

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 745
Re: Deciding how hard to work.
« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2021, 08:26:05 AM »
This reads as a twofold issue: 1) getting paid what you are worth, 2) work balance.

1) This is always tough, especially when you have gone a long time without a rate change. The way I handled this some years ago when I realized I was undervaluing my worth was I introduced a laddered rate hike to my valued old clients that were paying well under my current rates. Basically, rates were going to increase at a set percentage every quarter until it reached a set base rate. Some clients left immediately upon receiving the news, some slowly transitioned away, and quite a few stuck around.

2) You don't mention whether or not you have a set schedule. This is the first task -- have a schedule! Mine is pretty loose -- I work 5 days a week, usually Mon-Fri but I will alter it occasionally if I need a weekday off. I stop working  by 4pm, no matter what. I do not work between 4 pm and 7pm, no excuses.

This does limit my income. There is only so much writing and research I can do in those hours. But for balance's sake, I set my work hours first and that pretty much determines the income range. I've tried  hiring on a writer in the past (I provide website & newsletter content with an environmental/sustainability angle for small businesses), but the administrative headaches and increase in editing work on my end made it impossible unless I raised my rates well above the industry standard. I'd have to scale the business upward quite a bit more than I want to deal with in order to make it pay off in my case. Your mileage may differ, though, as medical writing is more specialized than what I generally provide. You may be able to find a real gem able to come on as a contractor. Not providing a byline to contract writers is common in my line of work, but I don't know how it is in yours.

Those are great suggestions - thanks!!

I really like your idea of a laddered rate hike, but I'm a little uncertain how I'll introduce it with the one client I'm thinking of. Although I'm paid as a freelancer and I have the freedom to take or leave any assignment, I answered an ad that they ran in a journal and they provided me with a set "this is what we pay" sort of setup. (I get one set fee for 600-1200 word articles, one set fee for article reviews, and do some other work for them on an hourly basis.) I did get a 10% rate increase across all of those items a year or two ago, but that just isn't enough. I guess I need to figure out how to broach a rate increase when I was never the one who set the rate initially, which will mean kind of shifting the dynamic a bit. I'm actually in a similar situation with another client - they pay me a set monthly fee in exchange for X number of articles per month and some assorted additional tasks. The difficulty in broaching pay with these two clients actually probably speaks to my larger issue with them and the reason I'm considering shedding one or both of them... they're starting to feel a bit too much like "real jobs" where they're an employer, instead of a client. Hmm. Good food for thought there, although I don't yet know the answer.

I like the flexibility of not having a set schedule ("hey, it's a nice day - I think I'll go kayaking this morning and work more tomorrow to make up for it!") but having a bit more structure WOULD make it easier to say no when a request will clearly exceed my work hours for the week. Now I just need to figure out how many work hours I want!! Thanks for the suggestion!!

Axecleaver

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3726
  • Location: Columbia, SC
Re: Deciding how hard to work.
« Reply #3 on: October 15, 2021, 03:23:02 PM »
Rate increases for old clients is tough, because they have you locked in as being worth 25c a word. I wrote my contracts with an escalation clause, so every year my rates went up 3% to keep pace with inflation. (Not this year though!) It sounds like you need to have an honest conversation with your client and ask them for guidance - you're worth a dollar a word, but they're a long term client and you want to honor that. What would they recommend?

Having vulnerable conversations with your clients is hard but I've found that honesty in business dealings gives the best results and lets me sleep well. This way if they're at a hard limit of 25c, you will know that. I would also recommend spending a few hours a week marketing to new clients to keep your pipeline full, at your desired rate.

spjulep

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 72
Re: Deciding how hard to work.
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2021, 08:03:39 AM »
Hey, you bring up a lot of interesting questions. You might get more traction posting on one of the other boards, I don't think this one gets as much traffic. So, I have a few thoughts...
I should make ~$120k this year working an average of 30-35 hrs/wk.
Congrats! That is impressive.
Some background: My husband has a somewhat conventional job, so working from home and the flexibility that brings make me the de facto primary parent/housekeeper/etc. Daughter is in elementary school and involved in acrobatics and violin, so I handle lesson transport and daily violin practice. I also do most of the housework and "household management."
Hmm.. I understand how this ends up happening, even with a great partner... but it doesn't seem fair that you work a full-time job (or at least, pull in a full-time salary), are the primary parent, driver, housekeeper, and carry the mental load. I think one reason you don't have time for your other interests is that you are taking on too much. Is this the division of labor you agreed upon with your partner, or did it just happen over time? I would encourage you to find a way to have things more equitable, or to outsource more.
My newer clients pay me well (roughly $1/word), but I have some older clients who pay me much less (in the range of $0.25/word). Dropping the older,  lower-paying clients seems an easy way to scale back a bit (I'd ask them for more $$ first, but they have a set pay structure and I don't think they could accommodate that)....but I've been working with some of them for 5 years. They feel like friends at this point
That is a huge difference in price. It's one thing to give a friendly/easy/loyalty discount, and another to be working so far below market rate. Also, you don't know if the old clients will be able to meet the rates until you ask...
I've considered possibly taking on an employee, but that sounds like a daunting task.
Completely agree, unless you have some strong interest in scaling the business and mentoring others. If you find anyone good enough, they would likely be interested in getting market rate ($1/word, as you mentioned above).
At the same time, though, I wonder whether I'd really feel comfortable continuing to send our daughter to afterschool care several days a week, just so I can go volunteer somewhere (you know, mom guilt... blahblahblah).
Again, you are making a great full-time salary. Just because you happen to do it at home, doesn't mean that you aren't entitled to your other interests. Seven years seems like a long time to wait to pursue your dream. I would encourage you to find opportunities to build it into your life now, even if that means that you have to pay for childcare, or cut back on income.

startingsmall

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 745
Re: Deciding how hard to work.
« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2021, 11:29:28 AM »
That is a huge difference in price. It's one thing to give a friendly/easy/loyalty discount, and another to be working so far below market rate.

Well... it is but it isn't. For the last several weeks, I've been timing how long it takes me to complete some of these articles from start to finish.

When I work for the $0.25/word client, I average $150-175/hr for the time I actually spend writing/editing. When I work for the $1/word clients, I average more like $200-225/hr. So there is a difference, but honestly not as much as you'd think... because the higher-priced clients require more creativity, "polish," references, and rounds of back-and-forth editing. My lower-priced clients have an easier format that's less demanding. So there is a difference, but honestly not nearly as much of a difference as I expected.

Thanks for all of your other feedback, though!! Lots of good food for thought in there. The reason I take on most of the home planning stuff is because my husband is a pastor.... so he works 9-5 during the week, but also has evening meetings and often receives evening phone calls and other stuff. Until he started this current job (about a year ago), I was the primary breadwinner in our family by a large margin and he worked PTish hours (his last pastor role was technically FT, but it was a much smaller church so he had a lot more flexibility,. Back then, he did a lot of the house stuff. I knew that we'd have to trade roles when he took this new job, but the better pay and relocating to a region that I like a lot better made it worthwhile.

(And, to be fair, he does most of our grocery shopping, cooks dinner almost every night, does school drop-off on his way to work, and brings our daughter home from work with him on days that she goes to the church afterschool care. We have a lawn company and a pool service. I do laundry, cleaning, general household/financial management stuff and kid activities/appointments.)
« Last Edit: October 18, 2021, 11:55:22 AM by startingsmall »

startingsmall

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 745
Re: Deciding how hard to work.
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2021, 12:03:38 PM »
Rate increases for old clients is tough, because they have you locked in as being worth 25c a word. I wrote my contracts with an escalation clause, so every year my rates went up 3% to keep pace with inflation. (Not this year though!) It sounds like you need to have an honest conversation with your client and ask them for guidance - you're worth a dollar a word, but they're a long term client and you want to honor that. What would they recommend?

Having vulnerable conversations with your clients is hard but I've found that honesty in business dealings gives the best results and lets me sleep well. This way if they're at a hard limit of 25c, you will know that. I would also recommend spending a few hours a week marketing to new clients to keep your pipeline full, at your desired rate.

Thanks for these suggestions! You're right that a candid conversation is probably best, because that will give them an opportunity to decide what they want to do.

I currently do absolutely no marketing, only reviewing work offers that come to me via LinkedIn (which I haven't spent any time on in quite a while) and through an Upwork profile that I still maintain because one of my recurrent clients likes to pay through Upwork. You're right that I could probably get more high-paying clients if I invested some time/energy into marketing. Right now I turn down ~75% of the offers I receive, due to low rates, lack of interest, or lack of time.

yachi

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 866
Re: Deciding how hard to work.
« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2021, 08:41:00 AM »
That is a huge difference in price. It's one thing to give a friendly/easy/loyalty discount, and another to be working so far below market rate.

Well... it is but it isn't. For the last several weeks, I've been timing how long it takes me to complete some of these articles from start to finish.

When I work for the $0.25/word client, I average $150-175/hr for the time I actually spend writing/editing. When I work for the $1/word clients, I average more like $200-225/hr. So there is a difference, but honestly not as much as you'd think... because the higher-priced clients require more creativity, "polish," references, and rounds of back-and-forth editing. My lower-priced clients have an easier format that's less demanding. So there is a difference, but honestly not nearly as much of a difference as I expected.

Thanks for all of your other feedback, though!! Lots of good food for thought in there. The reason I take on most of the home planning stuff is because my husband is a pastor.... so he works 9-5 during the week, but also has evening meetings and often receives evening phone calls and other stuff. Until he started this current job (about a year ago), I was the primary breadwinner in our family by a large margin and he worked PTish hours (his last pastor role was technically FT, but it was a much smaller church so he had a lot more flexibility,. Back then, he did a lot of the house stuff. I knew that we'd have to trade roles when he took this new job, but the better pay and relocating to a region that I like a lot better made it worthwhile.

(And, to be fair, he does most of our grocery shopping, cooks dinner almost every night, does school drop-off on his way to work, and brings our daughter home from work with him on days that she goes to the church afterschool care. We have a lawn company and a pool service. I do laundry, cleaning, general household/financial management stuff and kid activities/appointments.)

It looks like you make roughly 30% more per hour on your higher-rate clients.  If that's the case, could you start with an increase from $0.25/word to $0.33/word?  If that is something you think would drive too much business away, maybe target an increase to $0.30/word, for the next 3 to 6 months followed by an increase to $0.35/word after that if the first increase worked well.