Words on a Page Writings about writing

Charging overtime as a freelance writer

A clock and a pen

A couple of years ago, someone asked me about tracking (and charging) overtime on freelance projects. To be honest, that was a new concept to me. With all of the projects I’ve worked on, I’ve only had to charge overtime twice. When I did, I just charged my standard hourly rate.

That question lingered in my memory, though. And it prompted me to ask some of the freelancers I know about charging overtime.

Most of them, like me, have never needed to do it. A few have, and offered me some advice which I’d like to share with you.

Consider how you’re being paid for the project

Many freelancers work on contracts that pay by the hour. And, like I did, the ones I know just apply their regular hourly rate to the additional time they work. I’m not sure, to be honest, if that’s the best approach.

Why? Many contracts are negotiated on the basis of the work being done in a particular frame of time — an estimated number of hours or months. But if your client piles additional work on you, above and beyond the original scope of the job, then I think you should be able to charge overtime.

If you’re on a fixed daily rate, the longer you work means you’re losing money. Well, making less anyway. And unlike full-time employees, you’re not getting any benefits or time off to compensate for that additional time you’re working. In that case, it’s wise to charge overtime.

That said, you should …

Ask before charging overtime

When you’re in the middle of a project, don’t suddenly spring overtime charges on a client. That’s a good way to create friction where there doesn’t need to be any. It could cause resentment and could, in the long run, damage your reputation.

Instead, aim for no surprises, no shocks. Put overtime on the table when negotiating your contract or terms of work. Ask if your client anticipates there being any overtime.

If the answer is Yes, then negotiate either a reasonable overtime rate or a number of additional hours you have to work before that rate kicks in. How much you charge is up to you. I’d say start with a 25% premium on your hourly rate. So, if you’re making $60 an hour, your overtime rate will be $75 an hour. If nothing else, that could dissuade the client from making you work extra hours.

Even if the answer is No, I’d push (gently) to include an overtime rate in your contract. Sometimes, the unforeseen happens. You want a bit of insurance just in case.

But what do you do if the client refuses to include an overtime rate in the contract? You have to make a choice. Is it worth burning a bridge over a few extra dollars an hour? Or are you happy only charging, say, your usual hourly rate for additional work?

Tracking your overtime

Be meticulous when tracking any overtime you work. Be as granular as you need to be.

Whenever I’ve worked overtime for a freelance client, I tracked time either to the nearest 15 minute interval and to the nearest half hour. You don’t want to be seen to be nickel and diming your clients, but you also don’t want to short change yourself, either.

It’s best to talk to your client about how granular they want your time tracking to be. You’re in their employ so you need to play by their rules.

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