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The danger of the part-time, ongoing, flat-fee assignment

If you do not yet have a full load of well paying freelance work, the part-time, long-term assignment is hard to pass up.

However, if you don’t understand how to evaluate such gigs, they can be disastrous.

First the obvious plus. The work keeps coming and you are assured of a base income every month.

But on the other hand, this work can eat up so much of your day that you don’t have time—or at least, you don’t have the time slots when you do your best work—to do much else.

It’s easy to fall into this trap if you don’t recognize that full-time freelancing translates into 20 to 25 billable hours per week, not 40! It’s certainly physically possible to complete 40 billable hours and still get some sleep, but few people accomplish this regularly.

Administrative work, marketing, meetings and personal development activities take up the rest of the work week, so you are still at your desk 40 hours and more though you are not billing for that much time.

Now you may think that because the work is steady, there’s no marketing time involved. To an extent that’s true, but the time spent in communications and administration may be greater than is typical because you fail to recognize at the beginning how much may be required on an extended basis.

While the assignment may become easier over time as you develop habits and accustom yourself to the requirements, the work may become more challenging as expectations change.

Here’s an ugly story from my past.

I was hired by a consultant to write a five-days-per-week email about current news in the ultimate client’s industry. I was to scan industry print and email journals for articles of interest.

The catch was that the client cancelled expensive, specialized subscriptions they had used in-house to prepare these communications and outsourced the work to save money without a care as to how the consultant’s team would hold down costs while still getting the required content out the door.

Turns out that the consultant maintained high expectations without providing enough content-rich resources so the task became overwhelming. A certain slow news day on this assignment found me evaluating competitors’ websites and scrolling through loads of Google screens in a desperate attempt to amass enough news.

An assignment that should have taken two to three hours per day stretched into late afternoon.

And since I was paid a flat fee, I was inadequately paid for all my effort.

I was beyond frustrated and it was clear that higher rates could not be negotiated. So I resigned the job.

Flat-fee assignments where you do not need to provide time sheets sound attractive because you may be able to beat the clock, especially as you become more accustomed to the assignment, and increase earnings per hour.

However, you can be locking yourself into very low wages if there is no room for re-negotiation as needed in the future.

When you work on a project basis rather than hourly for a one-time job, the downside isn’t too dire. You may get burned, but there is a clear end point.

The torment keeps going and going if you haven’t fully understood the assignment and you’re looking for longer term security.


Originally posted 7-17-10

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