One of the biggest lessons I learned from having two kids was that balancing work and parenting is a difficult act — especially if you work from home. At home, the boundaries between work and kids blur, and the little creatures don’t care if you have a very important meeting right this minute.
As a freelancer, my time is one of my most precious resources for my business. This was especially true when my primary source of income was from hourly billing. Before we had kids, I was able to throw myself into my work, mopping up the hours and collecting a decent paycheck.
After my first daughter was born, I realized that I had to change the way I worked and how I approached my time. Here are a few lessons I learned.
Have clear boundaries between work and home
Having clear boundaries was easier when it was just me and my wife. She has her own interests and activities to attend to during the day. With a child (or two) it is much harder. Since we are both at home all day, usually one of us has to look after the kids while the other runs errands, does the chores, etc. Our efficiency was effectively cut in half. As a result, I needed to learn how to increase my productivity.
I learned to avoid mixing work time and home time. For example, working on my laptop while watching my daughter usually results in little to no work done and a neglected child. It was much better to focus on one thing at a time. When I’m working, I resist the temptation to do other chores at the same time. When I’m with my daughter, I put the phone away and don’t check email.
Leverage your money and your time
My wife has physical therapy appointments during the day. I used to watch my daughter during the time. The problem is, my wife would be gone for two hours at a time, and I would be out two hours of work. Watching my daughter while being stressed about work is not exactly a good way to spend time with her.
After struggling for a couple months we finally decided to hire a nanny. It was a game changer. My time was freed up to do work, and as long as the income from my time exceeds our nanny expenses, it makes sense for the business.
I learned to view time differently. I come from a family culture where we rarely outsource, in order to save expenses. While there is nothing wrong with doing-it-yourself, not all activities are created equal. If I can save half an hour by taking my car to the car wash, I can put that half hour to better use. The only thing I have to watch out for is wasting that half hour to something else because I was being lazy.
Move towards project-based or value-based pricing
This was one the biggest changes I made to my business. Hourly billing no longer made sense for me. I had less time to work, and with hourly billing I was making less. The only way to offset my loss of time was to raise my rates to a ridiculous level.
I had been playing around with project-based pricing before, but after having kids I decided to make project-based pricing my main mode of operation. In doing so, I noticed a couple of things:
- My clients didn’t care how many hours it took me to finish a project. They only cared when it will be finished. In other words, I haven’t had a client ask me how many hours a project will take. Instead, they always ask if they can launch by a particular date.
- People like the certainty of fixed-priced projects. They like knowing that they will receive a finished product with a clear budget.
- Clients who prefer hourly billing usually have long, drawn-out projects where it’s hard to define the scope.
The move to project-based pricing has already increased my effective hourly rate. I must admit I’ve botched pricing a few projects, but overall the change has been a good one.
I also haven’t had success with value-based pricing, either because I haven’t found clients who have that mindset, or I haven’t done a good job establishing my value.
One thing’s for sure, though: hourly billing will play a minor part in the financial makeup of my business. Fixed pricing has allowed me to do something much more important — spend time with my daughters.