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For all you freelancers out there...

What system do you guys use to keep track of how long a project takes you? I'm currently a 9-5er, but would much prefer to go freelance. To whit, I've got my first hourly gig coming up, and I want to make sure I'm not ripping either them or myself off. I met a guy once who told me that if he works on anything at all (even for an hour) he calls it a day, or at least 3-4 hours (like plumbers and locksmiths). That always seemed kinda shitty to me, but for all I know it's the norm.

I've got a little countdown timer guy that I use when I know I've got a time limit, i.e. I'm grabbing a couple hours of work in between the waves of action that life pushes my way. The problem is that it's notification plays out my compy's main audio outs, and I have my interface switched to software return 7/8 so I sometimes don't notice.

Also, how do you figure out your rates? I know that most of the time it depends on the project budget and other concerns, but do you have a particular calculation method? I was once told to take the amount I'd need to get by if I was doing 40 hours a week, then double it. Is that a fair ask?

Friendliness.

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I work with a day / half-day rate system.

Anything that takes me up to 5 hours, I charge half-day. 6 - 10 hours, full day rate. After 10 hours, I sometimes charge a little extra, but not always - it depends on how intense those 12 hours will be...

Generally my half-day rate is somewhere around 3/4 of my full day. For instance, if my day rate was $1000, I might charge between $600 and $750 for a half-day - again, depending on my responsibilities on the project.

If a project comes my way that I know is only going to take an hour or two and will be really easy, I will occasionally negotiate a lower rate than my half-day, but not always. The reason being that if I take a 2 hour long project, chances are I won't be able to book another gig that day - maybe not even a half-day project, so I won't be able to make up the money elsewhere. Essentially, even though it's not taking up all that time, it's still "taking up" the time. A lot of that goes out the window if you're making up your own schedule and not working on a pre-planned production's schedule.

Again, I use discretion. If I know a project really has a tight budget and I want to help them out, I will - as long as I can still pay my bills.

I never work on an hourly schedule, but I know people that do. A lot of my colleagues will use Filemaker Pro or Mac Freelance (or other project management software - Bento is another) to track hours. Works pretty well for them, but you have to make sure to be aware of the clock and not forget to pause it! Something I can see myself forgetting to do...

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I find that there is no catch all answer that works in all situations. Like Colin mentions a good way to go is the Half day/full day billing system, the way Colin describes it is basically how I do it and this works well. On series work I normally charge per episode. In the first few episodes it normally takes longer to cut a show but once you have designed a lot of the signature elements the later episodes of a series become faster to cut since you have a better feel for the world the show takes place in. Finally for a few select clients I will charge by the hour, this is not ideal but sometimes it is the best option to make things work for both sides. If you do work by the hour make sure you have a minimum number of hours you will charge. You don't want to be going out for an hour of work as it will normally not be worth your time.

I find the main thing is to keep the communication lines open with the client and make sure you are both on the same page. Many clients have different projects with different budgets so if you can be flexible you can keep clients coming back.

In terms of rates - that is the trickiest part. Hard to offer advice with out knowing what what exactly you are charging for and what your experience level is. Are you using your own gear or going into a studio to do the work on their gear? SFX editing normally means you are bringing a SFX library to the project as part of your service and that library is an important asset, so normally you would charge more for SFX editing then for dialog or music editing where the client is supplying the material you will be working with. Are you doing any field recording? All these things can effect you rate, so again no one rate can rule them all.

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I'm normally on a project for X weeks (16-26) where a week = 50 hours.... only very occasionally do I do hourly rate (eg prepping a trailer) but its fairly rare. My rate varies with scale and budget of the project. I've seen editors who whine if their 'usual' rate gets reduced, but they fail to take into consideration that they may be asking for a higher rate than everyone else on the team, including the DOP and picture editor! But we aren't union in NZ (thank god/jah/buddha) and never will be.

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I agree with Azimuth. Flexibility can keep clients coming back.

Some clients I work with really need an hourly rate. Others I may take on at a project rate with stipulations in contract form at the beginning as to how far over the estimate time they can go before additional charges will apply.

I have also done a half day and full day rate system. For most, I do 24 hour cancellation minimums unless they move the project to an unbooked alternate date. I have had seasons where I will give client "A" a first hold on my time without any obligation but will require full payment whether they cancel or not if that time was challenged and requested by a client "B" and they (client "A") opted to keep that time firmly available to them.

It all depends on the project's/client's needs. The most important thing is to communicate clearly. I always like to discuss their project's needs and vision first, talk about what we both need in order to work together, and put it in writing. It protects the both of you. Communication is key and every project is different.

As far as determining your actual rate, consider the job and compare it to the services available in your area for similar gear access, skill, and experience. Talk to your buddies. You want to come up with a rate that is fair to you, the client, and the market. You don't want to go around undercutting the world all the time. This will just bring down the value of the service and it will make it harder for everyone to make a living.

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