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Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate

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John Grote, Jr.Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:08:01 pm

Good day all,

Once again this question rears its ugly head. I work in the DC Metro Area and not that I am new to the area itself, I am new to the full time freelance world and trying to get a gauge of what people are basing their day rate on. I have always based my day rate as an editor (Online/Finishing Editor) at 8 hours or 8.5 with some sort of lunch break and a little give room if it goes over. I am also an Offline Editor and I have a feeling that may go at a different rate and hourly time. The one thing I see more and more being a freelancer is there is no standard and I it seems to me that there should be some baseline for us to be able to negotiate our rates with any client. I know that there are many, many variables that go into what we do, but hell a day rate shouldn't be that hard to agree upon?


So all of that being said, how do any/all of you (for the most part) base your day? For Online/Finishing Editorial? Offline Editorial? Half Day and Overtime? For grins, Travel if need be?

Thanks for any and all of the responses I may get!!!

Cheers,

John Grote, Jr.


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Jeremy DoyleRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 4:00:21 pm

I'm staff for a company, but when I do freelance (3 or 4 times a year) I charge 1k-10hr day editing on my equipment or $600 a day + expenses to edit on yours. Those are my costs for editing, shooting or graphics.

I should also mention that my cost of living expenses are no where near what they are in DC.



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Mark SuszkoRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 4:07:14 pm

My impression is that most guys base things on a ten hour day. That makes the math simpler as well.


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John Grote, Jr.Re: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 4:14:25 pm

Hey Mark thanks for the response as well. So would you adjust your day rate as well?

J. Grote, Jr.


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Mark SuszkoRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 5:18:38 pm

My personal take on this is that your rate is YOUR rate: a hard wall you have calculated, below which, you would lose money on the time spent, and that time would be better spent marketing, finding other gigs, networking, doing self-development like learning new effects skills, etc. Guy I met once had a pet phrase: "I don't even turn the machine ON for less than a grand". That's not being arrogant; that's understanding the costs of doing business below your minimum rate.

That day rate is what you can live with, below which it makes more sense to put on a paper hat and plastic name badge instead. The rate was calculated for your specific situation, your needs and expenses, your abilities and performance levels. Of course it will be different than someone else's rate.

The step after establishing your minimum day rate is to benchmark the competition: research what the market will bear in your area. Hopefully, your final rate that you offer lies somewhere in the middle of the local range, neither the highest nor the rock bottom.

But.

You only use that figure to ADD a margin to your rate. If you let the local market rates drive your day rate down below what you already established as your minimum, again, you are driving yourself out of business. Don't match another guy's rate just to match it. You don't know all his inside info, he may be running at an unsustainable rate just to inhibit competition over the short haul, but maybe he can't keep that up for long. Or he may work out of his mom's basement, which saves some money but doesn't impress visiting clients! Don't play the competition's game, play your own game.

What can you do if you think your established rate isn't competitive?

You can sharpen your pencil and go thru your assumptions and data again, confirm that your rate was reached through solid math and reliable numbers. You might re-evaluate the underlying assumptions in your rate such as number of days you wanted to work per year. Your rate can go lower if you trade more working days. But that only goes so far, because that assumes you can FIND work to fill those extra days. Plus, if you run your shop like a Chinese restaurant in my town, i.e. open every day and holiday, never close for anything except mortal illness...the owner tells my wife: " I stay open every day, because rent is paid for every day". Well, that's going to grind a person down and eventually you will have cash flow, but no time to invest it into you the person. And you'll likely go nuts or lose your health without some weekends and holidays off and some vacation time to recharge the old batteries. Not to mention your family and social life costs. The point of the whole exercise is to make a living and then to LIVE from it.

Where else can you economize, so that you can apply the savings to a lower rate, and still make your nut? Can you lower the real estate costs or the utilities? Got frills you don't really need? Were you buying all the gear rather than renting or leasing? Was your schedule for software and hardware upgrades maybe a tad aggressive, can you slow down the early-adopter stuff by a year? Is there some area of your workflow that can be further optimized? Or maybe it is something you can offload or sub out to someone else, to make the bottom line look better? Are you doing too much of one *kind* of work, and is that stuff a low-margin time-suck, or something that pays okay but executes fast, so you can do more jobs per day? When you get really good at one kind of thing, you may get into a rut and miss other, more lucrative opportunities outside your comfort level. Not to mention your customer base gets into the habit of only considering you for one kind of work... and Lord help you when that one thing gets out of fashion or is replaced by something else. Look for things you bring to the job as "added value"; maybe you don't charge for one-off DVD dubs, or you cover all the shipping, or you do the captioning at no extra charge, or you have a discounted rate for logging and renders. Or you can do small run fulfillment in-house with a little dubbing robot and disk printer. OR maybe your added value is a free render in h264 for their web page of youtube as part of the edit. Something distinctive and unique in your "value proposition". Make it something that doesn't cost you much to give away.

I can't tell you what you need to do, you're the expert on this, it's your life and business, not mine.

Just keep to my rule that you can raise your rate above the figure you know you need, and enjoy the extra profit margin, even use it as the "negotiation space" for some "special discounts" from time to time.... but you can't lower your well-figured minimum and survive. Something will need to change.


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Malcolm MatuskyRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 6:06:30 pm

The specific dollar amount depends upon your area, local competition, your experience, and capitalization of equipment.

As a (former) freelancer, I never met a producer/client that thought they were paying too little, no matter how cheap your rate was. It is your responsibility to charge enough to live well and demand it from your clients, they will always say it's too much, and that may be true, for them, so what? It's not your place to subsidize someone else's lack of ability to budget a production.

Some people are just too cheap and don't care about anyone but themselves. I have worked for producers that ALWAYS cried poverty, and later found out they owned 2 homes, an airplane, 5 cars, etc etc, they lived very large by not paying me enough to live in a crap apartment.

If you client thinks they have the right to set your rate, ask them if they will provide you with a room in their house, let you eat off their table, pay your health insurance, etc, etc.

Just a few thoughts on a tough dilemma for the "freelancer"

I no longer "frelance" I have my own "company" and my own equipment, but I generally work alone. I do not "work for hire" my clients hire my company, not me, I am not their "temp employee" I provide a service and that has helped me improve my situation.

Regards,

M


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John Grote, Jr.Re: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 7:50:48 pm

Hello Mark,

I appreciate the detailed and thought provoking response. I know myself, I sometimes forget the other costs that go into being a freelancer and honestly my time and my rate are what they are. Not to say that there isn't room for negotiation, but in the end I need to feed my family and pay the bills.

I see way to many either not thinking about the other business expenses or just undercutting what they make so that someone else doesn't get the job. It seems with the latter, more times than not, the client gets what they pay for.

Cheers,

John Grote, Jr.

J. Grote, Jr.


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grinner hesterRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 7:37:21 pm

As with all freelance day rates, you'll base it on a ten hour day. What you do in those hours has nothing to do with your rate, online, offline, animation, even dubbage. It's up to them to fill in the slots that need to be filled. That said, day rates just are not the norm. If requested, by all means, respond with one but hourly rates are the norm because they are easy and fair for both parties.



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John Grote, Jr.Re: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 7:52:58 pm

A day/weekly rate is the norm here in the DC area from Discovery Channel, National Geographic thru many of the Post Houses here in the area. Funny though Discovery and Nat Geo and some of the Post Houses work on an 8 hour day for editorial and a 10 hour day for crews, because of travel time.

Cheers,

John Grote, Jr.

J. Grote, Jr.


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Mark SuszkoRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:15:34 pm

The nice thing about a flat rate for ten hours of "whatever" is that you basically say: "every tool and technique I have is going to be applied to your job, color grading, compositing, sound design, photoshopping, music creating and scoring, audio cleanup and ADR looping, whatever is needed, as much as is needed, and this number of days is what it will cost, no mystery." You don't need to break down how many hours you spent doing this and that, and a rate for making the dubs, for creating a special equipment configuation, whatever. If you didn't need to use all ten hours, well, that's profit margin there. You *could* pro-rate some of it back to the client as a discount, or apply it to their next job, up to you.

I think even if you offer by-the-hour charges, you're looking at a half-day minimum, and think about the fact that even working just a half a day, you've basically killed off a whole day in terms of paying work you could have done for anybody else, in most circumstances.(Clearing the previous project off to storage, importing the next project's materials, setting up, getting the info on what the next job entails, that's going to kill an hour or more before the first real cut, right? so the second "half" of the day is now four hours. Maybe less.)

Finally, the actual time applied to the job, in my experience, always seems to slip a little due to random things that pop up. A QC issue pops up, requiring a re-render. A graphic change at the last second, re-render... spinning beachballs of doom for no reason...tick, tock. I think it often happens that a five-hour job may actually run a little over, and it would be up to you to eat that overage, or ask for the additional money... which leads often to a fight with the clients who now think you are a liar or incompetent.


So this is just my own opinion, but I would say keep it easy and just offer "all you can eat" for 10 hours for x rate and leave it at that, and if you really need to kiss up to the client, discount them back an hour or two that went unused on the job.


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Patrick OrtmanRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:33:31 pm

>>Some people are just too cheap and don't care about anyone but themselves. I have worked for producers that ALWAYS cried poverty, and later found out they owned 2 homes, an airplane, 5 cars, etc etc, they lived very large by not paying me enough to live in a crap apartment.<<

There's a lot of good stuff in this thread, as there is everytime the whole "what should I charge" thing is asked here.

True story: I recently met a producer who was one of the guys who line produced an 80s TV show, shot and delivered for a shoestring, because he was told there just wasn't any money for more. At the end of the first season, he was still in a studio apartment, eating ramen noodles but the Exec producers, writers, and stars were all buying big Hollywood Hills houses and vacation getaway homes.

I used to get all worked up when a potential client would tell me our rates are too high. Then I realized our rates are actually quite good for the area and what we do. In fact, they were too low! A lot of "producer" types habitually demand discounts and think they're not doing their job if they don't guilt you into dropping your pants on price. Some prodcos play that game, having hourly and day rates that are double what they need to make a profit, assuming that they'll be forced to give a half price deal. We don't play like that.

For us, it took time, learning about your market, and, like everyone says, a familiarity with what you're bringing to the table, and a spreadsheet to set rates that are best for you and your clients.

---------------------
http://www.patrickortman.com
Web and Video Design


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Shane RossRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 27, 2011 at 12:38:43 am

Day rates are very much the norm here in LA. As well as weekly rates, but those work out to daily rate times 5.

And the rate is based on a 10 hour day. Sometimes you work 8, sometimes twelve. Any SIXTH day is billed typically as just another day. Unless the Union is involved. But 10 hour days is the norm.

Shane

GETTING ORGANIZED WITH FINAL CUT PRO DVD...don't miss it.
Read my blog, Little Frog in High Def


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David Roth WeissRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 27, 2011 at 6:09:14 pm

Shane,

The ten hour day is still considered the norm by most here in town, but the state actually shit-canned that several years back. Like every other industry, we're supposed to get OT after eight hours, even though ten was the norm for years. However, though eight straight has been the legal rule for about ten years, almost no one adheres to it.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor/Colorist
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles
http://www.drwfilms.com

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Business & Marketing and Apple Final Cut Pro forums. Formerly host of the Apple Final Cut Basics, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.


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Timothy J. AllenRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 27, 2011 at 9:47:11 pm

DRW,
I didn't know they made that change in CA. Thanks for the update.

I've always worked in "right to work" states and my typical freelance structure (after some trial and error) was full days or half days. I learned my lesson about charging "per hour" very early in my career. Getting hired for a string of multiple two and a half hour days doing commercial production can be very costly to an upstart freelancer.

My half days after that were "up to" 4 hours, but usually consisted of shoots that lasted between 2 and 3 hours tops. Anything over four hours was a full-day rate, with overtime after 10 hours and "golden time" (double rate) after 12 hours.

I started in the early 90's - gripping and helping out with audio - at $7/hour. (Really.) My rate has increased a bit since then.



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David Roth WeissRe: Freelance Billing Time for a Day and Weekly Rate
by on Jan 27, 2011 at 10:14:12 pm

[Timothy J. Allen] "I learned my lesson about charging "per hour" very early in my career."

Me too Tim! And, I never liked keeping track of hours and minutes, etc. anyway, that's a whole job unto itself.

[Timothy J. Allen] "I didn't know they made that change in CA. Thanks for the update."

Yep, I too was surprised when I found about it, as I had been billing ten straight automatically for decades. The CA legislature apparently woke up to the fact sometime back, finally acknowledging that the old ten-hour standard had been affording preferential treatment to the studios over the rights of labor for years. It's logical when you think about it; the film/TV industry is really no different than any other industry.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor/Colorist
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles
http://www.drwfilms.com

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Business & Marketing and Apple Final Cut Pro forums. Formerly host of the Apple Final Cut Basics, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.


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