What do we do with non-billable work?

Some days ago, I read a very good article about non-billable work for translators. Funny enough, I had just come back from posting a certified translation for a client, a trip expressly done that took one whole hour of my precious time, and which wasn’t charged to the client.

Non-billable work is something all self-employed people (not only translators) deal with weekly, if not daily. Quoting for jobs that don’t go ahead, invoicing, record-keeping, marketing, professional development, trips to the post office and even cleaning up the office are examples of it. It is work that takes time, but has to be done for your business to be “tidy”, professional and to grow.

So do we learn to live with it, or do we approach this type of work in a different way. Does it really have to be “non-billable”?

I have two suggestions:

  • Try to balance the amount of billable work and non-billable work. Don’t spend half of your day doing the second! Or if you prefer, reserve some time every week for it; whichever means less of a disruption to your billable work.
  • Reflect the non-billable work on your rate or fee, especially if the work is for a specific project. Obviously, you are not going to state “quoting and invoicing” on the quote/invoice, just add it to your rate so that, for example (if you are a translator), instead of giving a rate of £70 per 1,000 words, you give a rate of £80 per 1,000 words. This would cover for any non-billable work of any project, which you need to do to maintain and grow your business.

In my case, when it comes to posting a certified translation, I have learnt to reflect part of my time going to, queuing at and coming back from the post office (and of course the posting fees) on the certification fee. As they say, time is money!

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