Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England
My blog a few weeks ago was about fee targets and their link to salaries.
Someone commented that everyone ended up on the same hourly rate - by which they meant that the more you get paid the more hours you have to put in. I’m sure this is true at some firms, but it is not a healthy attitude and not what I meant at all.
The trick, or the skill, is to work well in the time allotted for work, and bill well too. If you set yourself 12 hours to get your work done, you won't achieve double what you would have achieved if you had set yourself six. There is a point at which you are inefficient and tired and walking around the office moaning about how much work you have got.
These are my tips for billing well:
- Record your time. Please refer to my previous blogs on time recording. In order to maximise your fees, you must maximise the time that you record. You don’t have to bill it all, but if you don’t record it in the first place you will never bill it.
If, like me, sometimes you can’t be bothered to record the odd unit, see if you can imagine any other business where that would be acceptable. Say one unit is £20 - if you were a shopkeeper would you let someone leave with £20 worth of food without paying? If you were a hairdresser, would you not charge because it was just a quick cut? £20 is £20, and if you don’t bother to record one unit every day, over the course of the year you haven’t bothered to record about £5,000.
- Linked closely to point 1 above, don’t forget your worth. A lot of money and effort - tuition fees, no salary (or fun at weekends) while you were studying - went into getting you to where you are now, and that has to be paid for, as well as your knowledge and experience that can make a large difference to someone’s life. You deserve that hourly rate, so make sure you are charging it.
- Manage your diary and your workload, as far as you are able. There is an optimum level of busy-ness where plenty of work is coming in but you also have time to do the work. This is what you should be aiming for. Set aside time to do longer tasks.
- Keep on top of your fees estimates. There is no point in working really hard for a client, going over your fees estimate, and then struggling to get paid.
- Set aside time for preparing bills. Being too busy to draft a bill is a crazy position to be in, but one I know many of us have been in far too many times.
- If you find yourself in a tough month for fees, look for low-hanging fruit. By this I mean that you can prioritise work that is going to result in you being able to do a quick bill. You are in business, so don’t feel bad about this.
- Make sure you are getting the opportunity to do enough chargeable work to meet your targets. Or, rather, make sure you aren’t doing too much non-chargeable work. This is especially true if you work part time because the staff meeting/marketing event/course will take up a bigger percentage of your week than that of your full time colleagues.
- Remember you (or your employers) are in business and you must work commercially to make a profit. If you meet with a client and various red flags go off in your head it might be appropriate to do a four page attendance note, but does the same apply if it is a very straightforward, low risk matter? Is it going to be worth a hundred mile round trip for a home visit for a simple will? If not, what can you do about it?
I think the most important of these tips is to remember your worth. We all feel like imposters occasionally, but one day you will retire and realise you were doing your job really well all these years, and made a difference to your clients’ lives. Instead of waiting that long, see if you can realise that now and charge accordingly.
*Some facts and identities have been altered in the above article