Many freelancers – including recent graduates – do so much ‘non-billable’ work throughout the year that they effectively work for free from 1 January to 15 February.

On average, freelancers spend the equivalent of 32 days per year chasing clients for payment or feedback, or working on changes that were not in their original instructions or project outline (a phenomenon known as ‘scope creep’).

In the study — carried out on behalf of rapid approvals tool — researchers quizzed 1,000 creative freelancers across 13 industries. Each was asked to estimate how many hours per week they carried out work for clients for which they didn’t or couldn’t charge, and from this a yearly total was calculated.

Graphic designers and copywriters spend the most time doing non-billable work — each racking up 38 days’ worth of unpaid time over the course of the year. Photographers and video producers and editors spend 32 days per year doing free work, whilst illustrators spend 26 days toiling for nothing.

Freelancer table


And it seems recent graduates who have chosen the freelance life — often because permanent jobs are scarce in creative fields — may be among the most vulnerable.

While the final stats weren’t broken down by years of experience, the researchers told Graduate Fog that they had noticed that less experienced freelancers were the most likely to agree to take on tasks for clients for which they were unable (or unwilling) to bill later.

Given that many graduate freelancers will be working for low wages anyway, we wonder whether some graduate freelancers are actually working for less than the National Minimum Wage (£6.90 for those aged 21-24) once your un-billable hours are factored in.

"JUST ONE MORE THING..." Do clients take advantage of inexperienced graduate freelancers, knowing they're less likely to push back?

“JUST ONE MORE THING…” Do clients take advantage of inexperienced graduate freelancers, knowing they’re less likely to push back?

Charlotte Whelan, project manager at (a clever new app which helps freelancers, agencies and clients to centralise feedback and cut down on emails and phone calls) said:

“The amount of time freelancers can lose throughout the course of a year is actually eye-watering. But due to the complex nature of most projects freelance designers and developers work on, it’s quite easy for scope creep to happen.

“One minor amendment becomes a slightly larger amendment, which triggers a change elsewhere in the workflow and before they know it, freelancers are putting in hours upon hours of extra time to get the project over the line.

“It’s quite possible that clients are unaware of how much extra work their suppliers put in for them. Freelancers are project focused by nature, but also need to maintain good relations with their clients, so it’s not surprising that many of them will go the extra mile to ensure the client is happy. But there’s a balance to be had.”

Graduate Fog knows quite a few of our readers are freelance — some out of choice, others out of necessity. Whatever the reasons, the challenges are likely to be the same: when you’re just starting out and trying to establish yourself, it’s very difficult to push back on clients and ask for the payment you deserve.


Are you freelance out of choice – or necessity? Do clients take advantage because they know you won’t make a fuss as you’re just starting out? We’d love to know what it’s really like being freelance as a recent graduate — so please share your views below. Thank you!

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