Lies, Damned Lies, and Timing Sheets

People often ask why I charge based on word count, and not on the time it takes me to actually do the work.

Well, there are plenty of reasons - for a start, charging for content based on quantity just feels right, I still make it as good as I possibly can, but it means if you need lots of content, fast, I can turn it around more quickly for you without being left out of pocket.

But it's also partly because I've worked in an agency environment in the past, and I've seen what happens when profits become linked to time, rather than to the content itself.

Case in point, in one agency I worked at (which will remain nameless) the time taken to produce each page of content was estimated down to the hundredth of a minute - yes, that's 'estimated' to within less than a second, with no margin allowed for error.

While I was in a middle-management role at this agency, they decided to reorganise the way these estimates were calculated, to more accurately reflect the way the agency worked at the time - the existing method had been in place for years and wasn't exactly spot-on, given the way SEO had changed, and so on.

So the managers all got called into a meeting room, where a senior manager had come up from London to guide us through the new system - which, he stressed, was not about saving time, but simply allocated the existing time in new ways.

Each client contract had been transferred to the new system, he explained, with the same amount of time given to them as had previously been the case - the new system was not about saving time.

Oh, and the entire admin time allowed per client (a generous 7.5 minutes per week) had been removed. Any questions?

That's 7.5 minutes per client, in an agency where the typical writer had up to ten clients at any one time. Conservatively, that's 60 minutes per person per week that had simply been wiped off of the perceived workload.

At the time, I had a deputy, four office-based staff and two home-based team members. That's basically a working day per week that had been scrubbed from what my team were perceived as doing.

And that's the problem. Pay me for ten articles, and if it takes me ten hours to find the right source material, that's my problem. Pay me for five hours, and we've got problems.

In real terms, I think we both know I'd end up picking up the slack anyway - but at least when you're paying by the article, as long as they're up to the desired quality, you don't have to take my word for it that they took me two hours, or four hours, or whatever - you've got the content you wanted, at the agreed price, and that's all that really matters.

One more thing - I still freelance for several agencies, and I can honestly say, they're not all crooks! The example above was probably spurred on in part by the onset of the recession, but it's a perfect example of why time alone is a terrible way to assess how much work has been done.

On a slightly related note, this post was inspired in part by the Twitter project Things You Hear In Agencies - follow the hashtag #ThingsYouHearInAgencies or just follow @AgencyQuotes for similar stories in 140 characters or fewer.


With hearts in mouths we cheer, we cheer;
our golden girl, at last, is here.
Beneath the Cauldron's fiery blaze
to fight for us, across two days.

Her seven tasks inspired by old;
these, it is, will choose the gold,
the silver, and the bronze as well;
the winner's name, just time can tell.

And this is her time, this her year
as crowds of people stand and cheer
both in the stadium, and outside,
in pubs and lounges nationwide.

A cheer so loud, it's surely heard
the breadth of Britain on August 3rd
as the Games' most cherished face
joins the line-up for her race.

A leaping blur before our eyes
- at times, it seems, she really flies -
a dozen seconds, a global best,
and once again, our girl can rest.

But not for long - for she must leap;
once more our golden girl digs deep
to leave the ground and jump six feet
- but this time, our girl is beat.

Fifth, but first still, overall;
the trial next, to throw a ball
and once again our girl's unstuck;
down in ninth, and down on luck.

And worse to come, for now we find
the Brit has fallen just behind
and needs to overcome her foe;
three tasks down, with four to go.

Rounding off the day's events,
a flat-out run before the tense
and trembling Olympic crowd;
nervous yes, but no less loud.

Another race, and so we're back
to line up on the running track;
200 metres, and when they stop
our girl is tied, her name joint top.

But overall, she stands alone
- the races run, the throwing thrown.
The high jump bar is packed away
and she's in first, after the first day.

Now Britain's angel of the north
returns once more, on August 4th.
Four events of seven done;
a jump, a throw, another run.

And though she clears 20 feet,
the long jump isn't quite so sweet
as yesterday was on the track;
a Russian, this time, holds her back.

And once the javelins are thrown
the chance, we see, is still not blown;
our girl rises to the test
and though ranked tenth, she throws her best

to lead into the final round;
one final time, the rubber ground
becomes a battlefield again;
all eyes are on our girl, and then

a bang begins this two-lap race
and cameras focus on her face;
and none can doubt her golden thirst
as the Brit sets off in first

and as the starting lap plays out
dare we dream, or is there doubt?
A minute for this frenzied lap;
but for our girl, a closing gap

and then, to everyone's dismay,
the vision falters, fades away;
did she run the lap too fast?
For others catch her; she is passed.

But our girl will not be stripped
of this title; and the script
of her home Olympic story
is to be a tale of glory.

Again she digs - and somewhere deep
she finds the pace she needs to creep
to level terms, and then ahead.
It's time to put this race to bed.

Her seventh task is almost done;
we hold our breath and watch her run.
We stand, we shout: "Come on!" then "Yes!"
And then we weep, with pride for Jess.

London 2012: The End of the Games

The final, fluttering flags are furled and packed away;
the anthems echo out for the final times today.
The tallies and the tables can be written in The Book,
while runners-up can ruminate on Time, and Chance, and Luck.

Four years in the making; a fortnight in the end.
Trials chose the athletes for each nation to send.
Friendly competition chose who would win the gold;
a first chance for the young, a last chance for the old.

And now the time is ticking, and quickly running out.
No more days of planning, and no more days of doubt.
The champions' names decided, and little left to say,
but to make the motions of this last Olympic day.

One final ceremony to end these London Games,
a festival of song; a final flicker of the flame,
before the Cauldron's petals are each taken home
to nations of the world where I may never roam.

We came and we contested, qualified and played;
old heroes were confirmed, new heroes were made.
In four years' time, in Rio, we all will make some more
through friendly competition; in peacetime, not in war.

London's venues now fall mute; silenced, the starter's gun.
And though some days were tense, while other days were fun,
there is just one conclusion - an over-simple one -
we won, Great Britain. We, Great Britain, won.