My Invoicing Error


The other week, I agreed to copy edit a manuscript for someone.

When asked for a cost estimate, I used my past experience proofing book manuscripts to figure out how long it would take me to get through a 90-page manuscript. Then, I took that number and multiplied it by my hourly rate.

Three and a half hours into the project, it became clear to me that I had drastically miscalculated. The project could actually cost up to three times more than I had previously projected.

I was mortified.

How things should have gone down:

1. Use Past Projects to Make Your Estimates:

My initial instincts had been correct in this case. It’s important to keep records of the work you’ve done in the past, including the scope of those projects and how long they took you to complete. This information will be integral in figuring out future cost estimates for your clients.

2. Ask For a Sample:

This is where I went astray. All of the book manuscripts I had edited in the past had been much cleaner when they came my way. This new manuscript came to me in a much rougher version. Perhaps if I had asked for a chapter sample beforehand, I would have known what I was in for, and been able to come up with a more realistic cost projection.

3. Give a Range:

My husband tsk-tsked me for this one. When I told him of my freelance faux pas, he shook his head and told me I should always give a range when presenting an estimate. ::sigh::

4. Be Prepared for These Oopsie Moments:

After my error, I thanked my lucky stars that I had included a clause in my contract for just such an instance.

In it, I had stated my projected price (including my hourly rate), but also wrote that, if I started on the project and it became apparent that it could possibly take longer, I would immediately contact the client, let them know of the situation, and wait on their word before proceeding.

This clause would also allow me to get paid for the work I had already completed, whether the client decided to continue on with me or not.

5. Be Flexible:

In the end, the client decided that the work I was doing was worth the extra moolah, but they asked if they could pay their final bill using a payment plan. I was more than happy to accomodate (especially considering how exasperated I was with myself).

Has anyone else been in a similar situation? How did you break it to the client? Did you have to find creative ways to “be flexible”? Share your wisdom, oh readers!

Related: RoundUp: 7 Invoicing Apps That Will Get You Paid, My 5 Favorite Things In: What To Charge


  1. Bummer! Here’s my big invoice mistake. A PR agency in Canada contacted me and asked for a quote. I’m used to quoting in US dollars and I forgot that the exchange rate has gotten really bad. They must have thought I was a BARGAIN, because they hired me for the project. When the money showed up my PayPal account, I realized I’d gotten screwed first by the exchange rate, then by PayPal fees. That was my own stupid fault and it wasn’t a huge project to begin with, so I let it go. If I work with this company again, I’ll make sure to quote them appropriately. If not, lesson learned.


  1. […] week ago, I posted here about an invoicing error I had made, mentioning that I was lucky to have covered my ass in the service agreement I had drawn […]

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