If you’re using hand-filled timesheets or Excel spreadsheets to track and collect time for your business, then you’re in the minority because most companies – even single entrepreneurs – now track their hours using time tracking software of some sort.
I started using time tracking software about 7 years ago when I realized that I could save a tremendous amount of time by simply having me and my staff members input our time into a database that I can then pull into invoices rather than re-enter everything by hand or deal with spreadsheets (and the issues that accompany sharing spreadsheet files … losing files, people using the wrong files, etc.).
Our Planning Pod app has a pretty nifty time tracking software component, but here are 5 simple steps that you can use with any time tracking software that will help ensure you are maximizing your billings and minimizing any disputes that your clients may have with your billable hours.
1. Use a stopwatch
Before I started using a stopwatch, I wrote down on scrap paper when I would start work on a project and when I stopped. But there were times when I would get pulled off something to work on another project and forget to write things down. Then I would have to go back and estimate how much time I spent on both, invariably underestimating my time so as not to shortchange my clients (and thus shortchanging myself).
Now I work with a stopwatch in front of me (in the form of my smart phone stopwatch) that has a simple Start/Stop button that I can slap every time I start and stop a project. It not only makes my time entries extremely accurate but also is a good reminder for me to continue tracking my time.
2. Account for every hour from every staff member
When you work for yourself, you have lots of incentive to be as efficient as possible and make every minute count. However, your staff members might not be as motivated, so requiring everyone to account for every minute of the day via your time tracking program – whether it’s billable project work, overhead or pro-bono work – makes them accountable for how they spend their time. It also drives home the importance of being billable and not riding the overhead gravy train (which certainly ain’t gravy if you’re the owner).
3. Include accurate descriptions of work performed
I’ve worked at creative shops that didn’t require a detailed description of hours, and more than a few times it led to make-goods and forfeited hours when the agency couldn’t justify the hours to a client that questioned the billings.
I have found that providing accurate descriptions on my time entries provides a good narrative of how a job proceeded, and it certainly will help you justify your charges if a client ever disputes them. In addition, many contracts between agencies and clients allow for an audit of the books and timesheets, so it’s good to have all your ducks in a row in case you get audited by a client.
4. Collect time and create invoices on a regular basis
As a small business owner, I often get so busy with marketing and programming and all the stuff involved in satisfying clients that I put off the one thing that will keep my business going: billing. So pick a time every month when you collect your time from your time tracking program and pull it into your invoices and just set aside the morning for that task. I would recommend the 1st day, 15th day and/or last day of the month, simply because they are easy to remember and also because that is when many other firms run their invoicing.
5. Double check each invoice prior to sending it out
It’s easy to assume that your invoicing and time tracking program will pull in all the appropriate hours into each invoice. But what if an employee put the wrong hours into the wrong job? Or what if you forgot to bill for a chunk of hours or for a non-hourly charge (like printing)? Or what if you need to mark something up or down? Or, god forbid, what if one of your staff members included an inappropriate comment in one of the time entry descriptions?
For these reasons and many more, it’s always smart to read through every invoice you send out. Yes, it takes time. But the costs can be exorbitantly high (in terms of lost billings or pissed clients) if you don’t take the time to do it.
Want to try a simple-to-implement time tracking software app? Sign up for Planning Pod free for 30 days and see how easy time tracking – and project planning – can be.