A colleague recently asked me how I track my client time. She works as a communications consultant and PR freelancer and was looking at options for client-billing time tracking.
I’ve been tracking time ever since I was in my early twenties and working as a promotions and marketing manager for a hotel – with a horrid boss. He gave me a huge amount of freedom to experiment with different campaigns, promotions, and to be creative, which was great. But he would often yell “What the @$%!! am I paying you for??!!” (among other nastier things that no one would get away with now, in the era of #MeToo).
So thanks to him ‘inspiring’ me, I started tracking every task completed and every accomplishment, every day. Then I could (and did) give him more answers, in more detail, with more supporting info, than he ever wanted. That was more than 25 years ago.
The habit has served me very well, especially when I started my own company in 2002 and worked in an hourly fee structure. Often with a maximum project fee to not exceed, therefore a maximum amount of time that could be invested. Billable hours needed to be tracked accurately. I and my employees tracked our time and tasks for each client using Excel spreadsheets for years. Until one of my employees introduced me to Freshbooks. Now I use it every day.
I’ve used Freshbooks to track time invested in various client campaign tasks for more than a decade. When I had a large staff team, we all logged our time for each client. Freshbooks has a structure for multiple employees to log in and track their time investments on certain projects they are assigned to. It worked great when I had a few staff in the office and most were working remotely from various locations.
I set up each new organization with project title and a list of tasks or activities. Many tasks and activities are the same across different clients and projects, and it’s easy just to choose them from list. When there is a new activity specific to a certain project, you just “add new task” and indicate in a checkbox whether it is applicable only to that project or to all projects. Done and done. There is also a feature to note an estimate provided to a client and monitor time investments in relation to the quote.
In my life, it is still used for my client consulting projects. I also use it for my day job, so I can pull reports to see accurately what most of my time is spent doing, and then make adjustments. My use of Freshbooks over the years has evolved into tracking my time investments in other part of my life too.
Since it was already being used daily to track work-related time investments, I started using it for my personal activities - creative writing time, work related to the Boards of Directors I’m involved with, other volunteer work, research for this site, and other activities in my life. Pretty much the only thing I don't track is sleep time! (Though if that's a priority for you, I can see it being useful to track.)
Freshbooks is not a tool to help plan time or ensure tasks get scheduled and done. It is a great tool for tracking time investments as they are being made or recently done. It enables you to see where your time goes. Accurately. I find that my life is so non-stop, how much time I feel like I spend on different projects or tasks is not very accurate because it's influenced by how I feel about that task or project. But since I log time faithfully and accurately throughout every day, the tracking and reporting I can do from the system is accurate.
My time is usually logged after each activity as I'm moving on to the next, and I choose to round to the nearest 15 minutes / 0.25 hour. But Freshbooks has a great stopwatch-like feature that enables you to be even more accurate. You can start it when beginning a new activity and click stop when you are done, then click for the time to be logged. Easy.
The mobile app makes a big difference, too. The stopwatch feature can be used on your smartphone or a recently completed task can be logged from your mobile device. It’s easy to log on the go, like in a taxi to the next meeting, in line to get tea, wherever.
After logging the client time investments, the billing and invoicing is seamless. This is what Freshbooks is really set up to do. Tracked time goes straight into an invoice - either grouped or itemized (I opt for grouped, ie: all meetings in one line labelled "meetings") with the associated time investment and fee, and taxes are added automatically too. And you can run reports like expense reports, p&l, tax summaries, revenue by client, revenue by staff, and others.
The key for me is streamlining. I like to use one tool for as many different things as possible - all at the same time or place. So my main tool for time logging, tracking, invoicing, reports, assessing and tweaking, is Freshbooks. Of course, that is what I recommended to my colleague who was asking about client work tracking systems.
If you are interested in considering using Freshbooks, you can see their pricing here.
What do you use to track or record your time investments? Do you assess and adjust your activities based on a summary of your actual tine investments? I'd love to know!