Sabtu, 28 Agustus 2010

4 Reasons to Track Time on Projects

I haven’t punched a clock in more than 10 years. And even when I did, I never cared much for the idea. I guess I didn’t like the message it sent out: that I was being paid for my time — not for my ideas, creativity, excellent customer service and added revenue for my employer.

I still feel that way as a freelancer. I believe my clients hire me for my insights, ideas, creativity, results delivered and commitment to their success, not for my time.

If time is what you’re after, you can buy time anywhere (and for much less!).
That’s a big reason why I don’t price most projects by the hour. Instead, I quote flat fees 95% of the time. I want to keep the focus on the project deliverables, not on the time I’ll spend doing the work. Plus, I want to take on some of the risk and not create a scenario in which the invoiced amount is a big surprise to the client.
However, I still track time. Even when doing flat-fee work, I find that there’s tremendous value in knowing how much time I actually spend on every project. Specifically, a good time tracking system provides me with:

1) Better pricing intelligence. Knowing how much time I spend on projects enables me to adjust my project fees as I learn what it takes to get the job done right. It also helps me see which types of projects and clients are profitable, and which are not.

2) More accurate scheduling. When I know the average time a certain type of project will take, scheduling becomes a lot easier. I don’t have to guess. I can just plug in an average into my schedule and add a few extra hours as a cushion. That means I’m not always scrambling to get the work done, and I’m not turning down work because I’ve overestimated my current workload.

3) Clearer visibility into monthly billable time. If you haven’t tracked your time before, you will be shocked when you start doing it — shocked at how little billable time you actually have every week. I used to think that 90% of my time was spent on billable work. But it was closer to 65% when I ran the numbers. Now, that doesn’t mean that I have to work harder. It just means I have to face reality first, then dig deeper to find opportunities to increase that percentage.

4) Greater discipline. As much as I hated that old punch clock, there’s something about knowing that I’m “on the clock” that makes me work more efficiently. Sure, you can’t rush creativity. But that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about the distractions. When I’m tracking my time, I know I want to end up with an accurate time estimate for every project, so I avoid surfing the web, reading the news, watching TV or checking Facebook and Twitter.

In terms of time-tracking tools, there are a few good ones out there. TraxTime is one. It’s not the best tool for report generation, but it’s super easy to use. Mac users have other options. We keep hearing that On The Job from Stunt Software is a great option.

Freshbooks is also very popular among freelancers. It’s actually an online service that integrates time-tracking, invoicing and bookkeeping, for which you pay a monthly fee.
Pick one that works for you. And learn how to use it strategically to improve your business.

OK, gotta go clock out. See you next time!

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