Time Tracking for Freelancers

Like your friends and family always tell you, it’s great to be a freelancer and work for yourself. You get to set your own hours, wake up whenever you like, and enjoy a luxurious cup of coffee or tea while everyone else is stuck in morning rush hour traffic. Or at least that’s the “grass is always greener on the other side” take on your daily routine.

The reality is that you either have a to-do list that never ends or more lounge time than you expected. No matter where you are right now on that spectrum, it always seems like time is the enemy.

But why? Why are you at war with time when everyone seems to think you two should be best friends?

Ultimately, you can probably pin your time-related issues on one thing: poor timekeeping. Without good data that clearly tells you how long each step in your process takes, you don’t have any real insights to leverage when estimating new jobs. And, if you can’t estimate jobs accurately, you’re probably losing money, sleep, and clients.

Thankfully there’s an easy solution right where you look for all of your answers these days: online. With the right online time tracker, you can create better estimates, streamline accounting, invoice accurately, and prove your value to clients.

The Path to Better Estimates

As a freelancer, your job estimates are your life’s blood. When your estimates are accurate, clients are happy the work is done on time and within budget. When your estimates are off, deadlines are missed, projects go over budget, and relationships are damaged.

But you already know how important it is to hit those deadlines, so you scramble furiously to hit each milestone, often working crazy hours to finish in time. When you get the lead out like that, you make clients happy but exhaust yourself for the next job and undercharge for your efforts. You need a smart, online time tracking solution to improve your estimates, your business, and your work-life balance.

To create better estimates for future jobs, follow these simple steps:

  1. Create a task list. Create a step-by-step list of your process for each service your offer. Include all of the small administrative tasks that often get overlooked, such as meetings, notes to clients, phone calls, research, etc. Creating a list like this will help your estimates be more accurate, but it can also be used to set expectations with clients so they know the rhythm of the job and what’s included in the services you offer. It will also help you define billable and non-billable items, so everyone is clear on what you charge for.
  2. Double check the task list. Once you have a complete task list, log in to your online time tracker of choice to double check that all of your tasks are, in fact, on the list. You might find that you have a number of admin tasks on one list but not the other. To develop accurate estimates, you need to have a consistent, well-thought process for each service you offer, so spend some time now to decide how you do the voodoo that you do so well. Write your process down, print it out, and stick it to the wall next to your monitor. Now you’ve made a great roadmap and decorated your workspace. Ok, maybe “decorate” is too strong of a word here, but we can workshop that later.
  3. Add time to the task list. After you have a step-by-step task list you’re happy with, add time to each step. If you don’t have time tracking data available for a given activity, guesstimate how long it takes to complete. Any guesstimating you do should be eyed with major suspicion because jobs always take longer than you think. In fact, guesstimating is what throws off your estimates more than anything else, so avoid it if at all possible. Dig through old emails or notes to find how much time each task takes; don’t guesstimate lightly.
  4. Total it all up. Add up all of the time for each step on your big list, and then multiply the total number of hours by 1.5. It may seem like you’re padding your time, but you’ll find that doing this will create estimates that are a lot closer to the actual hours you invest in each job. And that’s it!

Now that you’ve created better job estimates, let’s see how time tracking can improve the rest of your workflow too.

Streamline Accounting

Smart online time tracking platforms can seamlessly integrate with your invoicing software, automating manual accounting steps across client projects to save you oodles of time.

As if reclaiming that lost time wasn’t enough, online time trackers can improve billing accuracy and reduce errors too. With the hours you worked detailed and timestamped down to the minute, you can feel more confident than ever that your invoices are correct. Not only will you feel better about your invoices, but meticulously tracking minutes and only billing what you work can be a selling point to clients too.

Bill What You Work

When you give a client an estimate of how long a job will take, you want to stick as close to that amount of time (and money) as you can. Sometimes though, the work takes longer than you expected or the dreaded “scope creep” monster rears its ugly head. No matter the situation, you need to bill what you worked, not what you estimated before the project kicked off.

Online time tracking helps you invoice the right amount of money because you can clearly show the time it took you for a project. Or, if you want to provide more value and maybe gain some extra good will, you can show a client that you worked nine hours, but are only billing eight.

Prove Value, Build Relationships

Once a job is done or you’ve reached an important milestone, it’s a great idea to show clients your progress so far. To prove how rationalized your super accurate invoices are now, deliver visual reports to clients that show the time you’ve spent working for them. By being so transparent with your time, you’ll build trust and better relationships with clients. And that’s super important to any business because your next client is often your last client. Keep client relationships healthy and the work will flow.

Conclusion

By using an online time tracker to keep tabs on your hours, you can bill accurately, restore your work-life balance, and improve client relationships.

To see what time tracking can do for your freelance career, try Time IQ free for 30 days. Time IQ provides an incredibly user-friendly experience at an affordable price.

4 Tips to Get Staff to Track Time

Whether you’re a freelancer, small business, or giant mega-corp, time tracking is a core component of your work. After all, good time tracking software, and the data it provides, is one of the most powerful tools a company has to cut costs and grow profits.

But employees really seem to hate tracking their time, don’t they?

With a couple of easy steps though, we can right this ship before it turns into the time-tracking Titanic. To help get your team to track their time, here are four quick tips from our time tracking gurus:

Tip #1 – Talk About Why You Track Time

In order to make smart, data-based decisions, your business needs that sweet, sweet time tracking data. Looked at in that light, making time tracking mandatory company-wide is probably the right move. But your team may not understand why you need it and why they should want it too.

Here are a few reasons why time tracking is good for both the company and employees:

  • Time tracking is good for the company because it helps management wisely allocate resources, create accurate invoices, and quickly generate payroll.
  • Time tracking is good for employees because it leads to more manageable workloads, less micro-managing, and more location flexibility. Each of those benefits sounds great, but let’s unpack them more to see if they pass the sniff test:
    • Employees get more manageable workloads when management understands how much work is ideal for each person. Time tracking data provides a rational basis for productivity expectations so everyone is clear how long it should take to complete each project.
    • Employees get micro-managed less when management understands that the work is getting done on time so they can trust employees more. Time tracking data provides a historical context that can clearly show which employees need help and which don’t.
    • Employees get more location flexibility when it’s easy to clock in and out from anywhere while getting the job done. You don’t have to live in a cubicle farm to get work done, you just need to prove you’re getting work done. Time tracking helps add that level of transparency, making everyone feel better about your poolside conference calls.

Tip #2 – Set Expectations for Time Tracking at Your Company

Now that everyone understands why you’re tracking time, it’s important to explain to employees what’s expected of them and why. To be as clear as possible, it’s a good idea to create a written time tracking policy (download a customizable time tracking policy here), hand it out to all current employees, and make it part of the onboarding process for new employees. Your policy should cover which activities employees are expected to track, what time increments activities should be tracked in (e.g., 15 minute blocks), and where time should be logged to (e.g., in Time IQ under Client Y, Project X).

Of course, regularly talk to employees face-to-face about your time tracking expectations too. By incorporating time tracking into project discussions or weekly 1-on-1 meetings, you can ease tensions between management and employees. When everyone knows what’s due when and why, there’s no questions or concerns around timelines. When discussing timelines, it’s important that everyone be open and honest about what’s going well and what isn’t.

One last thing, it’s important that managers track their time too. It can be pretty discouraging to employees when they hear their manager doesn’t follow their own rules. When managers walk the walk, the team can move forward as one (and it also helps managers understand the systems their employees use).

Tip #3 – Make Time Tracking Simple

Use simple, user-friendly time tracking software that helps you move forward now. There are a lot of great online time trackers out there, but many are too complex or are full of features most businesses won’t use. The easier an online timesheet is to complete, the more likely it is that your employees will adopt it. Whichever online time tracker you end up with should have:

Get a free 30-day trial of Time IQ today and see if it works for you. If not, that’s fine as long as you don’t wind up with paper timesheets. No one wants to see that.

Tip #4 – Share Results and Ask for Feedback

After your team has been tracking time for a week or two, they’ll naturally be curious what kind of insights are coming out of the time tracking machine. So, don’t just stand there, lead from the front and share your findings.

Be proactive and bring up what you’ve learned so far at regular meetings. Always try to put the data into real world terms so your team can see how time tracking plays into the work they do. When your team understands how time tracking factors into their day-to-day efforts, they’ll be more engaged because they can clearly see how their work contributes to the success of the organization. One word of caution here: don’t use time tracking data to publicly chastise anyone. When you praise in public and admonish in private, no one’s feelings get hurt.

Information is (at least) a two-way street too, so remember to ask your team for feedback on the new time tracking system they’re using. After all, employees are your company’s resident experts, so make sure they feel included in the process. They might come up with new ways of using that time tracking data to make your team even more efficient. And even if they don’t have any amazing ideas right away, you’ve told them that their opinion matters which can go a long way toward improving morale.

Growing Nonprofit Saves Time by Cutting Paper Timesheets

The Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce (HWCC), headquartered in Milwaukee, serves Hmong and Southeast Asian entrepreneurs across the state. By offering loan programs and one-on-one technical assistance, the HWCC helps low-income and underserved small business owners get access to capital and development support.

With the recent opening of its first satellite office in Wausau, the HWCC is obviously succeeding in its mission too. But with that growth has come an increased focus on efficiently reporting activities to funders so the HWCC can secure future support for its programs.

We recently spoke with Mang Xiong, the HWCC’s Regional Technical Assistance Coordinator, about how time tracking and reporting has affected her day-to-day experience at a nonprofit.

Increasing Funding Opportunities with Accurate Reporting

“Because we’re a nonprofit, a lot of our funding comes from state programs,” said Mang. “We have to track everything we do and categorize it accordingly so that we can receive more funding and grants. We have to follow strict guidelines on reporting our time spent on activities too,” she explained. “It’s really important to our funders that we track our time and clearly communicate where that time went.”

Even though she was new in the role, Mang realized the HWCC’s paper timesheets, a crucial part of their reporting to funders, were slowing them down. To streamline their workflow, the HWCC turned to an online time tracking platform.

“The organization really had a need for a new solution that was just really simple and easier to use, so we made the move to online time tracking,” says Mang. “Everything is online these days anyway, so it’s just really helpful for everyone here to have something that’s right at their fingertips. We ended up picking Time IQ because it was very simple, very user friendly, and very affordable.”

A Smooth Transition from Paper to Digital

After going from paper timesheets to an online time tracking system, the HWCC has seen a lot of efficiencies where it counts. “Since we switched, we’ve saved a lot of administrative time on that important reporting piece to funders—which we love,” said Mang. “Having everything online is just so much easier—all of our data is in one place so we don’t have to pull it from three different documents like we did in the past.”

When asked what her favorite part of using an online time tracker is though, she quickly responded, “It’s just so very user friendly, that’s my favorite thing about it.” Adding, “Having something simple that’s easy to use is incredibly important for us because we have such crazy schedules. If I didn’t write down what I was doing, I’d forget it in an hour. Now though, I can even stay on top of my projects if I’m not in the office; I can log into the app from anywhere so I don’t forget to log my time.”

Online Time Tracking Leads to Big Wins

After using online time tracking for a few months, Mang said the HWCC saw clear benefits by switching. “By taking paper timesheets out of the equation, we were able to save about 15 minutes a day, per person, and improve the accuracy of our reporting to funders. That’s a big win for us. It’s helped us improve our reputation in the funding community, and I think that’ll translate to increased support for our programs.” And she thinks others could benefit from similar time tracking systems too.

“I really think nonprofits would benefit from an online time tracking system like Time IQ because we have to report certain things in certain formats to funders,” Mang said. “And it’s not just nonprofits either. I think consultants should really utilize it too because they do multiple projects at the same time, and online time tracking could be a great way for them to track what they’re doing on each project.”

In closing, Mang said, “I feel like online time tracking is something that not enough companies are using now, but it’s getting to that point where it’s going to be necessary for a lot of people. It’s really important for the types of projects that we do here, and it’s only going to become more of a need everywhere.”

To learn more about the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, please visit their website: hmongchamber.org. For additional information about Time IQ, check out timeiq.com.

Why Nonprofits Need Time Tracking

Like any modern business, non-profit organizations are always being asked by their stakeholders to operate as efficiently as possible. But, beyond looking at the bottom line, how do nonprofits find out which activities are efficient and which aren’t? How does a nonprofit decide which programs are the best use of their time and which may not be as valuable? No matter what, all of a nonprofit’s efforts go towards doing good, so choosing any activity over another can be an extremely difficult choice.

The answer, like so many these days, is that it’s all about what you can glean from the information you have. To get the bottom of what really drives growth, successful nonprofits look at the time each activity takes then work backwards to find the ROI in their programs.

Time Tracking Uncovers the Cost of Your Work

When you know the true cost of a task, you can find out which activities are already efficient and which can be improved. To do that, it’s critical to have data on how much time employees spend on every task. With that information, you can more clearly understand what goes in to a project and discover how much things like writing an email campaign actually cost. Just take the salary of each person working on a given project, divide that by the number of hours they worked on the project, and you’ll be able to figure out how much you’ve paid for that activity.

When you look at all of your activities and funding sources, you can really see how well your organization is performing and which funders are the most lucrative for your nonprofit.

By keeping track of the time that specific programs and activities take, it becomes easier to estimate hours for projects, effectively allocate staff, and manage budgets. With all of that time tracking information at your fingertips, you can make sure that you’re focusing on the right projects, assigning the right staff, and working the right amount of time.

Time Tracking Leads to Stronger Teams

Now that you know which activities are ultra efficient, you can probably find who on your team is an all-star. They’ll be either very efficient (low time per completed project) or very effective (high revenue per completed project). Make sure to factor in the ancillary services that play a part in every big win, so you don’t accidentally overlook anyone’s contributions to your nonprofit’s success. And if people are spending a lot of time on those ancillary services, like administration or accounting, maybe it’s time to look for ways to streamline your process.

Beyond uncovering key players in your org, you can also use time tracking to find out how many people should be assigned to each project. By working backwards from the project hours, you can see if two or maybe even three people are needed to complete that big email campaign in time. If the data ends up telling you that you don’t have the staff to finish in time, then you can rationalize bringing in an outside contractor to help. Conversely, maybe the data shows that your team takes longer than you’d hope for things like design work, so you might want to consider outsourcing design jobs.

Time Tracking Improves the Transparency of Your Reporting

Congratulations on winning that big grant you worked so hard on landing! Now it’s time to do the work you signed up for and eventually report back to your funders. And while it’s probably not as initially rewarding as actually getting out there and actively supporting your nonprofit’s mission, good reporting is what really drives lasting relationships with funders. A great report is your last chance to showcase your organization’s strengths and authority. With solid data to back up your results, it’s easier for funders to trust your nonprofit’s results and increases their desire to work with you again.

By adding time tracking to your reporting, you can clearly show funders (and internal stakeholders too) that your group is a responsible, efficient steward of the financial support you receive. After all, so much of grant management begins and ends with financial responsibility. Factoring time spent on each activity into the equation will allow you to clearly show interested parties the true cost of your work, which perfectly pairs with the results of your good work.

Conclusion

Regardless of how you look at it, time tracking should be a core component of your management philosophy if you want to make smart, data-based decisions. To find out more about what time tracking can do for you, try Time IQ free for 30 days. Time IQ provides an incredibly user-friendly experience at an affordable price (and offers discounts for nonprofits too).

3 Tips for Nonprofits to Win More Grants

As the recently released 2017 Giving USA Report shows, there’s more money out there than ever for nonprofits. According to the report, the most respected and longest-running annual update on national philanthropic trends and statistics, charitable giving is up 1.4 percent year over year to a staggering $390.1 billion. And while individual giving makes up the largest chunk of the charitable pie, foundation and corporate giving is up too and provides an excellent (and predictable) source of support for nonprofits.

If you’re a nonprofit looking to win more grants, here are three tips to help improve your odds of securing new funding:

Tip #1 – Find Out What Works Best for You

Recent funders will always be excellent sources of additional support, but only if it’s worth your time. Sure, it’d be easy to chase after another huge grant like the big one you landed last year, but that doesn’t mean it was your best grant (or that it didn’t cost you too much to take on). To uncover which opportunities and funders your nonprofit should go after, it’s important to understand the true cost of your team’s work first.

To get started uncovering your best funding opportunities, review the grants and other support you’ve secured over the past couple of years, looking carefully at your time tracking data for each. If you’ve been good about keeping tabs on how much time your team puts into each task, you can understand how much each activity cost your organization. By understanding the cost of each task, you can find out which programs had the best ROI and which activities your nonprofit should skip next time.

Without a time tracking system in place, it’s going to be pretty hard to find out what the smart play is. If your nonprofit isn’t tracking time already, it’s probably a good idea to start now so you can start making more data-based decisions. Not only can time tracking data help management discover the true cost of each activity, it can also help with that all-important reporting piece for when you need to update funders on your activities. Time IQ offers everything businesses need for time tracking at an affordable price, and even provides a discount for nonprofits too.

Tip #2 – Invest in Great Writing

Your organization has a lot of strengths, but grant writing is a skill that’s hard to master and there’s a lot riding on it. A professional grant writer can add a lot of value to any nonprofit group, but, before you start looking around for a seasoned veteran, try to identify a talented writer in your organization that has the chops to step up. After all, the people on your team already know and support your nonprofit’s mission, which cuts out a lot of the onboarding associated with a new hire or a contractor. To help your burgeoning writer reach their potential, consider offering tuition reimbursement for grant writing classes that make sense for your nonprofit. To find courses that are a good fit, look for regional programs that connect to your mission so what your writer learns is locally and topically relevant. For more tips on how to find the best grant-writing classes, read this great article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

If no one in your group can, or wants to, take up the grant-writing mantle, hire a professional grant writer. Bringing a pro onboard doesn’t mean you’ll immediately land big grants, but, by leveraging their expertise and experience, you can significantly increase your odds of securing funding. To find a good grant writer for your nonprofit, look for someone experienced in your philanthropic arena. Ideally they’re local too, but, as long as they have experience writing successful grants for nonprofits like yours, you can fill them in on any regional issues.

Tip #3 – Know Where to Find New Opportunities

There are a lot of resources out there for nonprofits looking to track down new grants, and the number is constantly growing. So you’re always aware of what funding opportunities are coming up for your nonprofit, here’s a quick checklist of things to keep an eye on:

  • Newsletters. Subscribe to newsletters from funders and media relevant to your nonprofit. This one may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked so it bears repeating. While funders will typically put out press releases announcing the opening of a new grant, their newsletter will usually have extra information that can help nonprofits write a winning grant application.
  • RSS feeds. If a funder or philanthropic website you match well with has an RSS feed, subscribe to it. Because RSS feeds can aggregate information, it’s a great way to quickly get news that’s relevant to your nonprofit. For more info on RSS feeds, check out (and use) Feedly.
  • Google Alerts. While not nearly as foolproof as RSS feeds or newsletters, you should make room for Google Alerts if you haven’t already. It may be a simple notification service from the search giant, but it’s also an incredibly versatile way to discover new opportunities in a variety of places—such as web pages, newspaper articles, blogs, or press releases—that can lead to new funding opportunities. This is also really useful if your chosen targets don’t have RSS feeds.

To learn more about why your nonprofit needs time tracking, check out the related blog posts below.