Like many freelancing solopreneurs, I bill for my time, effort and end product in a variety of ways. Most often, I propose a project rate that encompasses everything into an all-inclusive one-time rate (for once and done projects) or into an all-inclusive monthly fee for work that is recurring. But sometimes, I bill by the hour if the amount of work, collaboration, research, etc. that will be required is tough to assess up front. Billing by the hour can work just fine and keep you whole as a freelancer if you set a rate that’s both reasonable for your clients and favorable to you. But it also presents a significant challenge: accurately tracking and reporting your time to your clients.
Some projects bring with them “here and there” short bursts of email collaboration and other activities that aren’t as easy to keep tabs as are other tasks that lend themselves well to blocking out dedicated windows of time to work on them. For me, that results in a really sweet deal for my by-the-hour clients because I tend to under-calculate the time that I’ve spent on their projects. Not by hours and hours and hours, but 5 minutes not tracked here and 5 minutes not tracked there can add up – and it can prevent hard-earned income from entering your bank account! That’s why I’ve asked my intern extraordinaire, Jenna Dutton, to look into some online time-tracking options available for bringing precision – and ease – to tracking and reporting project time. Here’s what she found…
Toggl (available online, via desktop and as a mobile app) offers a free basic program and a full-featured version for $10 per month. It’s a time-tracking calendar program in which you type in the project or task you’re working on, and then press the “start” button to make it track the time you’re spending on that particular activity. To stop the timer, you just click the button again. And fear not if you forget to click, because you can also enter your time manually. Toggl also offers tagging capabilities, so you can categorize activities according to tags such as “Invoice in June” or “Personal,” etc. and you can export your time reports to Excel. Another cool feature: Toggl lets you create graphs to see a visual breakdown of what activities are taking most of your time. It appears to be a very simple, one-click solution for tracking time.
Office Time is a software program with a one-time purchase price tag of $47. It also comes as an iPad/iPhone app. The user-friendly program provides an easy way to track time and expenses associated with projects – and it enables users to create invoice templates and make summary graphs. Plus, you can import its screens into Excel. Besides those functions, the program also recognizes when you’ve been away from your computer and alerts you about your time away so you can log that time against another project, or you can remove it from the records altogether. Office Time seems like it would be a nice fit for professional services providers who are looking for some accounting software in addition to time-tracking capabilities.
Clockodo is available online, as a computer download, and as a smartphone app at the rate of $8 monthly for a single user and $5 for each additional user. In addition to tracking project task time via a start and stop time clock, the program also enables you to create reports using customizable templates. As with Toggle, if you forget to clock out of a project, you can update your time manually. Clockodo also lets you import existing data from other systems that you use to track time so no billable hours slip through the cracks. You can also automatically create timesheets through Clockodo, which can help you invoice clients more quickly and accurately.
As with Toggl, you can get a free version of Paymo or invest in higher level plans that have greater capacity and more bells and whistles.
- The free version includes 1 user, unlimited clients/projects, 1 invoice per month, and 50MB storage.
- The “basic” version, for $9.95 per month, includes 2 users, unlimited clients/projects, 30 invoices per month, and 5GB file storage.
- The premium version is $14.85 per month and includes 3 users (each additional user is $4.95 per month), unlimited clients/projects, unlimited invoices, and 15GB file storage.
Paymo uses a timer to track the time you spend on projects or tasks. And if you make any errors in turning time on or off, you can change, add blocks of time, or delete time to correct your records as required. Paymo also offers a variety of project templates, and you can organize your project work into subsets of tasks, milestones, timesheets, files, and discussions. So, in addition to time tracking, Paymo has some project management functions built into its program.
I’ve personally decided to give Toggl a whirl. I like the freemium approach that will allow me to take a no-obligation, no hassle test drive. Plus, it seems super simple. Life is complicated enough so I want to use a tool that won’t take too much of my time and attention as I track my time (otherwise, what’s the point?!). But none of the above seem cumbersome and all appear user-friendly enough, so be sure to carefully consider the features you want and need before deciding on the time tracking tool that will serve you best.
Your turn! Do you bill your clients by the hour? What system do you use to track your time? What challenges have you run up against when billing by the hour?
Image courtesy of CoolDesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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