By Kayleen Cohen
One of the benefits of being your own boss is not having to punch the clock at 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday. Work is done on your own schedule, and you get paid when certain milestones are reached. Using a time tracking system might seem unnecessary. I’ve been self-employed for the last nine years and have gone through several phases of using time tracking solutions. Ultimately, I’ve determined that they are of great benefit to me as an entrepreneur, even if I’m the only person that ever sees the data.
It is commonly said that 20% of your clients take up 80% of your time. Well, I have the data to prove that, but I wouldn’t if I weren’t tracking my time. In this post, I’m going to share some reasons to consider using a time tracking solution, even if you are self-employed, and some suggestions for getting the most benefit out of the platform and data as an entrepreneur. Now let’s dive into the nitty gritty of evaluating a time tracking solution, setting it up properly, and using the data to benefit you as an entrepreneur.
Reasons to Track Your Time as an Entrepreneur:
As small-business owners, we need to leverage every opportunity to improve operational efficiency and monitor profit margins. Keeping track of your time based on client, project, or type of activity can help you identify projects that are going over budget or consuming a disproportionate amount of your time. Having access to this data can also help you improve your mindfulness work/life boundaries. For example, you might not even realize you’re working 50+ hours a week until you see the data. Tracking your time can keep you accountable to realistic work boundaries (and what’s not to love about that?).
Time Tracking Software Suggestions:
There is an ever increasing plethora of time tracking tools available, but I can speak from my personal experience about the pros and cons of two specific platforms; Quickbooks Time and Toggl. I used Quickbooks Time (formerly TSheets) for many years and enjoyed that it seamlessly integrated into my Quickbooks Online accounts and was accessible to myself and my staff on desktop or mobile app.
Eventually I decided to explore a free time management solution and switched to Toggl. I have enjoyed the simple user interface and tracking abilities that provide reporting data sufficient for my needs as an entrepreneur. While you’re browsing for a time tracking solution, make a list of the crucial components for you such as integration with billing software, ability to add multiple clients, ability to add multiple users, and reporting capabilities.
Setting up Clients and Projects:
Once you have chosen a time tracking software solution, I recommend setting up each of your clients and projects. Depending on the software you choose, you may have the ability to organize and categorize your entries by “Client” then “Project” then “Task”. Think of “projects” as the categories of work you do for a specific client.
For me this could look like “Admin”, “Email Marketing”, “Copywriting”, “Website Maintenance”, “Social Media”, etc. I also recommend setting up an “Admin” project category for each client. This is where I clock in if I’m taking a meeting for or with a client, checking emails, or doing any other kind of back-end administration.
Similarly, I also have my own business set up as a client in my time tracking system with its own projects like “financial”, “marketing”, “consulting” and “website maintenance”. For many years I only tracked my time when I was working on other client’s projects and I found that this was causing lots of my hours to go essentially “missing”. As any small business owner knows, a substantial portion of your time is spent working on your business, not just for your clients.
Clocking In and Naming Tasks:
Now that you’ve set up your time tracking system, it’s time to get in the habit of using it, right?I recommend using a mobile app or leaving a tab open on your computer so it’s easy to clock in and out, and toggle between clients and projects. I use standardized naming protocol when I clock in for my tasks so the data is very easy to review. For example, consider the value of having 10 entries called “scheduling social media” vs. 10 entries with totally different names referring to the same activity. Many of the popular time tracking softwares will auto-populate the client and project information if you start to type in a repeat entry.
Making Use of it All:
Now that I’ve convinced you to layer one more tab into your already overwhelming digital work routine, let’s take a look at how to get the most value out of your data. At the end of the month I run a basic report that shows me the number of hours I clocked per client. I compare this to a spreadsheet where I keep track of my client retainer rates and project budget. This allows me to see if any of my projects went over or under budget. Having this data is extremely helpful if you need to renegotiate your rate for a certain project based on scope seep.
The Case of the Fridays:
Here’s an example of one way I was able to use my time tracking data to make a pertinent business decision. Below is a chart of hours worked Monday through Friday in January of 2022. Notice anything? Yeah, I don’t like to work on Fridays. Using this data I can ask myself, should I really even be trying to work on Fridays? Or would my business be better served if I called it on Thursday evening?
Kayleen Cohen is the founder of Mtn. Dog Media, a digital marketing agency based out of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Her passions include content creation, planners, and color-coded organizational systems. Connect on LinkedIn.