Time is Money. How Are You Tracking Yours?

Time spent on client work is directly tied to revenue for service based professionals. If you don’t have a reliable, easy to use tool for tracking project time of employees, contractors, and yourself that ties into billing and collections, you’re making life so much harder than it needs to be. (Still using Excel? This article is for you!)
There are quite a few solutions, both hosted and offline, that are suitable for the small professional service firm including Quickbooks by Intuit, Freshbooks and Timeslips from Sage Software. Sage recently announced the release of the newest version of Timeslips, touting enhancements that give greater reporting and customization capabilities.
We had some questions for Sam Hunter from Sage Software about Timeslips and time and billing solutions in general:

How do many smaller businesses manage their time now?

Many small businesses today use a variety of methods to keep track of how they spend their time. Some use spreadsheets and categorize their time by task or client. Others keep track within Outlook, in the Journal or using Notes. There are actually a large number that still do so manually, using pen and paper. The biggest hurdle with all of these methods is tallying up the total time spent and creating an automated method of billing for the time spent on tasks.
Timeslips is a comprehensive and flexible time and billing application that is used by service-based professionals across many industries. Each new release of Timeslips is the result of feedback from our customers across various industries that bill for their services.

When looking for a time management solution what are the things to look out for? What differentiates one product / service from another?
It’s important to look for a solution that has a large customer base in an industry similar to the one that your business is in – more customers means more feedback to the development team, resulting in a feature rich product that will likely have all the components you will need to track time. Big differentiators among the products on the market would include automated assistants that help you track time with less effort, email integration, a full set of reports that helps you not only see where time was spent, but better manage time going forward. A integrated “timer” feature that allows you to start and stop various stopwatches is useful if you switch between tasks on a regular basis.
Are there some businesses that are not using time and billing solutions that should be? What are they missing by not using a T&B solution?
Any business that gets paid for the time they spend on projects should investigate a time and billing software package, regardless of their size. Very good solutions are available at a low cost, and most pay for themselves after one billing cycle. Any manual solution like those described above results in lost time, and that means lost revenue. In addition, with the automated billing features that are available in this type of software, a business will actually be able to gain additional time to spend on money-making projects rather than the tedious task of sending out bills.

Are there any best practices in time and billing solutions? Meaning, I would guess that there could be two identical businesses using a time and billing solution but one is using it more effectively than another?

What sets businesses apart when it comes to using a time and billing software package is the time they take on the front end to learn which features best meet their needs, and how to actually use them. It’s common practice to think that just purchasing and installing a solution will be enough to start the automated billing process. That’s a start, and many times a business will see an immediate impact. However, attending training, or taking time to read through the online help system will really add a great deal of benefit and make the company much more effective at billing for their time.

I’m sure Excel is one of the biggest competitors in the market – as it in for many business solutions? Any comments?

Excel is a classic example of a software package that most companies use as a band-aid fix for things that it was just not built for. Excel is a fantastic spreadsheet application, but I see people use it for word-processing, for complex report generation, and for capturing time. The bottom line is that while you can use it for these things, it wasn’t designed for them, nor is it the best tool. What ends up happening is that the end-user spends more time creating macros and writing calculations than is necessary – an actual time and billing application contains a set of features specifically built for that purpose. And, most are available at minimal cost.

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