“Time is money.” That’s just one of many wise sayings left to us by the excessively productive and successful entrepreneur Benjamin Franklin. Our recent survey of freelance web developers proves that Franklin’s advice is as true in the internet age as it was in the pre-electrical one.
Our March 2018 survey of 90 freelance web developers showed that those who use time tracking software charge higher rates than those who don’t.
Among freelance web developers who reported more than $100,000 in revenue, 75% used time tracking.
Among freelance web developers who reported less than $100,000 in revenue, only 55% used time tracking.
If you aren’t tracking your hours, these results should make you sit up and take notice, no matter what business you’re in. For those of you who remain skeptical, let’s look at some of the situations where time tracking is especially valuable.
Highly Technical or Large Projects
It’s fair to say that you won’t get a big benefit from tracking your time on a project built around a single task.
But, anytime you’re planning a project that requires multiple steps or has extensive documentation, time tracking can teach you a lot. Setting up timing expectations during the initial phases of the project is critical to staying on track. Then, once you’re set up, you can use the time tracking to identify any issues.
How long does each step take? Did any steps take longer than expected? Why?
It could well be that the companies doing the most complex projects are the ones tracking their time, and that’s why our survey showed the results that it did. Still, if the most complicated projects are those that make the most money, these are the ones you want to be doing—and you’ll need time tracking experience to do them well.
Self-Assessment for Entrepreneurs
Before he was a scientist, inventor, or politician, Benjamin Franklin was his own boss. He ran a printing company in Philadelphia. And like many entrepreneurs before and since, he struggled to stay productive with no one looking over his shoulder. So Franklin devised a rigorous daily schedule that was meant to keep him on track.
Most freelancers have developed some sort of general schedule—but the ones who succeed are the ones who track how close they come to their goals. Tracked time allows a freelancer to compare hours worked across projects of similar time and scope, keeping themselves on-task and making proposals more accurate.
With full-time tracking, a freelancer can access the granular details of a large project—what’s the time-consuming but exemplary landing page that you want to show everyone? Is there a brilliant answer to an e-commerce problem that you solved for a client?
With time tracking on their side, freelancers can determine which tasks are the best match for potential clients—typically, high-value projects that they can successfully complete faster than their competitors. Then they can emphasize those skills in marketing and prospecting.
More Accurate Billing
Time tracking—particularly if it is detailed by task—allows freelancers to bill and report with more accuracy. Freelancers who show their clients exactly how they spent their time inspire more confidence and have more leverage to increase fees.
As blockages or delays arise, someone who is tracking their time can give specific information about how far behind the project is. Whether you’re a freelancer or an employee, this is information you need. “I budgeted 4 hours, but it’s taken 6.5 and here’s why” inspires a lot more trust in a client and in a manager than “I should have it soon.”
Sometimes, clients (or co-workers) are the ones causing delays, by providing bad information, responding slowly, or sending excessive change requests. By tabulating the “cost” of these issues, freelancers can show (politely) how the client’s own behavior contributed to a project missing a deadline. Or, in some cases, request additional payment to make up for cost overages.
Once a project is over, you can audit time spent, see if you went over or under, and update your pricing accordingly.
Like many administrative tasks, time tracking feels like the enemy of actually accomplishing things. But, as Franklin also said: “Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.” Some people find the information they collect from time-tracking is fascinating. What days of the week are you most productive? How many hours do you spend training or networking? Time tracking may have some valuable lessons to teach you—about yourself.