5 Ways to Use Time-Tracking Data to Improve Your Freelance Business

Time is your most valuable resource as a freelancer, and it always seems that there’s never enough. With several online tools to choose from, freelancers and other soloprenueurs are increasingly turning to time-tracking apps to record their billable hours. But there are some other, less obvious ways to use time-tracking data to improve the way you run your business. Here are five of the best.

#1: Avoid Overbooking Yourself
Freelancers often use their time-tracking software only to track project work. But I would argue that it’s just as important to track the time it takes you to handle the administrative work that comes with business ownership – the hours you don’tbill to clients. 

One of the most frustrating parts of implementing a time-tracking system is discovering that the tasks you’ve dismissed as quick and easy are actually taking much longer than you thought. Once you start tracking your time, chances are good that you’ll find you’ve been underestimating the amount of time you spend running your business and, if you continue to, you’ll end up overbooked, overstressed and perpetually behind schedule.

#2: Identify Time-sucks
Sometimes, all it takes is a goal to get focused. Once you’ve tracked your time for a while, take a look at those tasks you’d like to streamline – namely, the ones that don’t pay – and find ways to make them more efficient. A good strategy might include setting aside certain blocks of time to make phone calls and answer emails each day or imposing time limits on non-pressing non-billable activities like marketing and sales.

#3: Get Paid for Your Hard Work
Freelancers are notorious for under-billing their clients. It’s easy to do. Impromptu client calls become in-depth strategy sessions; urgent emails require after-hours replies; and a few minutes of “extra” project work turns into an hour. 

Not only should your time-tracking tool serve as a constant reminder that you’re (literally) on the clock when you’re working, it should also remind that that any time spent on client work is billable time. Once you get used to starting and stopping timers as you switch between projects – even for just a few minutes at a time – you may find that you’ve been spending more time than you thought working for free. 

#4: Produce More Accurate Estimates
For a beginning freelancer, few things are more challenging than generating accurate project estimates. This is where historical time-tracking data can really be valuable. Unless a new project is dramatically different than anything you’ve done before, you can use the information you’ve gathered from similar projects to put together more precise estimates so neither you nor your clients are left holding the bag when time runs short.

#5: Show Your Clients You’re On Top of It
Do you work on a fixed budget for any of your clients? If so, it’s critical to know at all times how close those clients are to their weekly or monthly spend. Your clients want to know you’re watching the budget as closely as they are and that you’re doing everything possible to give them the most for their money. 

If you find that your project schedule and a client’s budget are out of balance, you can adjust your client’s expectations before they’re dramatically out of line with reality. Being proactive in this way shows your clients that you can be trusted and will go a long way toward winning their loyalty.

Kelly Drill is a writer, editor and marketing manager for Colorado-based Dolphin Micro, Inc. Her time-tracking tool of choice is Hours Tracking (Hours Tracking > Online Software | Billing. Payroll. Time Management.).

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