Freelancers and consultants have a time problem. Many of us are pretty bad at tracking our own billable hours accurately or automating overhead tasks to save time. So bad, in fact, that the average consultant loses about $50,000 a year in revenue.
No one wants do thousands of dollars of work for free. But when we answer a quick email while waiting in line at the grocery store or take a five-minute call with a client while driving to a football game, it’s easy to forget we’re working.
It’s just these kinds of accumulated small moments of “work” that add up at the end of the year to cost us valuable money—either in hours that should be billed, or work that can’t be billed and should be streamlined or automated.
Want to stop that from happening to you? Here’s how to get paid for every minute you spend on work.
Change the Way You Think About Work
When you’re getting paid by the hour, every minute you spend on work-related tasks should be tracked. That starts with your awareness of how you’re thinking of work. What constitutes work and is it worth tracking an email response that only takes a few seconds?
Before you wave away those few seconds, remember that everything you do that serves your client is work, no matter what it feels like. Not tracking that time means you’re doing work for free, and unless you signed up for a pro bono project, that’s not in your best interest.
As freelancers, we benefit greatly from technology which enables us to enjoy more flexibility and freedom with work. But that advantage also comes at a cost. Gone is the traditional 9-to-5 workday, but so is the clear boundary between work and personal life.
Whether you’re a separator who tries to establish very clear rules and procedures to ensure absolute separation, or an integrator who prefers a more integrated schedule between work and leisure, work has a way of creeping into our lives in the form of that email, chat message or even a tweet as you scroll through your social media feed.
Once you recognize the need to track these tricky minutes to go towards your billable hours, you can start to find solutions on just how to account for this elusive time.
Automate as Much as You Can
Any tasks you can automate free up your time for real work. Overhead work like invoicing, tracking down payments, logging meetings and calculating estimated taxes all take up time that eats up your hourly rate.
Thanks to technology, you can now say goodbye to most of this manual work. If you aren’t taking advantage of the automation software and integrations out there, it’s time for a change. Time tracking apps are a must, but you can go a step further and automatically convert the tracked time into a line item on an invoice.
With Invoice with Google Calendar, all your meetings and events on the calendar shows up on your invoice so you don’t have to manually enter them or miss invoicing a meeting. Getting rid of manual data entry on your invoice will save you time and help you get paid faster. More than that, it helps to show your clients you mean business.
Show Clients You Mean Business
One of the common challenges for freelancers is building up a reputation for professionalism. Without a brand or company name behind your title, sometimes it’s a struggle to attract quality clients who’ll take you seriously and compensate you fairly for your work.
When you do your due diligence and book clients, it’s more important than ever to show them your work. Yes, the quality of your work can speak for itself, but transparency can also help build trust. A detailed, professional invoice tells your client exactly how you’re spending your time for them and how much that’s worth.
It’s about more than getting paid your fair share. It’s also showing them you’re worth every penny they’re paying you. The benefits of this goes both ways. You’ll learn more about how to be a more productive freelancer, and they’ll also know how much time goes into a project.
Identify Clients Who Don’t Respect Your Time
There’s always a balance of trust when it comes to freelance work. Even with a contract, it’s hard to deal with a client who doesn’t pay on time or takes up too much of your time by insisting on including extra work they’re not willing to pay you for.
By tracking the time you’re spending on every aspect of your work for a client, you’ll attain the added benefit of seeing which client respects your time and which client takes it for granted.
Although hustling after clients will always be part of the job, some clients just aren’t worth the hustle. When you identify them, consider whether they’re really worth your time or if your time could be better spent focusing on a client that respects the work and hours you put in for them.
As freelancers and consultants, time is the number one asset we have. We have the privilege of choosing where to invest that asset, so it’s important to use that freedom wisely.
QuickBooks syncs time tracking with invoicing, so you can easily add meetings, phone calls and other work directly to an invoice. Time is money, so make sure you’re tracking every minute and billing for every dollar.