Better Client Management Through Time Tracking

| June 8th, 2015 | , ,

Better Client Management Through Time Tracking

A good agency is built on good client relationships. Managing clients and their projects is a skill that requires intuition and tact. But, it’s not an exact science. Even the best agencies can let personal opinion interfere with making difficult business decisions.

Agencies that use web-based project management and project time tracking software have a distinct advantage — they have data. It’s hard to argue with data, and it’s dangerous to ignore it. When the data is incorporated into the day-to-day, the agency gains a deeper and more detailed insight.

The first step in building good client relationships is identifying current pain points, then working to resolve these issues. Some clients are easy to work with, some are difficult, but these aren’t the only variables that define the client relationship. The following case studies are based on our own agency’s experience using data to improve client relationships.

The Difficult Client

Every agency has dealt with difficult clients, and our agency was no exception. We had a client that we personally liked, but it felt like their projects required more time, like there were more revisions, longer meetings, more hand holding. But, without plugging data into a client management software program, we could not be certain.

To help quantify our feelings we ran a few reports using our time tracking software. We compared their projects to similar projects with other clients. The data from the reports revealed that projects for this client were taking, on average, 50% more hours. The additional hours were tying up our resources and diluting our profits.

We reviewed the data with our client and negotiated a higher rate for future projects. This would have been much more difficult to do if we hadn’t been able to quantify our additional efforts.

The Absent Client

Some clients simply don’t have enough work to keep an agency busy. The absent client will gladly pay your rates, but will rarely need your services. To better understand this situation, we ran a report to see which clients had the least number of hours billed in a year. The data helped us realize that some of our more difficult clients were also our least active. We needed to either get them more involved or stop working with them altogether.

Our solution was simple. We implemented a minimum fee, a retainer, that all clients were required to pay if they were to continue working with our agency. Some of our smaller clients paid it and some did not. The minimum fee was a success because it allowed the client to make the decision. It helped us whittle down our client list, stabilize our cash flow, and improve the client relationships that stayed on.

The Procrastinating Client

It is normal for a project to experience client delays, but too many delays can stall out a project and diminish morale. We once had a client that would deliver at the very last minute and expect us to still meet our deadlines. No one would have been sad if we fired this client.

We ran a report calculating the percentage of tasks closed on or after their due date. This revealed a high number of critical tasks that were being completed at the last minute. We presented this data to the client and proposed a rush fee for all work to be completed within a certain time frame. Seeing the data helped the client realize the impact they were having on the project. And now they could take responsibility by pushing the deadline out or paying a rush fee.

How to Make Data a Part of Your Project Management Process

The first thing to understand about data is that, although data is the truth, it does not provide the whole picture. Data should inform the project management process, not drive it. The goal is to reduce the amount of emotion by quantifying your gut feelings.

Data takes a while to accumulate, which is why we recommend tracking as much as you can as early on as possible. Sign up for project management software, like our own Intervals, that will enable you to track your time and manage your tasks. After you’ve tracked a few weeks of time and tasks, run a few reports to see how your projects are performing.

The reports are great for making minor tweaks to your day-to-day project management workflow. And they are indispensable when the time comes to make major changes, whether that is client-facing or internal changes.

Photo credit: seier+seier

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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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