Consultants operate in every industry that requires any modicum of expertise — which is all of them. Each consultant brings with them a unique brand of expertise that is as varying as the field they represent. However, one thing all consultants have in common is they are all selling the same thing — their time.
To get paid, a consultant needs to keep track of their time, but, without wasting their time doing it. Time tracking needs to be efficient and effortless so that time can be spent more on billable work, and less on administrative tasks. Here are three time tracking methods for consultants to consider, along with the pros and cons of each one.
The lowly paper timesheet can be surprisingly effective for a one-person consultancy with only a handful of clients. They are effortless and portable, so you can easily jot down billable hours as you work from your desk, coffee shop, or airplane. Their ease of use makes them a great entry point into the practice of time tracking.
The biggest disadvantage to paper timesheets is that tallying up the hours is a tedious process that is prone to human error. If you want to run any reports, you will have to enter the data into a spreadsheet. And, there is no backup if you lose the sheet of paper.
A spreadsheet provides consultants with more control over how they track their time, because, it can be configured to accommodate any workflow. Columns and rows are easily summed, making the reporting less painful. Plus, online spreadsheets automatically back up the data.
The flexibility of a spreadsheet is also its weakness. The reporting capabilities are limited by the fact that you will have to build each report from scratch. And those reports will be basic. The ability to aggregate data from multiple timesheets and analyze different segments of your business is going to be limited. As your consultancy grows, you will discover that tracking time with spreadsheets does not scale well.
Time Tracking Software
Using software to keep track of consulting time is the most efficient and accurate method. In fact, you’re practically guaranteed to notice an uptick in billable hours after adopting it. Running reports and billing clients is fast and painless, empowering you to segment and analyze your data using several different cohorts.
The negative to time tracking software for consultants is that you must cede control of how your data is stored and structured. You will need to trust that the company will store your data soundly and securely. And the reports, while far more powerful than a spreadsheet, may present your data in a format that doesn’t quite fit your needs. Before going all in with any time tracking software, make sure it will let you export your data.