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  • Billing Time for Clients?

    Does anyone have any suggestions for how to bill time using GTD? I'm a marketing consultant with 9 clients and am constantly replying to emails from clients and doing small tasks (some are less than 2 minutes) throughout the day. I often don't take the time to write down the time but will get to the end of the day having worked all day but have no billing to show for it. I'm getting busier and busier but it doesn't seem like I'm making any more money.

    I bill clients by the hour but only count the actual minutes I work (i.e. I don't 'round up'.) I also submit detailed invoices but feel weird about billing someone 5 minutes and explaining 'answered your email'.

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks!

    Jenny

  • #2
    Have a kitchen timer (that can count up) or stopwatch for each client on your desk. Start it each time you open an email or answer a phone call for that client. Stop it when you are finished. At the end of the day, the accumulated time on each watch is your billable amount. There are software solutions that allow you to do the same thing more elegantly.

    Billing may just be administrative, but in a sense it is the most important thing you do each day. Don't overlook it.

    Comment


    • #3
      thank you

      Thanks Barry. You're right - no one pays me unless I bill them. I'm going to copy your statement and put it where I can see it often.

      I'm interested in the software applications you mentioned - can you or anyone else recommend a good one that can track by minute with at least 9 different accounts going at the same time?

      Comment


      • #4
        Lawfirms are where it's at!

        I don't know if this will help or not, but it might point you in the right direction.

        I have some friends in the "computer-geek" biz and 1 of their primary markets are lawfirms. Billing time on multiple accounts is exactly what the software they sell does.

        I'm pretty sure there are solutions from Microsoft for this sort of thing (there's likely many more, but it might be a good place to start).

        Hope it helps.

        Comment


        • #5
          I wish I could find a good lawyer and accountant that didn't round up to nearest hour like you do.

          Comment


          • #6
            Slimtimer

            I use slimtimer to do exactly what you're discussing. Each assignment I'm working on is a project in slim timer (it's both my project and my next action list depending on the level of detail). When I start a task, I start the slim timer for that and then when I'm done, I stop it - you can make adhoc notes as well. Creates really nice reports quickly and easily too so very little work when it comes to the end of the month.

            If you use Microsoft Outlook for email you can also use the journal feature which will record all the activity for a single individual on the journal tab of their contact card.
            Kara

            Comment


            • #7
              If you use a PalmOS PDA, try Titrax (http://www.titrax.com). It certainly is not super-sophisticated like a professional PC-based system, but it may be what you need.

              Joe
              Last edited by radioman; 06-20-2007, 05:54 PM. Reason: provide better info

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by jennytg3 View Post
                I bill clients by the hour but only count the actual minutes I work (i.e. I don't 'round up'.) I also submit detailed invoices but feel weird about billing someone 5 minutes and explaining 'answered your email'.

                Any suggestions?
                Jenny,

                in all service businesses, just "being there" is billable.

                Must be done on a contractual basis, though. One of your next actions could be to check the contracts you have with your clients. If there are no clear rules for what gets billed and how, it may be time for renegotiating. Clear rules will make you feel comfortable when billing and they will help to avoid unpleasant discussions.

                If such rules are already in place and you just can't find the time (or energy) to track your efforts, I second the recommendations of other posters here to use a tracking software.

                In case you don't like the stopwatch approach of most software packages (start task timer ... measure time for task ... stop task timer or start another...) you may want to have a look at a little software I wrote some time ago (JTimeTracker, http://jtimetracker.sourceforge.net/). It asks you every 15 minutes (confgurable interval) "What did you do during the last 15 minutes?" and records your answers in a logbook.

                Rolf
                Last edited by Rolf F. Katzenberger; 06-20-2007, 10:08 PM. Reason: Typo

                Comment


                • #9
                  Software Recommendation

                  A popular application with consultants, attorneys and other service professionals is Timeslips. (www.timeslips.com) By way of disclosure, I do work for the parent company of this product.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    No offense intended for the poster, but our law firm uses Timeslips, and it is a disaster of a product.

                    But, the original poster's question isn't really about what software to use, I don't think. As a lawyer myself, this issue is a critical one- you go from call to call and, if you don't have some kind of system to track this, by the end of the day, you'll never have recorded it all.

                    My solutions, and they aren't near perfect, but here they are:

                    1. Everything that you do deserves that notes be taken, if for no other reason than billing and your own recollection next time they call. So, someone calls, notepad comes out. After the call, drop the notes in the in basket. (that's the GTD part). Then, when you process, part of it will be transferring that time elsewhere (I assume that takes less than 2 minutes).

                    2. Email? Same thing, drop the reply in the in basket (or, and this is less than ideal, but works sometimes), processing IN also means processing SENT for time entries.

                    3. #1 works with meetings, phone calls, in-person conversations, etc.

                    4. Finally, while your not overestimating your time is greatly appreciated by clients, make sure not to underestimate either. You didn't just "reply to your email." You first read his email. Then you probably did something, even if quickly (check a website re specific issue or something similar), then you hit reply and typed out an answer that wouldn't result in a phone call immediately. This might not be 20 minutes of work, but, I think if you kept a stopwatch with you, you'd be surprised at the time it really takes.

                    On the software issue- I assume the company you work for has billing software, so really, it's just about a digital stop watch? This is probably more cumbersome than you want it to be (well, it was for me anyway). If you want to try this, get two stop watches. (Different colors might be nice), and record your time. If you're interupted, stop the one, and start the other to keep track of the interruption task time. When you're done with the interruption task, write the time on those notes mentioned above, reset the watch to zero, and go back to the original work.

                    Just my suggestions of what has worked for me.


                    Originally posted by FakeFlam View Post
                    A popular application with consultants, attorneys and other service professionals is Timeslips. (www.timeslips.com) By way of disclosure, I do work for the parent company of this product.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      re: billing time for clients

                      thank you all for your input - it is much appreciated!

                      Thoppa, thanks for the tips about how to keep track of time using GTD, very helpful! One additional question on billing - I often struggle with whether to charge people for 'low-level' activities where I'm not using my brain. (Although I'm beginning to feel this is more of a mental construct than a fact). As a lawyer, how do you handle this issue?

                      Rolf, you mentioned:

                      "in all service businesses, just "being there" is billable."

                      I find this concept interesting and I'd like to hear more about what you mean. I'm starting to get the feeling I'm hugely underbilling people (i.e. no one ever complains about their bill, I underbill my monthly cap each month, people keep referring me to other people for new business, etc.)

                      Thanks again -

                      Jenny

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hi Jenny, that last post made me think of an anecdote from either GTD or RFA, can't remember which.

                        Basically, DA's story was along the lines of he started feeling like he didn't want to pick up the phone. After some reflecting, it came up that it was basically because he was worried about getting MORE work when he felt he was already at his optimum level.

                        So what was his solution? Start charging more. This meant that he could afford to spend more time on the clients he was working with, and still generate an equivalent or greater amount of income. It can be a way to refocus.

                        You must be getting the referrals for more than just underbilling your monthly cap, because inexpensive bad work is still bad work, and a referral isn't just based on your reputation, but the referrer as well.

                        Now, I know you are looking more at this from a billing standpoint than a reluctance to gain more clients standpoint (or so it seemed from the earlier posts), so this may not be a great help, but you're post brought this thought into my head, and I thought sharing it might help.

                        (BTW, I apologize if I butchered DA's story, it's been at least a few months since I read it, so I can't vouch for its accuracy.)

                        Hope this helps,

                        Adam

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          ooooh, now this is a whole 'nuther ball of wax.

                          First, your product is your time. Period. So, on basic principle, if you are spending time on a project, someone has to pay for it. There's a few ways we can help this out a bit.

                          For example, when you send a letter to someone, there's a series of small things that go into it. First you type it out. Second, you print the letter and the envelope. (Personally, I find this the hardest step). Next you stuff the envelope. Then you walk over to the postage meter, apply the appropriate postage. Finally, you put it in the box for the postal carrier. Of course, clients don't really want to pay for much of that process (fair indeed). So, in my office, we have secretaries that handle all but step one.

                          I'm not sure that example would be helpful for you in whatever line of work you do.

                          The other issue that comes up, and why I think GTD is helpful, is, the client shouldn't have to pay for me looking around for something. "Gosh, I know that I put that phone number someplace...."

                          Your business has probably set the hourly rates they charge you at based upon several factors. One of these factors is the amount of so-called admin time that would be required by the billable person in an average task. If no admin (or low level) tasks are required, billing rates are high. If lots of low level work is required, billing rates are lower.

                          Another tip, record ALL your time. So, if it really takes 5 hours to get that letter done, record it. Then, before you send the bills, take a look at the time, and see if what you recorded is acceptable. If not, write it off, and tell the client you did so. Track the written-off time. At least that way, when your boss comes in and complains that you only billed 5 hours last week, you can explain yourself. It might help you to learn what you need to learn how to improve and it offers a minimal amount of protection come review time if your numbers are a tad low.

                          Finally, ask. Most bosses (even unapproachable ones) are willing to talk to you about billing. Ask your boss if the office normally bills for whatever task you feel the client shouldn't be charged for.

                          People complaining about bills are people that weren't properly prepared for the bill. You know how long stuff takes to do, so, when the call up, tell them. If you were wrong, tell them BEFORE they get the bill. People won't complain then. In my experience, complaints about bills are surprised clients. I'll also agree with AdamMiller81, crap work is still crap work, even if it's cheap.


                          Originally posted by jennytg3 View Post
                          thank you all for your input - it is much appreciated!

                          Thoppa, thanks for the tips about how to keep track of time using GTD, very helpful! One additional question on billing - I often struggle with whether to charge people for 'low-level' activities where I'm not using my brain. (Although I'm beginning to feel this is more of a mental construct than a fact). As a lawyer, how do you handle this issue?

                          Rolf, you mentioned:

                          "in all service businesses, just "being there" is billable."

                          I find this concept interesting and I'd like to hear more about what you mean. I'm starting to get the feeling I'm hugely underbilling people (i.e. no one ever complains about their bill, I underbill my monthly cap each month, people keep referring me to other people for new business, etc.)

                          Thanks again -

                          Jenny

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I wouldn't bill someone for administrative stuff like keeping records related to their project. That's part of my overhead. But I would bill for any activity that they generate--answering phone calls, answering emails, general handholding--and of course for anything that falls under the project description. Remember that plenty of things that seem "brainless" to you might be very difficult for someone without your expertise: that's why they hired you in the first place.

                            My solution to the time billing problem is to work almost exclusively on a flat-rate per-project basis. I probably end up making a little more than I would on hourly billing, but my clients don't seem to mind and neither of us has to think about how much a phone call or email is costing. Not all work lends itself to this approach, of course, but you might try it with a new client or two to see how it works out.

                            I use timer software for my own purposes every now and then. I've been happy with Time Reporter for the PC, and Office Time for the Mac, but can't say how well they would work in a true hourly billing situation.

                            Katherine

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Client billing - contexts

                              Jenny, I totally hear you!

                              On a little different direction but directed at the same question:

                              One way I handle this problem is to work within GTD with the different clients basically serving as contexts, in a way. If I start working on client A's work, say by making a phone call, I'll start "the timer" (whatever sort you like), and keep working on client A's work until there isn't any more client A work to do. That way I tend to stay more focused, Client A is happy (sorry client B), and the time is in one chunk so it is easier to bill. My NA lists are arranged so that I can sort them by client name, making it easier to see all the Client A tasks at once if I want.

                              Part of the problem too is developing (a) a system you trust for billing and (b) the discipline to work that system. For any time tracking system, you absolutely HAVE to stop either before or after each task and enter at least the description of work done into the system. I find "before" works better, as "after" is often prevented by an interruption of some sort. Little sticky notes don't work. Trying to remember at the end of the day doesn't work. Making detailed notes and transferring them later works, but is more work.

                              Some attorneys in our office are really really good at the discipline part (I'm only so-so at it) - if I walk into their office to ask a question, they'll say "hold on a minute", then they'll go into the time program and note down what they were doing, then they'll talk to me. After we talk, they'll say "Now what client was that?" and immediately open a time entry for the conversation (if it was billable). It takes alot of discipline to do that, especially if you're entering the amount of time into each entry.

                              I've found a hybrid approach I like - during the day, each time I start a new task, I'll put the description into the program. And, on a sheet of paper marked off in 15 minute increments (we bill in quarters), I'll put a "start" arrow and the client name, with an arrow down to my finish time to be added at the end. I go back periodically and match the time to the entries in the computer. At least this is the idea - nothing ever works super cleanly in practice, but it's getting closer, seeming like less of a chore to input the descriptions.

                              Hope this helps a bit.
                              Taxgeek/Susan

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