There are many benefits to time tracking in your graphic design business. Keeping track of the hours you spend on projects, and specific tasks, can help you set your rates, improve your business, and even save time in future projects. There are also many methods of time tracking, from handwritten notes to automated software packages.
Methods of Time TrackingWritten Notes
There are many ways to keep track of the time you spend on graphic design tasks. At the most basic level, you could keep a notebook and jot down the time you spend on each task, the date and project name. There are, however, many disadvantages to this approach. Your time tracking records are very important, and if they are handwritten you will not be able to easily back them up. Additionally, you will not have any of the flexibility of having the records on your computer, such as automatic adding up of time, organization by project or type of task, automated billing by project, or easy editing of data. For these reasons it is a good idea to use a computer-based approach.A Spreadsheet
If you choose not to purchase software at this time, creating a spreadsheet of your time tracking is very helpful. Using Microsoft Excel (or similar spreadsheet software), create a document in which you can record the essential information for each task completed, such as:
- Time to complete (in hours and minutes)
- Project name
- Type of task – It is helpful to categorize your work into several options, such as design, programming, and client meetings. This way, you can see where you are spending your time across all projects.
Once you have recorded this data in a spreadsheet, it will be easy to sort by date, get the sum of hours for a particular project or task, or organize and export the data as necessary.Time Tracking Software
One step beyond a spreadsheet is using time tracking software. There are many software packages designed specifically for tracking your time. They are automated, allowing you to hit a start and stop button to capture exact time worked, get the total time worked on a project, gather time data on multiple employees, and generate invoices and reports. Most companies offer free trials, so it often comes down to trying several out and choosing what works for you.
Benefits of Time TrackingAccurate Billing
If you consistently keep track of your time spent on design and other tasks, you can accurately bill your clients, especially when you are working on an hourly basis. You will also be able to justify the time you spent on a project, and provide detailed information to back it up.Determine Hourly and Project Rates
Even if you are not billing by the hour, time tracking is still extremely useful. After you have completed a project that you charged a flat rate for, you can look back and see how long the project took. By dividing the rate by the hours worked, you can determine what your hourly rate was for the project, and see if it is above or below what you consider an ideal hourly rate. Of course, it is too late at this point to “fix” the rate for the finished project. However, you can use this knowledge to provide quotes in the future for similar projects. You will be able to avoid getting underpaid, as well as see how much room you have for negotiation if a client asks for a lower flat rate. It is also helpful to be able to look back and see how long a particular phase of a project took, in case you are asked for an estimate on a job that is similar to part, but not all, of a completed project.Locate and Fix Problem Areas
If a project takes longer than expected, you can see where this problem occurred by looking at your time tracking. This is why it is important to keep detailed notes on each task. Did you spend more time than expected on the design phase? Dealing with the client over the phone? Editing the approved design? By locating the problem area, you can make adjustments for future projects. Perhaps you need to charge more, limit the rounds of changes allowed (which can be stated in the contract), change the way you communicate with clients, or spend some time on your own learning a skill that is constantly slowing you down. You may also find that you are quoting properly, or that you are losing jobs because you are quoting too high for the amount of hours worked. Basically, you can create a more efficient and profitable business by studying your time tracking.