Tips for Freelance Designers: Keeping Time On Your Side
[Originally published for Creative Allies]
Every glamour gig comes with tedious to-do items, even graphic design. One of the most important administrative tasks is time tracking. Disciplined time-tracking spares designers headaches and stress.
Some people think stopping every half-hour to record their tasks takes them away from work, and some simply have difficulty staying organized. However, good time-tracking is a new habit that sticks after repetition. Below are reasons why you should integrate it into your work flow plus a simple, free way to do it.
Make accurate work estimations
The two most common things people request when considering you as their designer are a portfolio and a cost estimate. Keeping good records on where you spend your time helps you estimate future work with more accuracy.
If you’re just starting out, you might find yourself giving more guesstimates than estimates, and that’s to be expected. After completing a few projects, however, you can refer to those logs the next time someone needs a new logo.
Of course time spent on projects, even similar ones, will vary, but armed with a work history, you’ll increase your chances of profitability.
Quick invoice turnaround (get paid sooner!)
When you raise the curtain on a new CD cover, you still need to get paid-quickly and efficiently. With an organized and detailed time log you can create invoices faster and more accurately than if you try to decipher scribble on the pizza napkins you used at 3 a.m. The more invoices you get out the door in a timely manner means more designing, more staying on schedule and more getting paid on a regular basis.
Ready-to-go records on demand
Whether you're working directly with a client or through a middleman, someone might request a copy of your time records. It could be an accounting department, a board of directors or a project manager.
Administrative requests like this can disrupt your schedule, so minimize them by staying proactive with clearly formatted logs. Having your documentation ready before anyone asks for it saves you from piecing together, or even recreating, your time spent and what you did during those hours.
A free, portable solution for time tracking
A standard spreadsheet is my favorite way to track time for the following three reasons:
1. Columns are sortable, which means you can group the same types of tasks for quick totals.
2. Formulas do the math for you.
3. They are easily shared.
Any spreadsheet program will do, but Google Docs is a great choice. It's free and accessible on just about any computer. Below is a sample Google spreadsheet with time entries for a website project.
The Percent of Hour column uses a formula that multiplies 24 by the Time Total values:
=24*Time Total cell name
When you prepare invoices, make it easier on yourself and round to the next quarter hour.
Ideally all designers would have their own Smurf team watching and recording every task. Until then, we need to include time tracking as a routine component of every project’s process.
A clear, as-you-go approach is a small but proactive investment that minimizes stress and catch-up work and serves as a tool for your future projects.