How I track time and invoice or “Why I’m always under budget”

Not all day rates are made equal. Let’s talk about money!

Some freelancers or agencies charge “days worked”, others charge “hours worked”. The first is always easier for providers like myself: Clear separation between multiple customers. As a freelancer invoicing is easier this way. Also there are clearer availability/unavailability patterns and also something that Agile Coaches in particular are preaching: More focus.

The nature of my work however is different: I have a lower share of “silent work”, working focused on a topic and delivering something. My work much more often is speaking with individual people (sparring, brainstorming, enabling, coaching, mentoring) or with groups of people or teams (moderating, coaching, guiding, teaching). If in a setting like this I make myself the smallest denominator by saying “I’m only available for you on Tuesday and Wednesday.” I’m restricting the time that people can reach me and what face time I can spend with them.

Thus I work on an hourly basis. It’s very simple: I charge a competitive rate and I only charge for the hours I work.

What’s in it for me?

The work is important to my clients, but how I do it is important to me, too. It’s not about grinding as many hours as possible – it’s about diving deeply into the challenges at hand. With some space to think on these challenges.

Additionally, I also pursue other projects in my freelance work and in my personal life. When inspiration strikes and I draft a piece of writing, that’s time I invest in myself outside of my contractual work.

I choose to bill my clients as I hope to work with them: Transparently, fairly and pragmatically.

What’s in it for clients like you?

First and foremost: You’ll get 5 days availability for the budget of only 2 or 3 days! This means: If you’ve got daily routines, that I should take part in – that’s possible. If your schedule is not very predictable and you have to schedule things for varying days more spontaneously – that’s also possible.

As a freelancer, how do I track my time?

What does hourly tracking do? Or: How do I always come out under budget?

When speaking with clients before the start of an engagement it is paramount to me to define what the client wants to achieve (changes in team behaviors, changes in organizational structure (easy) and culture (harder) or concrete project goals). From that we try to deduct (which is a nicer word for “guess”) how much time and effort that will take.

This time and effort guesstimate at the start of an engagement boils down to a negotiation of maximum number of hours per week, days per month, days total to get the job done. Those days total x my day rate makes the total budget of our engagement.

So the job begins. Both me and the client keep an eye on the time worked each month. Usually the work is done with a little less time invested than anticipated. With this, we’re consciously defying Parkinson’s law and the past 6 years prove that it can be done. One might think that those little deviations don’t matter much. But saving 1 hour, where 8 had been budgeted – that’s 12.5%. Saving just 8 hours in a month, where 12 days had been budgeted – that’s still 8.3%. This quickly turns into significant values in € when applied to a 6 month project.

As a result, I almost always end up under budget for my engagements.

This is not something I advertise, but it is a pattern that emerged from the past 6 years of hourly tracking and a flexible schedule.

Since I’m charging on an hourly basis, I of course have to track my time on an hourly basis. I don’t pay much attention to quarter an hour of more work here and there. When in doubt I charge a full hour only when I’ve really worked 1h 15 minutes. In the bottom line that’s also fine, because I save the efforts of more meticulous time tracking. It’s a nice deal for clients, because over the course of a month I’m working some hours for free.

The operative side of time tracking:

For time tracking I’ve tried the Timular tracker (ZEI) in the past: An octahedron that tracks time depending on which (configurable) side is up. At a time I was working for 2 clients plus had some individual coaching sessions in parallel. Suddenly 8 categories weren’t enough anymore and I had abandoned it. Now I might actually try it again…

© Timeular GmbH

What I am still doing since the start of my freelance career in 2016 is time tracking with Harvest: It’s very simple, can generate invoices in a detailed and transparent way and has fair pricing. None of the recommendations here by the way are affiliate programs – I’m just recommending what I’m doing because it works well for me.

How do you pay for freelance work – are you paying for days of availability or are you paying for work time only?

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