The saying “Time is money” rings especially true for professional service businesses like marketing agencies. Just consider your hourly billing rates, and it’s easy to see how much money precise time tracking could save your agency.

Careful time tracking ensures that all billable hours are accurate so you can invoice your agency’s clients correctly. There are other important reasons for tracking time than just that month’s invoices.

Short Term Benefits of Time Tracking

Your marketing agency undoubtedly does many of the same types of projects over and over again—creating and managing a client’s social media campaign, writing white papers, putting together webinars, etc. By accurately tracking how long these projects really take—instead of just relying on your employees’ guesstimates after the fact—you’ll be much more accurate in estimating how long similar projects will take in the future. That means:

  • You can easily quote new clients appropriate prices and feel confident about them.
  • You won’t accidentally overcharge or undercharge clients.
  • You can resource new projects appropriately so your team stays on target and makes its deadlines.
  • Project managers and account managers will spend less time on busywork and more time on important work.

Long Term Benefits of Time Tracking

In addition to the short-term benefits above, accurate time tracking helps you see the big picture so you can plan for your agency’s future. Over time, time tracking can:

  • Reveal which clients, types of projects, or industries are most profitable
  • Reveal clients, types of projects, or industries eat up the most non-billable time
  • Uncover the percentage of employee hours that’s billable so you can take steps to increase utilization. (Imagine getting all your creatives up to 80% billable time!)
  • Show you what employees are underperforming.
  • Determine if your employees are truly overloaded or just inefficient.
  • Indicate when it’s time to add staff or outsource to freelancers.

Ultimately, time tracking enables you to pinpoint where you should put your money and your focus to grow your marketing agency.

Time Tracking Tips

The “why” of time tracking is one thing, but what about the “how?” Let’s face it: Creative types generally aren’t fans of timesheets, clock-punching or anything that smacks of routine work or resembles an Excel spreadsheet. You’ve probably struggled with your agency employees ignoring their time sheets all week, then hastily recreating their hours from memory on Friday at 4:55 p.m.

It’s not all your employees’ fault. Creative teams need to focus and get into a rhythm to be creative; having to stop every 15 minutes to record what they’re doing throws them off their game. Fortunately, technology has made it easy to track time in unobtrusive and natural ways.

Your marketing agency’s project management software may already include time tracking capabilities. If you aren’t using project management software yet, check out 10 Cool Tools to Help Your Marketing Agency Collaborate. If you do use some project management tools but they don’t include time tracking, here are some tips for choosing and using time tracking software.

  • Look for time tracking software that integrates with apps you already use. For example, integration with your employees’ calendaring or project management apps, or with popular accounting and invoicing software, can save you a lot of time.
  • Give your team input. Your employees are the ones who will actually be using the time tracking system, so get them involved in its selection. Task them with researching possible options and have them test out the apps you’re considering. If employees are invested in a time tracking system, they’re more likely to actually use it.
  • Explain how time tracking benefits them. Marketing agency teams typically feel overworked. Time tracking can help them prove their case and show that you really do need to hire.
  • Provide training on how to use the time tracking app. Look for a tool that offers strong customer support so your employees can get help whenever they need it.
  • Offer incentives for using the new system. For example, you could give a prize or comp time off for any employee who tracks their time accurately and consistently for an entire month.
  • Share the wealth. Since time tracking ultimately makes your business more profitable, motivate employees to cooperate by using a profit sharing plan or bonuses system to distribute some of that extra cash.

Popular time tracking programs that are well-suited for marketing agencies include AND.CO, Hours, Toggl, ClickTime, Harvest and Hubstaff.

Does your agency currently use apps for time tracking and project management? What are your favorites?

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Rieva is a small-business contributor for Fundbox and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. She has spent 30+ years covering, consulting, and speaking to small businesses owners and entrepreneurs.