It’s hip to be free. The gig economy is booming and people of all ages are thinking outside the 9-to-5, filing into cafes and coworking spaces and living life a day at a time. It’s a long-in-the-making paradigm shift from the way humans go to work … a revolt against the morning commute and office politics. Toss in the rising robot workforce and related uncertainties — and who can blame them?
In 2016, freelancers comprised a remarkable 35 percent of the U.S. workforce, and 47 percent of 18-24-year-olds freelanced full-time or part-time. Crazier still: More than half of freelancers who quit a full-time job wound up earning more within a year, while working fewer hours on average.
Maybe not so crazy: 79 percent said freelancing is better than an “old-fashioned” job. It’s possible that a few just want to portray zero regrets — or maybe try to convince themselves they’re on the right path — but it’s safe to assume that many are full-speed ahead down Freelance Lane, grins wide and no looking back.
Perhaps one sacrifice of the freelancing life is less access to the powerful (and supes expensive) software freelancers may have grown accustomed to an enterprise paying for. A healthy corporation can provide a toy box of sorts for developers, writers, editors, translators and marketers — the five primary freelancing professions, according to a 2012 report — to use in their craft. Riding solo forces independent contractors to be a bit more resourceful and maximize their efficiency with fewer applications.
But certain software tools, and not to mention a reliable computer, are necessary investments. One app that mustn’t be spared in a freelancing career is a tool for recording and budgeting labor hours (and for that matter, minutes and seconds). With proper time tracking, freelancers can work with confidence knowing they’ll receive the appropriate credit and compensation for their output. Time tracking software can benefit these individuals in a number of other ways; after getting comfortable with the right one, a freelancer might wonder how they ever lived without it.
The most obvious perk of time tracking is for invoicing employers the correct amount without scrambling to estimate hours after the fact, and potentially being way off. Receiving fair and accurate pay is a no-brainer outcome here. But time tracking freelancers are also a more confident investment for the companies that employ them which is a foundation for repeated business, referrals and a positive reputation among peers.
Austin L. Church, an established independent consultant to both executives and entrepreneurs, puts it well in a blog post featured on his website.
“Have you ever gotten a Comcast bill that seemed way too high? Did it raise your blood pressure? Did you mutter an expletive then pick up the phone to duke out the discrepancies yet again with a customer frustration specialist? Consultants and freelancers itemize our invoices because we do not want to create that kind of experience for our clients. They want to know what they paid for. They may be budgeting for different types of tasks — for example, research, copywriting, SEO — and specificity enables them to evaluate the adequacy of their budgets and planning. Are you billing your time in one amorphous lump like a professional employee? Or are you billing your time in task-specific fifteen-minute increments like a professional freelancer?”
Later in the post, Church discusses another major benefit of successful time tracking: Maximizing billable time. What’s likely thousands upon thousands of freelancers let bits of work fall through the cracks of billability — things like responding to emails, client phone calls, and minor updates or edits to work. Even the smallest work-related tasks are still “on the clock” moments that can add up come payday.
Church estimates that proper time tracking of these admin and project management tasks can increase a freelancer’s net income by 15-25 percent. Even if cash doesn’t rule everything thing around you, it’s still your money to get and there’s no guilt to be had in the process. Time tracking freelancers get the money. Dollar dollar bill, ya’ll.
An unfortunate side effect of the freelancing revolution is those sneaks who take advantage of employers by “padding their numbers” on invoices, giving a bad name to their colleagues in the process. For pure time-based contracts, as opposed to project-based, the “honor system” is in play in most situations. This can naturally result in a lingering suspicion from employers that freelancers might bend the truth to get more money — and their suspicions are occasionally validated by the dishonest delinquents of the freelancing world.
With time tracking freelancers can …
Fortunately, some of the best time tracking apps provide features to address accountability issues related to freelancing and remote work. TSheets, for instance, offers GPS tracking so employers can see where contractors are when they claim to be working.
G2 Crowd welcomes professional users of time tracking products to write reviews on their experiences and how well they served their purpose — in the case of these tools, record time spent on work tasks. The products featured in this article have consistently positive reviews from verified users just like you.
In their TSheets review from September 2017, Ryan T. wrote: “The GPS tracking feature is great to prove that you’re on site at work, especially for jobs where employee visibility is minimal at times. Other tracking apps are too easily manipulated by the employee to pad hours.
He continued: “There’s many more amazing features (like the expense tracker which can be very useful for freelancers and independent contractors), especially when you creatively use Zapier to connect this app to hundreds of others for modular customization tailored exactly to a freelancer’s or a company’s diverse needs.”
A number of time tracking tools go above and beyond the call of measuring time. Some actually require data from separate time clocks be entered, then leverage this information into deeper insights. The potential benefits of time tracking for freelancers go way deeper than just counting.
Toggl, a time tracking solution that markets directly to freelancers and consultants, boasts features such as visual reports that break down the user’s time exertion based on tasks, pricing suggestions, and monitoring of projects based on timelines and budgets, alerting the user when things are overdue or over budget. It even integrates with 100-plus web applications through extensions so time can be logged from different browsers without opening the Toggl app itself.
In their 5-star Toggl review from July 2017, Tiffany H. wrote: “Toggl is a really straightforward way to track your time when you are doing freelance work. It was really user-friendly and helped me to see how I could be more efficient with my time as well as how much I should charge for my services. It also helped me track how much time I spend on non-work tasks, such as homeschool. I also like that it allows me to create and track specific client projects, tag my projects so that I can find them more easily, and gain access to helpful reports.”
Another popular tool, RescueTime, promises to “help you understand your daily habits so you can focus and be more productive.” In our wildly distracted world, with umpteen tabs open at all times and smartphones “blowin’ up” incessantly, acknowledging the impact of these distractions can be a huge difference between rockstar freelancers and those just coasting by.
In their RescueTime review from February 2017, Jennifer M. wrote: “I like that RescueTime tracks my computer usage throughout my work day. It tells me how long I spent on various websites, how long I spent typing in my Word files, how much time I waste on social media, etc. I also really like that they calculate your productivity score and display your stats in easy-to-read graphs.”
They continued: “I’ve been much more productive since I started using RescueTime. Before tracking my computer activity, I didn’t realize how much time I was wasting throughout the day.”
To recap, with time tracking freelancers can experience the following benefits:
- Accurate invoicing
- Building trust with employers
- Maximizing billable time
- Promoting accountability
- Insights into project management
- Determining optimal and fair pricing
- Addressing and minimizing distractions
- Overall productivity
Time is money, whether you’re an ad-hoc jockey or a corporate executive. This makes time tracking apps equally useful by both freelancers and entire businesses, for some similar and some different reasons. We’ve previously discussed the top benefits of time tracking in the traditional workplace. But as the ubiquity of freelancing spreads like wildfire — Forbes estimates half of Americans will be freelancers by 2020 — so will the popularity of these tools among solopreneurs. A laptop and Wi-Fi connection, in pajamas or in the park (or why not both?), is the new workplace. But one thing that will never change is the power of good time management.