Time, time, time is on my side. (home office software) (column)
by Daniel Janal
Do your clients know what you do and how long it takes? If they don't, they might think that you're ripping them off. And that's a message you certainly don't want to send.
It's important for any business, at home or downtown, to keep accurate track of the time spent on projects. For me, that means looking at my watch at the beginning and end of each project and recording the time in my diary. However, when I forget to make entries (and this does happen), I must rely on estimates. Then, at the end of each month, I face another problem--adding the figures. If you've ever tried to add one hour and 25 minutes to three hours and 50 minutes, you know what I mean. Do that 20 times a month, and you'll be mired in a tedious process that can be fraught with errors.
Timeslips, a leadiing time-billing program, bolsters its attractiveness by claiming that 25 percent of the average person's time is not billed properly. I recently decided to take the program up on its challenge, figuring that if I won, my income would increase and my clients would get more detailed reports.
Timeslips is easy to set up. The program asks for standard logistical data, such as your name, billing rate, and activity (consulting, writing, phone calls) and your clients' names, addresses, and billing rates, among other items. This information is used to create time slips, invoices, and labels. Ten easy minutes later, I was ready to track time. My only complaint is that I wanted to use my current client number codes, which range from 30 to 60. Timeslips insists that all client codes be entered sequentially, beginning with 1. My solution was to enter x in the first 29 fields.
I began by creating a time slip for writing this article and then starting the stopwatch. The program displayed the time not only as seconds, but as dollars and cents. The effect of seeing money accumulate on the screen is mesmerizing. Time really is money. Then, to my dismay, I realized the first ten minutes of preparation time were not billed. But, because the Timeslips program lets you enter time from the keyboard, I was able to quickly remedy this problem. This feature comes in handy for services performed outside the office.
To create a time slip, type your name or employee number, client name or number, and activity. The Timeslips program automatically inserts the correct billing rates. You can type a description of the activity you're about to perform, such as write article, proofread manuscript, or send invoice. Then select the billing options, such as Bill by Client or Charge a Flat Rate. Activate the stopwatch, and time is credited to your account.
Timeslips can operate as a TSR, which is great for client-based companies. For example, say you're working on a project for one client when a second client calls. With the TSR function, you can stop the time slip on the first client and create a new slip for the second client in just a few seconds. I used Timeslips with WordPerfect in a 640K environment with no problems but that didn't leave room for any other TSRs. I also used it as a stand-alone program in order to free some memory and was pleased with its performance.
But while the billing process is simple and effective. I found the reporting process cumbersome. Fortunately, Timeslips gives you so many selections that you can create virtually any kind of report or invoice you need. The program uses onscreen prompts and help, but I still needed to refer to the manual quite often. Obviously, as with any other software program or hardware system, you should spend some time with the manual to get yourself acquainted with the product. That way, you'll have some idea of what to expect.
I called the technical support department (on my dime, as the company doesn't have toll-free support) and held the phone for eight minutes and 23 seconds, according to my Timeslips timeslips, which displayed my lost productivity and earnings on the screen, second by second, dollar by dollar. (Those who live by the time slip die by the time slip.) On the plus side, the technician was friendly and answered my question with ease.
Another feature that I liked, and which saved me money, was the program's ability to track expenses. I sometimes forget to charge clients for postage and copying. Because this feature is so easy to use, there is no excuse for letting nickels and dimes fall through the cracks.
By keeping accurate track of your time, a time-tracking and billing program like Timeslips enables you to better serve your clients by allowing you to prepare detailed invoices that are both informative and accurate. For workers in an extended office setting--those telecommuters who are becoming an ever-increasing part of the modern American work force--Timeslips can offer the means to track work so that they can meet their employers' desire for accurate recordkeeping.
Put time on your side. And take back all those hours that have been slipping through your fingers. You'll be surprised by how they add up.