Finding The Best Small Business and Freelance Time Tracking Tools
All month long I’m sharing the tools I love with you. From how to identify site visitors to optimizing your website, these are some of the tools I run my business with and leverage to drive growth for clients across the country. Today I’m diving into small business and freelance time tracking. For service based businesses, knowing how much time goes into the “product” and constantly optimizing your billing and utilization is critical to sustainability. Finding the right tools has been a struggle.
What does your time tracking tool need?
No matter what piece of technology you’re adding to your stack, start with understanding your requirements. When it comes to time tracking, I went into the search for the perfect tool with a few specific needs. Your needs may include some of these, and few a different ones but start with identifying your needs. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself consumed by reading lists of “the 20 best time tracking apps” and trying them all and just getting frustrated. I write from experience. So what did I need and how did I validate my tools?
In today’s technology landscape, I look first and foremost at whether or not a new piece of technology can easily integrate into the rest of my stack. Even if I can’t think of an immediate reason WHY it should connect and automate between Google drive, social media, accounting and other tools and functions, I want to know that it can, or it’s in the roadmap. If you’ve been reading any of my content, you know I’m an IFTT and Zapier fan. They’re often my litmus test. If a piece of technology has an integration with them, you’ve already unlocked a lot of potential.
Freelancer, agencies and small business moves fast. When we have a problem, an answer in real time matters. Support services that require me to submit a ticket and wait days for a response that may or may not answer my question just won’t cut it. I want a time tracking solution that offers a robust knowledge base, strong community, chat, or a phone number. All of the above is great, and a mix is fine.
In the world of Software as a Service, economies of scale are king. Look, I understand there is a cost to the building, marketing, maintaining and updating your product. But when SaaS companies don’t look at their competition and marketplace, and come up with ridiculous pricing schemes, that’s not going to work for me. When it comes to time tracking, I want a sensible cost structure that lets me scale clients, projects, and users and not create an expense line item that I even think about.
Work is complex. If only all work fit into neat little project packages. But it doesn’t. Some of the work is recurring, some of it is hourly, some of it is project based and I’m sure there are more variations to that. I want time tracking to flex to those needs in my tracking types.
Forecast & Accounting
Finally, what good is a time tracking app if it doesn’t provide some sort of analysis and accounting of the time being traced? I’d like to forecast estimated time for work types, audit against budget and see where I’m off so I can correct and constantly optimize my workflows.
With this list of requirements, let’s see which tools hit most of these, or at least some of these requirements as the top time tracking tools I recommend and tool I love to use.
Top Time Tracking Tools
Tick hit the spot when it came to trying to find a time tracking solution that could manage both projects and
recurring programs. Setting up templates for retainers and time estimates saves time during onboarding, while the project view helps with forecasting and accounting. Integrations aren’t the greatest and the accounting functionality is still light but the biggest challenge was finding a time tracker with recurring capabilities. In that category, Tick is the tool I’m currently loving. Tick bills by the number of open projects, and the templates for retainers count as projects so it can quickly jump up in cost. It’s an imperfect solution.
Prior to tick, I loved Toggl. Beautiful interface, easy to use, highly integrated, and cheap. What’s not to love? The problem was I couldn’t manage any of my recurring work in it, at least not very easily or without recreating the program every month, for every client. Major headache. No good. However, if you don’t have complex client types, Toggle could be exactly what you need.
This is a new addition. Shout out to a reader for introducing me to Time Doctor. Time Dr get’s high marks in the integrations category and has some really interesting other features like tracking how much time is getting eaten up in meetings. (LOVE THAT). One other interesting feature is built-in distraction free working. For those of us who work online, no need to have a separate app for that. Finally, it tracks app usage so you can see where you’re spending your time during the day. Mindless time tracking is a savior!
Time Tracking Apps for iPhones
The last thing I look for in adding technology to my stack is whether or not there’s a mobile app. I’m an OS shop, so everything is mac, but if you’re running PC and Android, the inverse would be true. Both Tick and Toggle have very easy to use mobile interfaces for those meetings and work on the fly.
What Time Tracking Tools Do You Use In Your Business?
Over the past couple of years, I read many of those top 20 articles I mentioned earlier. I tried a lot of the apps in them trying to find the easiest ones to get up and running and integrate into workflows. Toggl and Tick fit the best today, but I’m always interested in what tools and apps others find useful, and with the landscape changing in the blink of an eye, finding a new one to try. Leave a comment below with tools you love for time tracking.