Time tracking software is painful. Not only for those of us doing timesheets but also as project managers, trying to manage project budgets and getting our teams to track their time accurately. Not only can time tracking tools be painful, they can be expensive too. In this article, we’re on the hunt for the best free, or nearly free time tracking software. Most importantly though we’re looking for the best in class time tracking software – tools so good and easy to use, that people want to submit their timesheets. Just imagine that!
Time tracking software – why is it important?
Time tracking software and expense tracking software is no one’s idea of a party, but it’s a necessary evil in the digital agency world, for professional services and consulting when you’re charging time and materials or billing by the hour and you need to track budget burn. Likewise, invoicing is not fun, but it’s necessary and requires accurate timesheet detail to function.
Fundamentally, there’s budget and financial tracking information that’s needed to keep a business alive; we need to know the project budget essentials:
- Are we above / below the project budget?
- Are we tracking to hit the budget?
- How much should be invoiced to the client?
- How profitable is the project / job / client?
Accurate timesheet reporting is also important to us as project managers so we can give proper analogous estimates based on past project performance. In order to estimate properly, we need to be able to look back at timesheet data, in the time tracking software and gauge how much should be charged for the next project. We need reliable, accurate time reporting data and people to use time tracking software properly.
Unless you’ve got no interest in the effort it takes to deliver your project, and the profitability of your projects then there’s no avoiding the pain of timesheets, time tracking software and hours reporting.
The problem is, if the time tracking software you’re using is more than a bit fugly and a pain to use, then no one wants to use it, and the data you get from it can be almost useless.
But does time tracking and reporting need to be painful? Surely there must be some hot time tracking software tools out there, right?
The best time tracking software?
As a given, the best time tracking software needs to be able to handle large teams, lots of clients and many projects simultaneously. But beyond a product that works well at capturing time, we need to think about what happens with that time-tracked information; how does it start as an estimate, how is it tracked, and once tracked, how is it then invoiced?
In choosing the best time tracking tool, it’s worth thinking through your agency or studio workflow, and think about the end to end experience – from the person creating the estimate to the person doing the work, to the person invoicing it; how does it all fit together?
- Will people actually use it? The software needs to look pretty and be really easy to use.
- Integrate time tracking easily with projects and tasks? It needs to link to a source of truth of clients, projects and tasks.
- Integrate with estimates and tracking? It should easily create a project estimate or quote, and then be able to track estimate vs actuals with visual reporting and analytics.
- Integrate well with invoicing? It has to be easy to then turn project reports and actuals into estimates to send to clients.
- Integrate well with 3rd party applications? Particularly useful is the ability to integrate with accounting software like Quickbooks or Xero.
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