By Kelly Drill

Accurately tracking your team’s time by project and task is important whether you bill your clients by the hour or not. A close analysis of time tracking data can reveal opportunities to eliminate redundancy, streamline time-consuming tasks and re-allocate resources, all of which could help you to reduce your overhead and better serve your customers. If you do bill by the hour, reliable time tracking data ensures that you’re able to generate accurate invoices for your clients.

If you’re making the switch from a paper or spreadsheet-based time tracking system, you’ll find that the Internet boasts a wide range of desktop and cloud-based time tracking apps to choose from. Here are just a few things to consider as you review your options.

How Does It Work?

In terms of its operation, a time tracking app will generally fall into one of two categories: timer-based systems and electronic timesheets. While a timesheet is certainly better than nothing, there are a couple of compelling reasons to consider a system that captures hours worked in real time.

First, timer-based systems are more efficient to use. Rather than spending 15 minutes at the end of the day reconstructing their activities by memory, team members track their time as they work. Second, timer-based apps provide you with real-time data. This means that you can more closely monitor project budgets and status, and make on-the-fly adjustments when needed. You’ll also find that you’re better equipped to answer clients’ questions as they arise, which helps to build trust and loyalty.

Will Your Team Use It?

Even the most powerful time tracking tool can’t do its job if your team members don’t use it consistently. For that reason, it’s critical to find an application that is simple to use and complements — rather than conflicts with — your employees’ workflow. A cloud-based app that runs in a browser is a good choice so long as timers continue to run if the browser window is inadvertently closed. And because time is money, be sure it only takes a couple of clicks to start, stop and switch between projects.

In order to be effective, a time tracking app must be easier to use than the system it’s replacing, so take the time up front to find the fastest, most intuitive solution for your team.

Can You Afford It?

If you’ve researched time tracking apps, you’ve probably found that some of the most popular tools are cost-prohibitive for small businesses. But don’t be dissuaded from making the switch. As demand for cloud-based time tracking solutions has increased, a number of smaller app developers have entered the market, offering simple tools designed specifically for small to mid-sized teams. While still offered as a monthly service, these apps are generally quite affordable – in some cases, even free. If you look beyond the big-name apps, you’ll undoubtedly find something that will work with your business model as well as your budget.

You can also save money by passing on apps that offer functionality you won’t use – like invoicing or project management. If you’ve been in business for a while, there’s a good chance you already have these systems in place. Rather than investing in an expensive all-in-one service, opt instead for a streamlined tool that will integrate seamlessly with your current business systems. Specifically, look for a tool that will allow you to export the data you need for invoicing and payroll.

The Bottom Line

Not every time tracking app is the right fit for every small business, so do your homework before taking the plunge. Since most web-based apps offer a free trial period, spend some time getting to know each of your options, and consider recruiting an employee (or several) to take each for a test drive. You’ll be rewarded for your diligence with a tool that will streamline your accounting processes, improve your customer service, and help you make smarter, more informed business decisions.

My time tracking tool of choice is Hours Tracking. What’s yours?

Image credit: pdsimao

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