What makes an attorney, a public accountant, an agency designer and a freelance writer all cringe?Billable hours with 15-minute increments!
Keeping track of billable time is a mundane task that every freelance professional must complete because customers demand accountability. Self-employed professionals get paid for his or her time spent on billable client activities and must keep detailed records. Client invoices are then constructed from billable hours which then become the basis of a service professional’s earned income and profitability.
While the process seems quite simple, professionals soon discover keeping track of billable time is a part-time job in and of itself.
Service professionals are not unlike every other worker, they have bills to pay and ends to meet. A professional’s time is finite and can only be filled with so many activities. The difference between a freelancer’s billed income and business expenses equals her or his profitability. The goal is increasing billable income while decreasing business expenses. So here are a few ways professionals can impact billable hour profitability:
- Freelance professionals who invest in technology will achieve the greatest billable hour profitability. Weather, family commitments, and daily commutes all provide unforeseen lost time. The ability to complete billable client hours outside of a static office environment allows profitability to skyrocket.
- Outsource or hire an employee to complete non-billable tasks. While hiring a person, either directly or through an agency, potentially allows the freelancer to bill more hours, becoming an employer is not always pleasant. Professionals may find themselves dealing with a new set of mundane tasks like human resources and payroll.
- Delegating non-billable tasks to support staff is also costly and detracts from the professional’s goal of decreasing business expenses. The freelancer must decide if the increase of billable hours outweighs the cost of hiring. If it does not, the freelancer has become less profitable with his or her decision to hire.
- A freelancer can physically increase daily hours available for work or even add a day to her or his work week. More hours available to work equals more hours available to bill for client activities. The consequences of physically working more include increased stress level due to less free time and increased relationship problems with loved ones.
- A professional must stay on task. Efficiency requires professionals to accomplish a specified job in the least amount of time. A professional can hypothetically work 24/7 but if he or she plays solitaire on the computer for 50% of that work time, there will be zero positive effect on earned income.
While the demands of running a professional freelance business are great, reducing the time spent on non-billable tasks will increase profitability and allow freelancers to focus on other billable tasks. One of the largest allies freelancers have today is technology. Software and digital applications allow professionals to become mobile but also to automate processes, decrease daily distractions and increase business development efforts. The results of increased efficiency coupled with increased profitability will lead to long-term freelance growth and work/life balance.