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Timesheets Don't Suck. Yours Do

(This blog post was originally posted on Medium.com in response to Rick Webb's blog post. Rick is the co-Founder of ad agency The Barbarian Group) Rick — This is a very enjoyable read, and I look forward to buying your book. With all due respect though, you make several bold, yet incorrect, statements that are based on your experiences from twenty years ago!

Technology has come a long way, and the bottom line for anyone complaining about timesheets is simple:

Timesheets don’t suck. Yours do

Technology has made the professional world more efficient and more competitive. People tasked with running businesses need operational metrics to run those businesses effectively. Presuming that executives care about shareholder value and helping grow their companies, it’s inadequate to limit profitability reporting to the client-level. Companies need to know their strengths and weaknesses to make the strategic decisions that will improve their faults. Companies will succeed by responding to their own performance analytics. They can’t fix what they don’t measure.

As margins shrink and procurement departments demand best practices, it is incumbent on the agencies to adopt tools and technologies that can improve their performance. Those who resist change will continue to see the erosion of margins, productivity and ultimately client satisfaction. In multiple blogs and speaking events, ad industry veteran Michael Farmer continues to describe how the industry is spiraling downward by not respecting important business metrics.

Manual timesheets are the problem

Anyone who has ever had to report their time will acknowledge the impossibility of being productive while also capturing their activity with accurate billing codes. The work day simply has too many interruptions to do this manually. Asking busy professionals to remember to hit start and stop buttons is ludicrous and ineffective.

As Rick writes in his upcoming book Agency: Starting a Creative Firm in the Age of Digital Marketing, billable employees learned to avoid submitting timesheets for 2–3 months. That irresponsible behavior only exacerbates the problem by undermining the accuracy of the timesheet data and therefore impeding the ability of executives to make informed strategic decisions. It also provides a false justification that timesheets are ineffective.

People are working long hours, multitasking and getting interrupted. No manual process will ever be effective, and Rick's suggestion that “At the end of the project, the producer fills out a simple one-page form” is fantasy. That suggestion only masks the problem and provides incorrect data that continues to undermine resource planning and allocations, budgeting, and ultimately profitability.

Numerous studies have highlighted that timesheet accuracy diminishes significantly when employees don’t capture their time immediately. So there’s a dilemma: Be productive or be accurate.

Technology has provided a solution

TimeTracker is gorgeous!

The good news is that the problems of late and inaccurate timesheets have been solved. TimeTracker by Openhour (www.openhour.com) is a plug-in solution that automatically captures work activity, intelligently assigns proper billing codes, and generates real-time timesheets for easy clean-up and submission to virtually any financial workflow. With a global footprint, TimeTracker is answering the global problem that Rick highlights.

Executives must implement the solution

So the truth is out: manual timesheets are ineffective and impossible to do; accurate timesheet data is critical for agency survival; and a true solution exists. Executives can no longer demand that employees do the impossible without giving them the tools to get their job done.

To suggest that “[timesheets] are an outright lie” and that electronic capture tools cannot work indicates a contempt for the process without research of the existing technology. For example, Openhour TimeTracker has empowered many agencies and creative professionals around the globe to understand their company’s metrics and improve their productivity, profitability and employee job satisfaction.

Timesheets can build a better culture

For timesheets to be effective, they must respect personal privacy first and foremost. This process must be 100% about informing peers to help them get their work done. It must not even hint of being a surveillance tool. If you cannot achieve personal privacy, stop and start again.

The process must be dead-simple…preferably automatic…and highly accurate. An effective timesheet process must allow the billable employee to adjust the timesheet before submitting it. There are simply too many scenarios where the data needs to be altered, not the least of which is the recording of personal activity, such as when employees work at home in between personal activities.

Once a tool empowers more fluid communication between departments…with less effort and tension, benefits become obvious and pervasive. Timesheets don’t kill creativity. Bad processes kill creativity. When the process gets out of the way, people perform better and the company grows.

Efficiency and productivity yield better informed client teams and enable billable employees to focus on their work (instead of timesheet admin). That’s a win-win-win that pleases employees, executives and most importantly clients.

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Mark Hirsch is the CEO and Founder of Openhour a cloud-based productivity platform focused on the professional services industry. The initial product, Time Tracker, automates the time and activity reporting process by integrating with the world’s most popular software and tools (including Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, calendars, phones, and more).

In addition to freeing up employee and management time, the result is highly accurate, data-driven insights that help individuals and organizations capture more revenue, reduce costs, streamline processes and have better visibility into their operations. Real-time data for On Demand business.

M&C Saatchi Deploys TimeTracker to Improve Profitability and Client Transparency

M&C Saatchi(New York, NY) M&C Saatchi implements CreativeWorx’s automatic time capture platform to improve financial performance, employee job satisfaction and client reporting. By solving the timesheet problems that still plague other advertising agencies, M&C Saatchi is streamlining their operations so they can focus on client work. Living their fundamental philosophy “Brutal Simplicity of Thought”, M&C Saatchi has integrated CreativeWorx TimeTracker to simplify employee timesheet preparation and submission. TimeTracker turns a painful and time-consuming process into a quick, easy process…with higher compliance and data accuracy.

“We recognize that completing timesheets accurately is a frustrating and time-consuming process,” said Rich Pacheco, Director of Finance & Operations, M&C Saatchi NY. “CreativeWorx TimeTracker solves this problem with elegant simplicity. Their automated solution provides more accurate billing data, improves resource planning, and gives our employees more time for client work.”

TimeTracker relieves billable employees from estimating their work effort by automatically capturing how they spend their time and intelligently assigning the correct billing codes. The system privately captures employees’ activity in desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite, plus browsers, calendars, phones and more. Employees no longer have to guess how they spent their time.

TimeTracker is effectively a plug-in for existing timesheet workflows and financial systems, making adoption easy. Though it can work standalone, TimeTracker was designed to integrate with systems including NetSuite, Advantage, MediaOcean, SAP, Microsoft Dynamics, Deltek/Maconomy and more.

“TimeTracker lets advertising agencies be more competitive with less effort,” said Mark Hirsch, CEO of CreativeWorx. “The automation is magical and makes the process almost trivial. Executives can finally have accurate & timely financial metrics…all while fully respecting employees’ privacy.”

Used in over 100 countries, TimeTracker has solved one of the biggest pain points for professional services organizations, including ad agencies, legal firms, government agencies, consulting firms and individual freelance contractors. Better data improves a company’s existing processes for Resource Planning, Forecasting, Client Reporting, and ensuring that ongoing projects stay on-course. In this data-driven world, companies need smarter systems to compete more effectively. TimeTracker delivers.

About M&C Saatchi M&C Saatchi Group consists of specialist agencies in advertising, customer communications, mobile, PR, research & insight, social marketing and sponsorship. For more information on M&C Saatchi, please visit http://www.mcsaatchi.com/

About CreativeWorx CreativeWorx is a software company whose unique data-mining platform automatically helps companies improve productivity and helps people get more from their lives. Focusing initially on the professional services industries, notably advertising agencies, CreativeWorx has solved the challenges of timesheet compliance and accuracy. CreativeWorx is based in New York, NY and is privately funded. For more information on CreativeWorx, please visit http://www.creativeworx.com or follow us at @CreativeWorxCo

26 Tools To Increase Productivity Within Creative Teams:

26 Tools To Increase The Productivity Within Creative Teams

As if running an agency wasn’t difficult enough, figuring out how to increase the efficiency within your creative marketing teams is a seemingly impossible task. There’s a new tool sprouting up every day that claims to improve your team’s performance in a key functional area and a never-ending list of resources

While there’s a lot of great resources on improving the agility of marketing teams and tools to help grow your business, there’s even more noise out there, which is why we created this list of tools to increase the productivity within creative marketing teams.

COLLABORATION: The underlying, core component of any successful team is the ability to collaborate seamlessly. Having your team work asynchronously anywhere, anytime far outweighs the cost and behavioral changes any of these products may require.

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Asana: Asana, co-founded by Dustin Moskovitz, is an incredibly powerful project management tool that allows teams to monitor each individual's current and completed tasks without relying on inefficient meetings, calls or emails.

ProofHQ: A common theme among marketing teams and agencies is the constant back and forth while reviewing content that ends up in long email threads or meetings. ProofHQ allows teams to review and approve content in one centralized platform.

TIME TRACKING: We all want to be more productive, but in an agency environment where time is money, productivity is everything. Time tracking and measuring how much real work you accomplish is the only non-biased way agencies can execute more efficiently and properly charge clients.

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TimeTracker: We acknowledge our bias here, but CreativeWorx TimeTracker is honestly the best time tracking solution on the market. Rather than manually inputting the time you’ve spent working on each project, TimeTracker records this as you work and figures out the proper billing code, even when you switch between apps, documents and meetings. There’s no need to hit record or stop, and if you decide to mix in some personal events during work-time, you can delete those events without anyone ever knowing.

RescueTime: If you’re like most of us, we can (at times) become distracted by the internet and then wonder where our time went. RescueTime is a personal tracker that sits in the background and collects data on what we do, indicating where we’re being distracted. A great way to look for improvements in our personal and work lives.

CONTENT: Investing in quality content and content amplification is a phenomenal marketing strategy that more and more companies are looking towards. The problem is, it’s a long-term play and it requires really great content over a consistent period to pay off in dividends, which is why these marketplaces and tools are worth looking into.

scriptedScripted - Scripted is a marketplace of vetted writers for hire. Based on specific details, you can find quality writers with specific expertise to help your business grow through content while managing everything via a dashboard where you can review, edit and approve content.

WritersAccess - If you’re looking to source writers based on quality and length of post, WritersAccess has a superb platform for doing so. They qualify writers based on their skill-set and then price their work accordingly.

SumoMe - SumoMe is every blogger and content marketers’ dream; it’s a free suite of tools that help you grow your audience by increasing social shares, email subscribers, heatmap tracking and more.

ANALYTICS: The oft-cited Peter Drucker cliche “what gets measured, gets managed” is as true as ever in marketing departments nowadays. Properly installed and closely monitored analytics systems is incredibly crucial to the success of any marketing team, making it worth its own category of tools.

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KISSMetrics: SaaS, Mobile and Ecommerce companies can benefit greatly from having an analytics platform such as KISSMetrics in their marketing mix. Chances are you’re already using Google Analytics to measure traffic, goals and conversions, which is great, but it only shows you numbers at a macro-level. KISSMetrics goes several layers deeper and allows to to track specific people rather than just tracking overall numbers.

Chartbeat: Chartbeat, a BetaWorks product, is the premiere real-time analytics solution for digital media companies.  It allows you to monitor across engagement rates, traffic sources, and social. Just as measuring these sources is important internally, it also allows you to track key metrics so you can leverage these insights while selling ad inventory.

Mixpanel: Mixpanel provides an amazing solution for mobile-first and web companies alike. Measuring beyond traffic and click-throughs, Mixpanel allows you to setup and track funnels from initial visit to completed conversion, all while being able to segment visitors and track specific people.

Heap: Unlike other analytics platforms, Heap Analytics doesn’t require any code at all required to fully implement, which is highly attractive to non-tech companies and companies that want to keep their tech team focused on current priorities. Beyond implementation, setting up events & goals is just as easy as a drag-and-drop tool. Heap is a very, very user-friendly tool that provides insights into traffic and funnel analysis.

CONVERSION OPTIMIZATION: If you run a web or mobile-based business, or even simply have a website, conversion optimization should always be considered to improve your messaging.

optimizely_logo

Optimizely: Running A/B tests is difficult because it normally requires engineering resources to be pulled away from their core duties to help run tests that may or may not work to better optimize a site or product. That being said, Optimizely allows for (mostly) non-tech based people to run and track A/B tests at ease, without having to bring your engineering buddies over every day to to make sure tests are properly set up.

Qualaroo: While setting up and tracking A/B tests used to be the most challenging aspect of running conversion optimization initiatives before softwares such as Optimizely came around, now the attention has turned to what tests should be run and why? While gathering data-driven details is extremely important, talking to your customers should not be forgotten. Qualaroo allows you to insert a non-obtrusive side popup asking site and mobile visitors questions that help direct future conversion tests and messaging.

UserTesting: Sometimes the the biggest problems are the least obvious to you and your team members, but extremely obvious to your customers. UserTesting allows you to pay people from your demographic to record their observations of your site in a video, helping you visualize where customers see bottlenecks and how they navigate the site.

EMAIL: Email has been, and remains to be, one of the core marketing channels for almost every company doing any kind of web marketing at all. While it’s been around since the early days of the web, its capabilities have evolved immensely.

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MailChimp: If you’re looking for a simple, clean and elegant email solution, MC is about as close as you’ll get. It’s free to get started and plans scale as your business grows. In addition to their core email management offering, MailChimp has a number of other products focused on helping you send better email.

Litmus: Before you send off a massive email campaign without testing how it will appear across browsers and devices, take a test run with Litmus, which allows you to test just that, including scanning emails to make sure they’ll end up in your readers’ inboxes rather than their spam boxes.

Intercom: Finding the right time and right message to send to your users is incredibly challenging. Thankfully, Intercom allows for targeted messaging by showing you in real-time who’s using your product and how. This takes an incredibly time-consuming task that’s nearly impossible to measure and turns it into an easily leverageable asset that benefits you and your customers.

Vero: Vero allows companies to send behavioral, trigger-based emails based on your customers’ and visitors’ actions. Whether it’s by sending helpful integration and education emails to your prospective customers before they integrate your solutions, or sending tips on how to get the most of your product once they’ve already become customers, Vero takes out the difficult communication and educational component so many companies have while onboarding new users and improving existing ones.

Sendwithus: Transactional emails are just as important as email marketing campaigns, so being able to A/B test and manage these emails is often an overlooked branding and marketing opportunity. Sendwithus makes this process so easy that it would be crazy to not optimize your transactional emails due to lack of bandwidth.

 

SPONSORSHIP: Sponsoring celebrities and micro-influencers can be an extremely effective form of advertising, but the main problem this presents is the time-consuming nature of finding willing influencers and then negotiating deals. However, there are several marketplaces and tools that streamline this process for both sides, allowing for sponsorships at scale.

famebit200 Famebit: Famebit is a marketplace that connects YouTube influencers with brands. Its platform allows for seamless pricing and sponsorship options, taking away the pain of sourcing and negotiating with several influencers.

Izea: Izea is a social sponsorship marketplace that enables brands to connect with bloggers and social media influencers to sponsor content.

Promoted: Created and operated by the team at BuySellAds, Promoted allows everyone from bloggers to large media companies to create contextualized promoted posts that are optimized for the reader, published and advertiser because it’s a sponsored piece that acts like a normal post.

Sumpto: If you’re looking to reach millennials, Sumpto connects brands with college students who’ve built up social clout to promote brands in exchange for goods and products.

 

BRAND MANAGEMENT: Building a brand is still the most important feat any marketer can accomplish. That being said, maintaining your brand image is just as crucial, and these tools help marketers do just that.

Xink - Email has been around since the early days on the internet, but the email signature still seems to be overlooked by companies looking for additional branding opportunities. Xink allows you to manage and track email signatures throughout your company, creating a consistent brand image and an additional marketing channel.

Mention: Ever wonder what your customers really think? Mention allows you to monitor social media for your brand to react quickly and engage with people chatting about you in real-time.

SproutSocial - Running social media accounts for one company is a challenge in itself, but when you’re agency managing several different clients’ social accounts, things only become more chaotic. SproutSocial allows you to manage and monitor brand mentions across all social platforms on one dashboard.

Takeaway

Improving productivity within agencies is absolutely critical; clients have demanding timelines and high expectations, and your ability to execute hinges on your productivity level. So, while there will always be work to be done, implementing tools into your day that make you more efficient is a major cost saver in the short and long run.

As an agency, your biggest asset is your team, so even making small, incremental improvements can drive better results for your clients while improving your bottom line.

What other tools do you rely on to increase productivity within your creative team?

 

TimeTracker Feature: "Project Nicknames"

FEATURE 4: PERSONAL PROJECT NICKNAMESHave you ever found yourself staring at a list of project names and billing codes, trying to determine which one is valid...despite having used that same code for weeks?!! Well, you're not alone. It's a common occurrence, but it doesn't have to be that way!

We've heard you loud and clear on this issue, and we're thrilled to announce TimeTracker Nicknames.

Nicknames are a simple concept: You provide alternative names that replace your project names in the TimeTracker interface. The original names are not lost, they're simply replaced in the user interface. However, your real-time searches are automatically processed against both the company name and your personal nickname.

Nicknames

Defining your Project Nicknames is an easy task. Simply click the Edit Project icon and then click the pencil to edit the Project. When the window appears, you'll find a field for Personal Nickname. Enter the desired personal nickname and hit Save. That's It! (You may need to "refresh" your project lists from the Creative Suite extension and the TimeTracker Desktop application.)

Go enjoy it!