We're Lucky If We Get Timesheets Once A Month


Do you remember what you did on February 3rd? How about the 12th, or how about last Friday?

Neither do I.

So imagine my surprise when a client tells me they’re lucky to get timesheets once a month. Yeah, lucky. Well, they have to get timesheets monthly because they have to bill the client.

Wow waiting for timesheets so you can get your billing done.

Your staff is holding your income hostage. And their paychecks for that matter – but they don’t think of that.

And when they finally get around to entering their time days or weeks later, chances are it’s inaccurate. Actually, it is inaccurate.

To recreate what they did all those days, (and to further their own pain) your staff is probably going back through email and files they worked on (if they even care that much), to get, what they think, is an accurate read on what they accomplished, and what they feel is a giant-pain-the-ass done. . . for you.

No wonder they hate to do timesheets. Everyone is making it harder than it is.

So let me tell you a story: I worked for an agency with about 250 employees in five offices. We installed new software that was pretty easy to use. Entering time consisted of clicking on an icon and entering the number of hours worked. Clients and job numbers already there. Just click.

Then the partners did something magic. They required daily timesheets.

Then they did something else, they locked-out anyone who hit day-five without completed timesheets.

No prisoners. Compliance in five days.

There were still a couple laggards who got locked-out regularly, but they did get their timesheets done.

I’ve talked to agencies that reward (!) employees for keeping their timesheets up to date. Bonuses for doing a fundamental part of their job.

But I guess, whatever it takes, punitive measures or a bonus for doing your job; timesheets are the way an agency can tell how much time it actually takes to do a job. That translates to estimating accurately, billing a client properly, and in the end, making just a little more than you spend.

If you have agency management software, chances are it’s really easy to input time. If it isn’t, maybe it’s time to ask your software provider to help you out. Most write programs that make it a cinch to enter time – from anywhere – like an iPhone, or Android.

Then there are really no excuses. 

Expectations in Creative

I used to work in creative. I was a designer, technical illustrator, and in the olden days a paste-up artist.

I made that switch from a drawing board to a Mac. It changed everything.

I didn’t have to spec and order type, size and order color separations, do imposition guides – you know, all that prehistoric stuff we had to plan. Before we executed anything.

With the speed of a keystroke, I could change the parameters of type, re-size images, impose in the file. Pretty much could do my planning as I was doing my work.

Expectations changed radically. Especially from those who didn't do the work. Like your VP of Marketing, or your client.

“It’s on the computer; it’s just a quick change…”

That dazzling piece of technology has made you a slave to lack of planning, and expectations that are somewhere beyond reality. But you work to meet them anyway.

Because someone committed you to those expectations.

You see how those expectations make it from the client, right on through past account and directly to creative?

I know you’ve been there.

I have a special place in my heart for creatives. I am awestruck by great copy; a great headline. I hung up my t-square long ago because I had the privilege to work with designers/art directors/creative directors who have blown me away with things I never imagined. And they did it so effortlessly.

So, about expectations…

Creative folks, you deserve to receive a comprehensive brief; to be a part of developing that brief and defending that brief. So that when it comes time to execute, you actually recognize it.

You also deserve to get clear documentation with expectations defined – scope, timeline, budget.

What is expected of you is this: stick to the plan; immediately notify your AE and PM if there are any issues with scope, timeline or budget. And come to an agreement on any deviation before proceeding.

I expect you to defend your work, and know when to give-in when the client plays Creative Director. Because knowing when to cut your losses and take the paycheck leaves you time to do wonderful work for those who really recognize your talent.

I expect you to provide updates without prompting – so we can keep the work moving.

I expect you to post any time you work on any projectto the correct project number.

I also expect to know if you’ll be out of the office: for offsite work, vacation days, illness, coffee, or that pint of Bagdad Ale if you leave at 3pm on Friday (because a client will always call at 3:15 with an emergency).

I expect you to do your timesheets. Every day.

I know that last item is the thing you hate most, but it is the one thing that tells us – with more simplicity than any other piece of ‘technology’ – how expectations are being met in the agency.

do your timesheets

Time = Money. Who wants to read this? No one, I’m sure. That’s because no one likes to do timesheets.

Let me tell you why you should care. Because you want to make money. Money keeps the agency open – and sharing it makes everyone happy to be there.

One of the ways to make money is to know who is spending it and what they’re spending it on. That comes down to ‘billable hours’ and tracking those hours. Accurately.

Professionals track time. Lawyers do, doctors do (yep, short or long office visits bill differently), and your plumber starts tracking time when he leaves his last job to come to your house and fix your leaky faucet. You are a professional and you should be paid for what you put into a project.

Require all your creative, account and production staff to do timesheets. Every day. No exceptions. I would have partners track time as well - because their time is valuable.

To make that process easy for accounting, and reduce whining from staff, get a centralized system for entering time. There are a lot of terrific systems out there, easy to access, and they pull everything together. Let me know if you need help.

A few suggestions:

-          Every job should have a job number (understanding how different projects accrue time is enlightening)
-          Every time an employee touches a job, they should post time to the job
-          All time must be accurate – not what is estimated, not eight hours because that’s all you ‘work’ in a day – what you actually put in on that job
-          Time entered – at the very least – before staff leaves for the day (it’s even better if they track it as they go
-          Commitment from management to not fold to whining

So you've been profitable? Profits hide a multitude of sins. It’s all great until one day – you’re not profitable and you don’t know why.

Tracking time will give you the foundation to see how many hours are spent on different types of projects, which clients require more hours, and individuals who spend an inordinate amount of time without good reason. (This reveals issues ranging from lack of training to poorly-managed clients.)

Your clients are fee? Is that fee covering the actual hours you’re putting in on that client? Are you over-servicing? Are your clients asking for more value? Or perhaps a reduction in fee? Showing them how much you have put into their projects provides solid evidence when you’re in a review.

Starting the New Year, make the big decision to get ahead. Track time, and then compare it to your estimates.

Oh, you don’t do estimates? You should. We’ll talk about that later.