Time Tracking Apps: Which Is Best for You?

Do you bill your clients by the hour? If so, providing accurate, detailed invoices should be considered a critical part of your customer service strategy; and is essential for the long-term success of your business.

If you’ve shopped around for a time tracking solution, you’ve undoubtedly discovered a nearly endless array of options, from online timesheets and calendar-based tools to timers, browser add-ons and downloadable software. Which is right for you?

Choosing a time tracking app doesn’t have to be a headache, and what works best for you won’t necessarily be what works best for the next guy. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a time tracking app for your business.

Timer or Timesheet?

Most time tracking tools, software and web-based apps alike, fall into one of two categories: 1) tools that require you to log your time after you’ve finished working, and 2) tools designed to keep track of your time as you work.

Although it may not seem as intuitive as a timesheet, there are some pretty compelling reasons to choose a timer-based time tracking tool. First, real-time tracking tools are faster and more convenient to use. Rather than creating several project entries at the end of the day, you simply start and stop your project timers as you work.

Next, timer-based apps give you more accurate data. Because timesheets and calendar-based tools rely on your memory, they’re inherently error-prone. When you use timers, you log your time as you go, not at the end of the day (or week), when you’re likely to forget.

Real-time data also allows you to make smarter, more informed business decisions. As you track your hours over time, you gather valuable intelligence that will enable you to better plan for future projects and provide potential clients with more accurate, more detailed estimates. And capturing billable hours in real time allows you to better serve your existing clients, enabling you to answer critical budget questions on the fly and more closely monitor project status.

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What Do You Really Need?

Many apps combine time tracking with other functionality like project management or invoicing. Presumably, if you’ve been in business for a while, you have an invoicing system that’s working for you, so there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel.

Apps that combine time tracking with invoicing often box users in to a specific invoice format or content. While this may work for someone new to business ownership, it can be confusing for your customers and a major accounting hassle to switch gears mid-stream. If you’re happy with your existing invoicing system, look for a time tracking app that allows you to generate custom reports that can easily be imported into the tool you already have.

Likewise, beware of apps that combine time tracking with project management as well as time tracking add-ons for project management systems. If time tracking functionality is an afterthought, it is likely to be either poorly integrated or overly simplistic, which may mean less valuable data.

Bear in mind that if you choose a multi-faceted time tracking tool, you’re going to pay for the extra functionality. Take care to invest only in those features you expect to use regularly.

How Much Are You Willing to Spend?

Price will be, of course, an important consideration when choosing any kind of tool to help you run your business. Web-based time tracking apps vary widely in terms of cost. While there are a few no-cost options available, others will run you as much as $12 and up per user, per month. As you review various time tracking solutions, bear in mind that the most expensive product isn’t necessarily the best.

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On the flip side, “free” tools often come with hidden costs or simply don’t offer the functionality you need.

Many of the most popular time tracking tools are designed for teams, not solopreneurs. While some offer low-cost subscription packages for very small teams or single users, those packages often include only scaled-back functionality (e.g., no reporting capability, no exports, or limited clients and projects).

Be sure that, as a single user, you will have access to the app’s full feature set for a reasonable subscription rate. Because most time tracking apps offer a no-cost trial period, so take some time to evaluate each of your options carefully to ensure that you’ll be getting the most for your investment.

Will You Use It?

Even the best time tracking app won’t do you any good if you don’t use it consistently. If you find it cumbersome, confusing or time-consuming to track your hours, you simply won’t do it. Timer-based apps, in general, come out ahead of timesheets in terms of usability, but it shouldn’t take more than one or two clicks to start, stop and switch between projects. As you consider your options, look for the app that is most intuitive, easiest to use, and best complements your work style.

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