Time, project & contact management for freelance copywriters
March 18, 2013 • Glenn Murray
I’ve been talking recently with some fellow copywriters about project management. Specifically, how we track time, jobs and contacts. Being the system-addicted geek I am, I had a few things to say on the matter. Here’s what…
Firstly, for a freelance copywriter, it’s all about time tracking. If you can’t track your time easily and accurately, there’s no way you can control it. And if you’re not controlling your time, all the best job and contact management in the world isn’t going to save you. You have only a few contacts and only a few projects you need to keep under control. If you had to, you could do that on paper. But you have thousands of minutes in every week, and if you’re anything like me, you’re constantly switching between jobs.
So my advice is to find a time-tracking tool you like, and use it as your base.
I’ve tried dozens of time tracking tools. Some are way too complex, some too simple, some too hard to use. Eventually I found Toggl, and I love it. I even pay for it! Here’s a quick overview of my favourite features…
With Toggl it’s very easy to see what you’ve been working on.
If you switch between jobs fairly frequently (and what freelance copywriter doesn’t?!), you want your time tracker to keep up. With Toggl, you can simply find a block of time you tracked earlier in the day, and click ‘Continue’ to start tracking time for it again. Toggl automatically stops tracking time for the current project, and starts tracking the previous project. You don’t have to enter anything.
Search-as-you-type to find older entries
If you need to track time on a project you know you worked on earlier in the week, but you can’t immediately see that project in your list, just type part of the client or project name, and Toggl will probably find it for you. Then you can just click to select it, then click Start to start timing.
Easy reports on Billable time
If I’m not working at least 5 billable hours a day, I know I need to pull my finger out. Toggl lets you flag projects and individual time entries as Billable. (If you set a project as Billable, all time you spend on it is automatically flagged Billable.) I check my billable hours a couple of times a day to see how I’m tracking.
In Toggl, you can set up a client, projects for that client, and tasks for each project. (I don’t use tasks.) It doesn’t do any hard-core project management stuff, but I’ve always found it fine for my copywriting projects.
Project list (easily see if you’re spending too long on a project)
Click Settings to see a list of current projects, and how much time you’ve spent on each. A handy little bar graph shows you when you’re approaching your time allocation for each project. Or when you’ve exceeded it.
For each project, you can record notes, your rate (project vs hourly), and see how many hours you’ve spent on it in the last 8 weeks.
I use Google Apps Gmail for email and contact management. It’s definitely no CRM, but it’s fine for managing contacts and conversation threads. I’d love to be able to see a ‘Projects’ link in each contact record, but it’s no biggy. I know at a glance who the person works for and what I’m doing for them, and I can easily switch to Toggl to see more detail on that project. If I forget what project the contact is associated with (e.g. I worked on their project months/years ago), a quick scan of our email threads will tell me.
I used to use ACT! (a CRM), and it allowed me to store all project-related files with the project record. This was nice, ‘cos it kept everything in one place. But it was a lot of admin overhead. These days, I simply save everything in a Jobs folder on my computer (e.g. D:JobsAppleWeb copyDraft 1.docx). Things are much simpler this way, and I work a lot quicker. (Of course, I back everything up using Carbonite.com).
What do you use?
Please leave a comment to let us all know what you use for time, project and contact management.