Now that I’m on my own and watching where every penny is going twice as close as I did before, I started noticing a disturbing trend. I’ve been working almost 70 hours a week, not getting as much work done as I should, and not billing anywhere near those 70 hours. Something just wasn’t adding up and I realized this had actually been going on for several months ever since I had dropped a fairly big client who was having money problems, and in place of this client brought on nine new clients sending me weekly ongoing work. I must have been in a very thick fog from the impact of my rocky home situation (which is actually my work situation too since I work from home) because it had gone on far too long.
Anyways, I told myself something had to give or I was going to die from staying up all night several nights a week trying to get my work done or from hunger, because I wasn’t bringing in enough to keep my new household going. So I started using a timer for every single thing I did during the workday and writing the time and details down. After several days, it was glaringly obvious where all my time and money was going. Care to take a guess? If you get it right let me know, because I totally never would have believed this myself.
The culprit was innocent enough—client calls and emails. I was completely amazed at the amount of time I was spending weekly with each client and not charging a dime for it, not one darn cent. One big client alone was responsible for 15 calls totaling 3.25 hours and there were 68 emails between us which I was taking an average of 5 minutes opening, reading, thinking over, then 5 minutes responding—at 5 minute increments it adds up to over 5 ½ hours! So I found in one week, I had spent almost 9 hours handling business I wasn’t charging for for a single client! Some of the projects I work on are pretty involved and take a lot of back and forth while others are more straightforward and don’t require more than the minimum emails and phone calls a week, but it still adds up to at least two hours per client for the more “normal” eight clients and well, the ninth obviously requires a lot of communication. I discovered after one week, averaged out over nine clients, I had spent no less than 25 hours on just client emails and calls alone, not to mention the mental exhaustion of being interrupted so many times a day and how much time it cost me to regain my concentration.
So now I fully understand why attorneys keep a minute to minute bill on every client. It isn’t petty or nickel and diming clients in the least (unless they are charging for things that you shouldn’t be paying for); it is just good business. I let all my clients know I am now charging for phone and email time for any hourly work I do, and for the fixed priced projects, I am working in the cost ahead of time. 25 hours of phone and emails a week may seem excessive to you, depending on what business you’re in, but in mine, constant communication can make each project successful.
So maybe your problem isn’t email or phone calls; maybe the big black void that is sucking up your precious time and money could be meeting clients in person for long lunches weekly, or if you work strictly online all day, maybe you are spending countless hours partaking in social media such as Facebook and Twitter to help your client’s business. Or maybe in your research for your specific task at hand you spend a bunch of time reading online reading blogs. It doesn’t matter the activity…if you aren’t billing those hours, you are paying for them in more ways than one. Lastly, maybe you are spending your time on completely non work related activities (chatting with friends, “friending” people on facebook, the list goes on). Even if these tasks are not something you should be billing for, you still need to realize where your time is being drained away so that you can reorganize yourself and start working more efficiently.
Take the Nickel and Dime Challenge
I challenge you to one week of timing yourself and writing down how you are spending the time you should be working and getting paid for it. Have a phone call from a client or a friend? Time it and write it down (I used my phone timer for this and tallied every call up at the end of the week). Hop on Facebook to check messages? Write it down. Don’t leave out any activity.
If you have your own business, this test will help you tremendously and start making you more money. If you work for someone else, it will show you why you aren’t being as productive as you should be or why it is taking you so long to get tasks completed. Either way, you’ll win. You either become super productive at work, knowing where your time needs to be spent and finally get noticed and get that long awaited promotion, or if you work for yourself, you start making a ton more money and stop checking email every five minutes. It’s a win-win.
Let me know after you’ve completed your week and if you are brave enough (yes I’m a bit of a voyeur), send me your time list, so I can see for myself where your time went and how much it cost you. I won’t share your information with anyone, I promise! And also be sure to comment here so the rest of us can learn from your experience.
This challenge is for everyone. You may think, if you are hyper organized and super efficient, that this exercise doesn’t apply to you—but listen up, you may have a hidden money and time waster yourself—and it might actually be all those lists and spreadsheets you’re making to stay so organized and efficient! I look forward to hearing your experiences….