ENDING THE TIMESHEET TIME SUCK

If you pay your agency based on billable hours, how much time do you think you spend each year arguing about scope, disputing overages and worrying about how many agency people are dialing in to a meeting? How does that compare to time spent on actual work?

The awful truth is that timesheet administration takes more time than you realize and the impact on the work product is bigger than anyone ever lets on.

Earlier in my career, I worked for a large New York agency that required me to meet with a “business analyst” each week. Her primary job was to tell me where we were spending too many hours and where we needed to cut back. Guess where we always needed to slash hours? 

CREATIVE TIME. LITERALLY, THE WORK PRODUCT OF THE AGENCY.

It became my job to limit how much time a creative team could spend on a problem. I’m ashamed to admit that I actually uttered sentences like, “We only have 34 hours left on this project, so please work quickly,” or “Only record 34 hours on your timesheet for this project.” And, I was downright depressed by how much work I saw my colleagues put in above and beyond what they were “allowed to” in an effort to bring the best possible work to our clients. 

Today, an entire hours-tracking industry has emerged, completely dedicated to supporting the billable hours model at agencies with software that provides timesheet tracking, productivity reports, under-earned/over-earned reports, etc. It’s created a belief system that agency value can be measured exclusively on spreadsheets.

But getting to a great idea is an iterative process, filled with false starts, almost-great ideas, edits and redos during the journey from brief to concept. The focus throughout has to be on pushing through to a breakthrough idea, not sticking to the budgeted hours.

THE IDEAS ARE THE WHOLE POINT OF AN AGENCY.

That’s why we only price ourselves on a project basis. It gives us more freedom to focus on the problems we’re solving, protects clients from financial surprises and fosters a better agency-client relationship.

Sure, there’s always the risk we priced it wrong but the reward is being treated as a valued partner instead of an overpriced vendor. If we invest a little time here and there, we believe it’s always time well spent.