How to Track Time for Freelancers, Virtual Employees, and Independent Contractors

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By Rieva Lesonsky, CEO GrowBiz Media & 

If you’re like many self-employed “solopreneurs,” you aren’t really flying solo. Instead, you rely on a roster of other freelancers, independent contractors, and virtual workers to get the job done. While you can’t control what time of day an independent contractor works, sometimes you do need to know when they are working and track how many hours they’ve put in.

There are several reasons you might want to track how long, when, or even where your virtual team is working:

  • If you pay them by the hour, tracking their hours ensures you aren’t overpaying.
  • If you have contractors who bill by the hour, they need to know their billable hours to invoice accurately, and you need to know you’re not overpaying.
  • Knowing how long freelancers worked on a project helps you better estimate job costs so you can bid more accurately for similar jobs in the future.

Of course, if you ask independent contractors to use a complicated time tracking system, they may just say, “Forget it.” That’s why a time tracking tool that’s simple, easy to learn, and intuitive is essential. (And wouldn’t you prefer that, too?) Here are five things to look for when selecting a time tracker for your independent contractors.

Ease-of-use:

Busy freelancers don’t want to spend lots of time learning a new time tracking solution or inputting tons of data. Make sure the time tracking app or solution you select is intuitive — with a simple, graphical user interface — whether you use it on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Do your contractors prefer communicating via text? There are solutions for that too!

Mobile app:

Freelancers don’t always work from home. Frequently, they work from coffee shops, co-working spaces, or on the road. A mobile time tracking app that’s compatible with the Android and iPhone operating systems means your independent contractors can track time anywhere, on any type of device. Cloud-based time tracking means no matter where contractors log their hours — on their laptops, desktops, or phones — the information is always updated in real time and accurate.

GPS technology:

If you use independent contractors, such as outside sales reps, who work for you in certain places at certain times, a mobile time tracking solution with GPS technology can help. Your contractors simply log in on their smartphones, and the GPS stamps their location, allowing you to confirm they actually had that meeting with the prospect in Sioux City. Knowing they’re being tracked can help keep freelancers and contractors honest, too.

Real-time reporting:

Do you have independent contractors who work on multiple projects, or multiple contractors who work on the same project? A time tracking solution that makes it easy for contractors to track time by job or project makes your life easier, too. Look for a time tracker that lets you sort and filter contractors’ time reports by job code or project code. That way, you can see exactly how much time was spent on each project as it happens. Real-time reporting helps with job costing, so you can create more accurate estimates and prices for similar jobs in the future.

Simple invoicing:

When your time tracking solution integrates with a contractor’s invoicing software, you and your contractor save time and effort. Look for time tracking software that offers either invoicing in-product or an invoicing add-on that lets freelancers and contractors create invoices right from the time tracker. You’ll know each invoices is accurate, and when there are no questions about amounts owed, contractors get paid faster and you know your money is well spent.

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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at rieva@smallbizdaily.com, follow her on Google+  and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.