Whether you’re currently a consultant or aspire to be one, if you want to make more money and achieve greater fulfillment doing it, I strongly advise that you record your work; specifically, what you’re doing and how long it takes you.
In fact, you should record your work regardless of what type of career path you’ve chosen, consulting or non-consulting. The benefits are too great to pass up. I’ll share a few examples in a moment.
“What if I’m not charging my clients by the hour?“
Since I began consulting in 2008, my clients have paid me:
- on an hourly basis,
- on a project basis,
- with equity,
- with a % of sales,
- and combinations thereof.
In every case, I was being paid for my time. It’s no different for you. Even if you are explicitly being paid to produce a particular outcome, you are still being paid for your time for the simple reason that achieving said outcome requires an investment of it. All the more reason to document how it happens.
How I record my work
My process is pretty simple, maybe even old-school. When I begin working on a project, I start Google stopwatch. If I stop for any reason, I stop the watch. When I’m done working on that project for the day, I record my time (down to the minute) along with a description of the task(s) that I performed in a Google doc that serves as my work log. When the project is complete, I tally up my daily entries to arrive at my time to completion, or TTC.
My task descriptions aren’t anything major. I provide just enough detail so that I’m not scratching my head wondering what the heck I was doing if I look back on that entry down the road.
The benefits of recording your work
1. You’ll become better at preparing quotes.
This one may seem pretty obvious, but let’s unpack it a bit.
If a client is aware of your hourly fee and they say, “I want 1 hour of your advice,” there’s no ambiguity about the TTC. Therefore, no quote is required. (Though I always advise that both parties agree on the scope of the discussion before proceeding. Also, you can propose that the client pay you for more time, if you’re confident it will give them a greater return on their investment.)
Now, let’s say that the client is instead paying you on a project basis. In this case, a quote is necessary. While every project is different, you should be able to estimate that it will take from X to Y hours to complete. That’s your estimated TTC. If you’ve made a habit of recording your time, this won’t be a problem. The sooner you begin, the better prepared you’ll be.
Example: If your hourly fee is $200 and your estimated TTC is 6 to 10 hours, your fee should be $1200 to $2000. Choose a figure within this range and this becomes your quote. (Whether or not the client actually accepts it is another matter.)
As you record your work, you’ll get better at estimating your TTC, though there will always be surprises. I’ve personally found that I’m more likely to underestimate my time requirements, and therefore undercharge my clients, than the opposite.
2. You’ll discover where you add the most value and achieve the most fulfillment.
Recording your work allows you to see it in high definition. Not only will you get better at estimating your TTC, but it will also become increasingly apparent where you add the most value. Your “specialties” will become clearer, as will the tasks that you find most fulfilling. (With any luck, they’ll be one and the same.)
You may see that some tasks are a lot more time-consuming (if not also soul-wrenching) than you assumed. This may require an adjustment to your fees, or in some cases, avoiding a task altogether so you can focus on something for which your skills are better suited.
As a brand and product development consultant, I get asked to do a lot of things. This isn’t surprising, as there are a lot of steps involved in bringing a brand or product to life. If I think my client is going to get a better ROI by hiring someone else to do a particular task, I won’t hesitate to tell them, even if it means forgoing working with them entirely. Honesty is good for business.
For instance, I’ll generally pass on writing articles, especially of the long-form kind (e.g. over 1000 words). I’ll advise my client to hire a writer instead. Even if they hire me to direct and/or edit the writer’s work (e.g. to ensure that they hit key brand/product talking points), it can cost them quite a bit less.
3. It will help you avoid costly time sinks.
A time sink is a project that consumes a lot more time –sometimes a whole lot more– than you anticipated. (Quicksand may be a better metaphor.) Besides being a good test of your character, time sinks push down your average pay rate. That’s the wrong direction.
Example: A client agrees to pay you $10,000 to complete a project, a fee that you based on a maximum estimated TTC of 40 hours. Instead, it ends up taking you 80 hours. (It can happen.) Let’s also assume that you and the client agreed that $10,000 is a “not-to-exceed” value, meaning that you must eat the difference. (This is almost always the case, in my experience).
You can never avoid time sinks completely, but as you get better at estimating your TTC, your risk of falling into one will drop greatly.
This reminds me of working with startups. Startups will often approach me about helping them get their brand off the ground. Because I’ve been recording my work for so long, I know that “get it off the ground” can translate into many tasks and hundreds of hours. Time sink central. Therefore, if it’s clear to me that their budget can’t accommodate my fees, I’ll typically pass on the project completely. Alternatively, I might parse out one or more tasks (e.g. strictly providing guidance on X, Y or Z) where I can add value with a smaller time investment.
4. You’ll be able to increase your pay rate faster.
This benefit applies whether or not you plan on becoming a consultant.
If you don’t record your work, it can be surprisingly easy to forget even the larger projects you’ve tackled, let alone how many hours or minutes each one took. On the other hand, if you’re diligent about it, the payoff can be quite substantial.
When I as in my last “corporate” position from 2005-2007, I began writing down everything I did. (I’m not sure what prompted me to do so. It might have been the many years spent recording my workouts.) When I had my first performance review, which I had audacity to request be scheduled way ahead of time, I came armed with a PowerPoint presentation showing how my time was being utilized. I explained to my boss how many full-time jobs I was saving the company from having to fill. I even provided an estimate of the impact that my efforts were having on sales revenues. That presentation, made possible because I made the decision to record my work, allowed me to get the biggest raise (well into 5 figures) in the company’s history.
Buzz kill: As a consultant, you don’t get raises unless you award them to yourself. If you record your work, on the other hand, you can look back at your work log at any time and see all the things you’ve done, reflect on what you’ve learned, and use these insights to market yourself more attractively to the next client. Over time, this yields higher fees.
5. You’ll be able to create a killer resume.
For all of the above reasons, recording your work means you’ll also be able build a superior resume. This, too, applies to consultants and non-consultants.
Importantly, whenever possible, you should document the impact that your work has had on your client’s business in numerical –especially, financial– terms, e.g. sales, profit and other metrics that are more likely to move the emotional needle of future clients.