Posts Tagged ‘time’
As per my last Freelancing verses Contracting post, with contracting we are being paid for our time, not for the products we produce. So when I contract, it makes sense to me to ensure that I leave their offices each day as soon as the agreed hours have been met.
That may sound harsh or inflexible, but look at it this way – if a contract for resource time is for 7.5 hours a day and you end up skipping lunch and staying for an extra 30 minutes at the end of every day, that can add an extra hour or 90 minutes of effort a day. Over a week this can add up to 7.5 hours – or an extra day of work. You are not being paid for that time, so what you are effectively doing is either discounting your rates by 20%, or you are reducing the length of the final contract by a day a week. If you do an extra week a month of unpaid work, its one week sooner when the contract will end (or wont get renewed).
Of course one of the problems of leaving on time is that you are running out of the door when the permanent workers may still be working. But wait a minute – they are doing that not for the love of the work – they are doing it in the hope of a pay rise, or to further their career or just to keep their jobs. As a contractor, you have none of these to worry about. So why shouldn’t you leave on time?
I have found the best method of easing into the ‘leave on time’ is to initially work the hours agreed plus a bit more for the first week, and then to explain to everybody how I will miss a transport connection by leaving after the agreed time (oh the traffic is so bad after 5:15pm around here, oh I just miss my train connection, etc). Then make sure you leave on time. But to signal the exit by setting a discreet (but audible) alarm on my watch to signal and remind me when its time to end the day.
That way you do the hours, do the job, but your alarm is the one nagging you that it’s time to go.
Of course some contracts do pay overtime – in which case this is not needed. But generally that’s not the way contracts work – you have a day rate for a fixed length of day. So stop robbing or short changing yourself, and get out of the office on time.
PS – In case you are worried that this may effect any contract extensions, I have used this system on all my previous contracts, and never have I not been renewed or extended.
On Wednesday last week, I produced 32 hours worth of coding output. But unlike my reckless younger self, I did not have to put in an ‘all nighter’ or work two days flat without a break (I was known to do both when I was 18). No, on this particular Wednesday, I got out of bed at 7am, started work, finished at a little before 4:40pm, and yet had produced 32 hours worth of code.
I had done this through Evernote. I have talked about Evernote before, but thought I would share how I use this marvel of technology.
Ripping Apart Projects with Evernote
Whenever I complete a project for a customer, I add 3 or 4 hours of project time into my plans. When the project is delivered, just before I file it away to my document storage system, I then rip it apart. I run through all of the code I have produced, looking for the ‘clever stuff’ – code that does a particular function, or overcomes a problem, or is just generally useful.
All these bits of code then get copied to Evernote in one of a dozen different areas. I have areas for VB.NET, C#.net, SQL scripts, SQL tricks, DOS commands, VBA, VBS, and a host of others. Sometimes I copy 3 or 4 lines of code, sometimes its entire routines, sometimes whole files. Each gets a good title of what it is it does.
How I worked 32 hours
So on this particular Wednesday, I thought as an experiment I would list what I was going to do, and how long it would take me to code from scratch. Then I coded it in my usual way – coding some of it by hand, but finding large blocks already coded in Evernote, and i just copy, paste and tweak. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Frankenstein of a coder.
The result is that in a little over 7 hours or work time, I had coded what I estimated would have taken me 32-34 hours by hand. And of course there is the bonus – the copied code has already been used, therefore tested, therefore less bugs when reused, therefore less testing needed.
So I worked 7 hours, the code should have taken 32 hours; what do you think the customer got billed, 7 or 32 hours? Who do you think got the difference in to their bank account?
All the tools I use (such as Visual Studio) have their own snippet catalogue systems, and I could use those. So why do I use Evernote? Simple – portability. I can see my notes on my PC, on my phone, on my tablet, and at a customer site. It’s all searchable, all findable, quick, easy and free.
Bless you Evernote for making me more productive, and allowing me to bill more than I could possibly work.
Just call me Professor Frankenstein.
Timesheets – urrgghghg – the very thought can make the hardiest contractor, freelancer or small business owner shudder with the thought of over complicated administration. I mean, timesheets – what is the point? Really? Your working hard, your making money, you can see your business bank account growing (or at least not declining), so who needs them right? Well, maybe you do – or something very like them!
Let me ask you this – the last project you did – be it bespoke for a customer, freelance or on a contract – did it make you money? Was it profitable? If so, how much?!? If you don’t know the answer to those three questions, how do you know if next time you quote for work, you need to up your day rate, increase your estimated time, maybe reduce it to make you more competitive, or if you were on the money?
Over the last 3 or 4 months, I have been recording time on projects. I have not been over precise in time recording, but generally when I start work on a project I start a clock, and when I am done I stop the clock – it’s as simple as that. When I was interrupted by a call or an urgent email or went for a cup of tea, the clock just kept running. But if I stopped work on one project and started on another (for a change of scene) I did change the clocks on my projects.
I did this exercise as I wanted to really see how bad (or good) my estimation skills were on a couple of projects, and to be honest, they are not that far out. However, I noted that I was quoting a little light on the real time taken to complete projects, so I have now made a mental note to increase all future quotes by around 3% of effort (rounded up to the nearest half day).
Now time recording does not have to be a major chore – there are plenty of free applications available for the web (if you use Freeagent for accounts, BaseCamp or ProjectTeamPM, they all have online time tracking and reporting), Windows or Mac desktop widgets or even better (in terms of recording time when you are not at your desk) on mobile devices such as Android or iPhone.
It doesn’t even have to be a full time commitment – its useful to do detailed time recording for a week (record time on calls, emails, surfing, eating, commuting, etc) to see where your time is being eaten up, and then try some outline time recording on some projects (as I did and described above) for 1 or 2 projects – just to see how good your quotations really are. Of course, if you have contracts or freelance gigs which are billed on a daily or hourly rate regardless on the amount of time you spend, then I am sure you are already tracking your time correctly… aren’t you?!?
Working on your small business can be a juggling act; unless your company has grown to include lots of staff to run different functions for you, we can easily find that we have to wear too many hats every day. Marketing, accounts, legal, sales, and even the cleaner. Oh, and don’t forget the work for customers and on products that can actually generate revenue.
One of the most well known and respected is Getting Things Done. If you want to get organized but don’t know where to start Dave Allen’s book will give you the tools to ‘Get Things Done.’ The book recommends a set of principles, habits and a filing system which encompasses everything that you want to do from the mundane ‘I must get new tyres for the car’ to the important major projects at your small company. If you have a hectic lifestyle this system will remind you that your library books need renewing or that the car is due for its MOT as well as that you need to write the first draft of a report for a customer or you want to email a friend to ask if they would like to go to a concert. You can concentrate on making that phone call or writing that report without worrying about all those other things that you need/want to get done. His system even finds room for long term ‘dreams’ which are not possible at the moment such as learning a second language, writing a book or travelling to China.
So when I’m not at my desk making phone calls, writing letters, or reading emails I can relax knowing that everything is in my filing system, calendar or in-tray. If I need to go into town to pick up some milk a quick check in the appropriate file will remind me I’ve also got some dry cleaning to pick up or whatever else needs doing in town. Setting up the system takes time and effort but it works. Dave Allen recommends clearing two whole days to clear an office and your mind of clutter and put it into a system which reviewed regularly. I didn’t have two full clear days and did it over a couple of weeks but my home office has stayed tidy, organised and fully functional since and other areas of my home/life are being transformed.
This is a practical book with lots of useful ideas for increasing productivity in all areas of life and reducing stress but if you are prepared to implement the whole system it can be life changing.
Emails are a bit like a virus; every day you get more and more of them, they sort of breed and multiply. Before you know it, your intray is full every day not only with work related emails, but also from those ‘useful’ notices from vendors that you may or may not have bought something from in the past, and now get regular emails with their special offers.
If you are anything like me, those emails can be annoying. Yes, it’s fairly easy to hit the delete key and remove them, but imagine how many deletes you have to press over time, how much time is wasted on the purging of those emails, and the wasted thought process of going through them every day.
As I move towards my annual ‘big holiday’, I move into what I call my email purge week. For one week, every time I get an email I actually stop to think about whether it adds value. If it doesn’t, I don’t just delete it, but I remove it for good. Either by using the ‘unsubscribe’ button at the end (if they have one), or replying with a ‘stop emailing me please’ email of my own, or finally, adding them to my black list so that the sending is blocked from the email address forever.
It is especially useful when you go abroad with a smart phone for checking on your business emails. You pay to receive emails, so there is nothing more annoying than paying the few pence/cents to download some sales spam from a frequent spammer telling you there is 10% off a product you purchased 5 years ago for your mother on her birthday.
When you return from Holiday or after the purge week, your email box will be a lot cleaner, and you will have more free time with dealing with real work rather than email weeding. Yes, the emails will build up again as you purchase more things on the internet, but that’s why I email purge every year.
You want a solution developed? You can have it delivered quickly, you can have it delivered cheap, and you can have it work without problems. But you can only pick 2 of the 3.
Source of Quote: Unknown.
Over the last few months, I have been actively looking to grow my small business using a lot of the techniques previously detailed in this blog. I did this because I could see things drying up, so wanted to make sure there was work for the future. Unfortunately for me, the work didn’t in fact dry up, and I generated more work with the result that I now find my company with too much work to do.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice position to be in, but at the same time, it can be stressful with so much to do, so little time, and so many expectations set. Many freelancers and small businesses live in a cycle of famine or feast; periods of time with either too little work or too much.
So what can be done to smooth over the work bumps and create a more balanced schedule?
The Lead Time Tactic
Have you ever wondered why when you purchase goods, some say “Allow 28 days for delivery”? It’s because the seller does not actually have the goods you want, so you pay and they make (or buy in) to order, which has a lead time. The same trick is used by big companies who detail in their quotes for work standard lead time to development start (i.e, “Any quotes accepted have a current lead time to start of 9 weeks”). Giving a lead time can set an expectation. The advantage is that everybody knows where they stand (and you can always do it earlier if you have slack time), but the disadvantage is that if the customer really wants it now, they may go elsewhere.
Sometimes, being honest can be the right approach. To say something like “I would really like to work on this project, I am just finishing something else, but give me 4 or 5 weeks to wrap this up and I will get started” has the same advantages and disadvantages as the Lead Time Tactic. However being honest may mean you can sleep better at night.
Outsource or Extra Resource
Where you are overworked and the customer can’t or won’t wait, it may be worth looking at outsourcing or hiring temporary extra staff. Yes, this has a cost, but as long as the cost of the staff is below the cost to the customer, its still profit and far better than a lost sale.
You may be tempted to reduce the quality of the delivery to reduce development/production times and so reduce the amount of time you need to spend on a project. This can be a risky option if the end delivery is unacceptable to the customer, not fit for purpose, or at the end of the day the customer won’t pay.
A middle ground between the lead time and the lower quality is a phased delivery. By breaking the project into stages, and putting a slightly exaggerated customer review phase between phases (review, beta testing, etc), it allows you to phase the project over a longer time period whilst still delivering chunks to the customer. This can also have the advantage of appearing to follow a good practice of alpha, beta and final releases of a delivery for customer approval/feedback at each phase.
Burning the Midnight Oil
Of course, you may prefer to try to do it all by working all hours on as many projects as you can, or working extended days to complete projects as quickly as possible. Whilst this may work for short bursts of time, it is ultimately unsustainable in terms of personal health, relationships and quality of deliveries.
Discounts for Delayed Starts
Whilst customers generally come to you because there is a demand for your services NOW, they may be tempted to delay the start and delivery of the completed products for a discounted day or project rate. Whilst the discount needs to be sufficient to be tempting for the customer, and it of course means less cash for your company, it does mean that you have better control of the scheduling of work.
640K of computer memory is more memory than anyone will ever needBill Gates, Microsoft, 1987
Let me take you back. Way, way back to the early 1980’s. Here in the UK, Sir Clive Sinclair introduced the first home computers called the ZX80 and ZX81, and these computers both came with a staggering, massive, huge, 1k of memory. 1k!!! That’s 0.00009 of a megabyte!! Now with 1k of memory, there was not much you could do, other than to learn how to program very, very efficiently. With that 1k of memory, programmers created chess programs, accounts programs, spreadsheets, games and a whole lot more.
Today, we are spoilt by super fast processors and many megabytes of memory – even on handheld phones. However, this growth in power means that programmers have become lazy – as long as it runs and looks nice, programmers generally don’t care about how fast it runs, how much memory it takes, or how many human actions (mouse clicks, etc) are required to carry out a task.
One of the worst offenders is Adobe with the Acrobat PDF reader. If you want to develop bad software, then follow the Adobe example, and you too can have software which is frankly awful. Just follow the following Adobe steps:
- Have software which takes forever to start, just to view a tiny PDF document
- Because the software takes so long to load, create nice startup splash screens to show the names of the lazy programmers who can’t be bothered to speed up the application by reducing its size
- Have the software so full of bugs, that it needs to be updated every 2 or 3 days
- Now, create an auto updater routine, which runs all the time of the PC, and takes up even more computer resource
- Install the auto updater as part of the core product, but don’t tell anybody its included, just install it anyway
- Even though the software just displays documents, when the auto updater runs, make sure it demands you restart your computer at the end of the install. After all, the updater is more important than the end users other work
- Just in case the users does not want to restart their computer, have a ‘later’ button, but now have the updater remind the user every hour until they are nagged to death
- Whenever an action is required, make sure that the user has to click as many buttons, use as many menu options and press as many keys as possible to perform that action – the extra effort required will ensure they understand the complexity of the software (Microsoft SQL Server Enterprise Manager actually wins the award for the most steps to perform one action).
- Even though other developers create faster PDF viewers that load 20 times faster and are 40 times smaller, don’t ever acknowledge they exist. Just continue to make your original version slower and bigger.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I am massive fan of business automation. Any tool, technique or process that I can use which makes doing business easier makes me happy – the more automated my processes, the less time I spend on them and the more time I have for doing productive (chargeable) work.
One of the newest tools I have found is called Watchy (or Watchyapp if you use the twitter tag). Watchy is another Freeagent bolt-on web based application, and deals with timesheet reporting. Whilst Freeagent itself allows the recording of time spent on projects (and subsequent billing to customers for the time and associated expenses), it does not provide any form of customer portal to view the timesheets. That’s where Watchy comes in.
Once connected to the Freeagent system, Watchy will connect to your Freeagent account on a regular basis and will pull in timesheet and invoice details and then organise the information into project views. You can then create customer accounts so that customers can login to their own dashboard to view invoices, expenses and time spent on their project.
Watchy is still in beta development, so there is currently restricted access to beta testers, but full public access is scheduled for the next few weeks. They are also busy making amendments, changes and improvements, so I am sure this will develop to become the perfect customer time and billing portal as the product evolves and matures. I hope this will include timesheet authorisation and different reporting views.
Have you ever thought about what money is? If I look on a note in my wallet (it’s a British £10 note), it says “The Bank of England promises to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £10”. USA, Canadian, and the Euro notes say something very similar. So money, the cash we use is really an “I Owe you”. It’s an IOU from somebody you do work for, and you give it to somebody else for the product or work that they do. We are just passing IOU notes around. And IOU’s are just a projection of the barter system.
Barter is the original form of trade – from the dark old stone or bronze ages. Barter worked when one person said “You look after my sheep, and in return I will catch you some fish”. Barter was a trade of skills. The money came from this, allowing people to exchange the IOU work notes – and a way to put value against things that they exchanges.
Projecting this forward to today, and the question is, should Freelancers, Contractors and other Small Business Owners barter and trade skills instead of payments? If cash is short, it may be tempting to do some technical work for say another freelancer who can provide marketing copy if you can in return, give them some web site coding (or visa-versa).
There are Pro’s and Con’s for the barter system in business:
- No money changes hands, therefore no taxes to pay
- If you have free time, it’s a handy way to get outside skills into your set-up without having to hit the bottom line
- It generates working relationships which can then be extended into other work by creating working partnerships
- Exchange of work can lead to additional publicity (additions to portfolio, web sites posted, credits etc)
- When work is hard to find, a skill exchange keeps you busy, active and in work mode
- Money is not involved, and if you need money, it may not help your business
- There is a lot of trust that both parties will carry out the agreed work
- There may be some discussion of the relative values of different work and skills (is 1 page of copy text worth an hour of coding or page of web site design?)
- The barter system is deemed out of date by some freelancers.
What do you think? Are there other freelancers you can barter or do a work exchange with?
As freelancers, I think is fair to say that most of the customers we will deal with will be… on the smaller side. Yes, we will deal with a mixed bag of companies from 1 to a few hundred staff, and we will deal with all sizes of projects from simple quick requests to more involved. But now and again, if we are either really good or very lucky, we might just land a whale.
Whales are either customers or projects which are massive. They are the projects that ever contractor or freelancer dreams about. They may take months or even years to complete, will be worth a year or more of our normal turnover, or will simply be companies that swamp us with lots of work (more work than we could dream of).
But whilst it’s great to land such a big fish, whales can cause problems. Apart from scaring us with their size, they can lead to problems in terms of resourcing, managing expectations, communication and most of all, cash flow. I have been lucky enough to have two whales in my freelancing career, and either by luck or judgement, both have turned out well. So can I offer a few tips for dealing with the whales….
- Because projects can take many months to deliver, try to arrange for some part of the payment up front to improve cash flow
- For the remainder of the project, chunk if down into stages, and agree in advance a payment schedule for cash release when stages are met. Imagine a 1 year project, and you don’t get paid until the end!!!
- If possible, include other freelancers as sub-contractors. Not only does this spread the wealth and build relationships, but it allows you to spread the risk
- Whales will come with lots of communication issues, so try to make it simple by having just one point of contact, and factor lots of meetings and communication in your prices
- Whales have a tendency to change direction at any time without notice, so make sure you anticipate this by having agreed specifications of requirement and delivery, and have everything signed off (physical signature) before you go too far
- Do not commit 100% of your time – no matter what the pressure from the whale. If you do, after the whale is gone, you will find your other customers will have deserted you
- You need to make it clear to the whale that your time is money – whales will eat your time up with meetings, reviews, peer-groups and other corporate bureaucracy – make sure that they understand this will be chargeable.
- Whales generally want you to become part of the whale – by name or location. It is not uncommon when the whale has customers, they will want you to introduce yourself to their customers as being part of the Whale-Co Ltd – part of their own company
- Be prepared for whales to cancel projects at any time – if they do, invoice up to the next stage payment, and don’t take it personally – its what whales do