As content marketing writers, we get to wear all the hats: editor-in-chief, staff writer, marketing and sales manager, accounts payable and CEO, to name just a few. One thing that all of those roles have in common is that they are unbillable. We don’t get paid for the time we spend working on those tasks (at least not directly), and yet we can’t leave out any of them.
When I realised that, a few logical questions followed: am I taking care of all aspects of my business? And am I investing the right amount of time on them?
The only way to answer was to track time, which I do with a tool called Harvest. For many months, I just tracked time spent on client projects, until I started tracking every single minute of work, both billable and unbillable. That allows me to answer a few key questions to keep my business growing:
- How much am I earning per hour on client projects?
- How much am I earning per hour, including all the hours I work?
- How many hours have I actually worked this week/month/quarter/year?
- How many of them were client work and how many were unbillable?
- How much of unbillable time do I spend doing what activities?
But the list is longer.
How to track time without losing your mind
Tracking every single minute of unbillable work is now a habit, but before it used to be quite stressful. What made the difference was dividing my work into different areas and set them up in Harvest as projects. Excluding billable time, these areas are marketing, sales, supporting activities, improvement.
Every area is then divided in different tasks:
- marketing includes email outreach, LinkedIn, writing for this blog, plus a few more;
- sales includes chasing opportunities and preparing proposals;
- supporting activities include planning the work for the day and money (billing, chasing payments, talking to my accountant, managing cashflow);
- improvement includes working on strategy, workflow and productivity and improving writing skills.
The system works in both directions: every time I work on a task I know what category it goes into, and whenever I want to spend time on a given area, I know what tasks I should do.
There’s nothing revolutionary in this system, it’s really a replica of the organisation that all businesses – from the most to the least structured – have or should have.
And yet, getting to a categorisation I feel comfortable with, took some time and a lot of tweaking. The thing is, when you do this type exercise, you really want to strike a balance between including everything and keeping it simple enough.
Once you’ve been tracking time for a while, the next step will be to pull some reports and work on your metrics. But that’s material for a separate post. For now, if you’re a content marketing writer (or a solo professional of any kind), I recommend you start tracking every single minute. When it comes to crucial questions like ‘where am I with my business?’ you answer should be based – as much as possible – on real data and not on gut feelings.