Lesson 1: Time is worthless unless you bill for it

In a departure from the otherwise technical and joking nature of this site, this piece is the first in a series that will hopefully explain how we get some of the business related stuff done. As obvious and seemingly simple as they may be we’ve learned a few important and sometimes expensive lessons along the way.

Lesson 1: Time is worthless unless you bill for it

The first year with everyone under the same roof was a mess when it came to recording time. More then half our work is by hour and during a given day a it can span several different projects as well a variety of ad hoc client services.

Initially I had everyone keeping track of their own time and sending me makeshift plain-text time-sheets weekly or as needed. I was manually entering it into a program called TimeEqualsMoney by Stone Design. This wasn’t so bad back when everyone was part-time, but now with the volume and variety of work there was way too much overhead.

I had a tendency of loathing it so much that several weeks could go by before I’d actually enter all of the time sheets in and generate invoices. Faced with a growing problem and sporadic cash flow, we started to look for a solution.

At the time I decided that it needed to be networked as well Mac based so that everyone could input their own time without any unnecessary redundancy and with as little involvement from me as possible. All of us burned about a day searching before we settled on iBiz 2 by IGG Software. It was a horrible failure.

At first we thought we weren’t remembering to use the timers enough, then we thought we must not be putting in enough hours in. How could we be getting in 30 hours worth of work while spending over 60 at the office?

It was around this time I had the idea to start keeping track of everyone’s general hours in the office to try to make sense of this mess. I dabbled with the idea of creating my own system to act as in/out time log, but lack of consistent use and free time for further development killed the concept quickly.

Eventually we realized what was going on, the timer in iBiz was screwing up. We even got independent confirmation from another user saying he used a separate application to do timing for the same reason. Among the other annoyances encountered with it’s use, I had problems with time groups. Marking an invoice paid would flag an entire group, even if spanned more then one invoice. After I caught some invoices calculated incorrectly I knew it was time move on.

The search continued for another networked, Mac based, time-tracking application. We looked at iBiz’s competitor, Studiometry by Oranged Software. It appeared to have more features and the potential for greater accuracy. That was till I encountered a handful of bugs when I started testing it out. They had done a good job of hiding it, but deep inside it was a Real Basic application. While its not impossible to make a great program in Real Basic, it is however very easy to make a bad one. Given the amount of bugs Studiometry appeared to fall into the latter category.

Unwilling to sink even more money into an unknown set of problems we continued to use iBiz for a few more months, but not without checking every single thing it did by hand. Once things became accurate the recorded hours began to normalize, and subsequently so did the cash flow.

Things had gotten a little easier from when I was manually entering in everyone’s time, but the first lesson was realized. We were throwing away hours and driving ourselves crazy by not making sure time was accurately and to some degree seamlessly recorded.

To this day I’m still unsure how much money we lost due to all of the problems, but that is all behind us now. I hope this helps someone. Expect Lesson 2: You should have used QuickBooks from day 0 soon.

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