During this election year, the media is inundating us with coverage of the 2008 Presidential election as each candidate seeks maximum exposure to differentiate their campaign platforms, all within the confines of a 24-hour day. Without question, candidates and their staffs spend countless hours scrutinizing schedules to get the very most out of every minute; recording and evaluating every meeting, phone call, press conference and debate to determine its overall effectiveness and impact on the campaign.
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Effective time management will no doubt play a huge role in each candidate’s ultimate success, in this case the Presidency.
With not quite as much at stake, members of professional accounting and professional consulting firms nonetheless should also pay very careful attention to how they record (capture) and evaluate (bill) every minute of every day spent on client matters.
By doing so, you not only make certain that all time is billed but you can also evaluate how much time is wasted on non-productive activities. At stake in this case is firm profitability, and the victor is the firm that is able to efficiently capture time and effectively bill clients.
As the owner of a professional consulting firm, what keeps me up at night is the very real possibility that consultant billable hours go unrecorded.
The cumulative effect of unrecorded time is staggering, increasing exponentially with each additional staff member.
Consider the following metric: In a medium- size firm of 10 billing professionals (about my size), if only one hour per person per week is unrecorded, over the course of 50 weeks, 500 hours would be lost.
Assuming an average billing rate of $200 per hour, the result is $100,000 in lost fees! Got insomnia yet?
The lesson to be learned is this: you can’t collect what you don’t bill, and you can’t bill what you don’t record. So advanced features, ease of setup and depth of reports become irrelevant if employees are not diligent in recording how they spend every quarter hour of every day.
I recommend, then, that the starting point for evaluating any time and billing solution be the ease in which billable hours are recorded.
Ultimately, time and billing solutions can only succeed in a business climate fostered by employee awareness and diligence (compliance). And compliance is a byproduct of convenience.
Timekeepers need the means to record billable hours when they occur, not days or weeks later (what did I do for that client last week?). Once that hurdle is overcome, then any of the vendor solutions below should provide the necessary productivity and optimization analytics to improve billing efficiency and increase firm profitability.
When evaluating time and billing applications, it is important to consider the varying needs of its many users.
Time and billing software must accommodate the anytime, anywhere, any device needs of timekeepers, provide setup flexibility for administrators and promote management usage via business intelligence dashboard and key performance analytics.
Almost all of the time and billing solutions reviewed below offer multiple time entry methods, of which desktop, remote and Internet are the most common.
These give timekeepers several choices in the how and where of entering their time. Remote, Internet and PDA interfaces immediately capture time spent on billable activities and custom screens and shortcuts facilitate data entry.
Administrators should look for a time and billing solution that is easy to use and accommodates a wide range of billing rates, fee types and report formats.
Templates for client and activity billing options are key for achieving setup efficiency. Client invoices should be concise, accurate and easy to read.
Management needs access to key performance indicators regarding staff utilization (or lack thereof), realization and firm profitability.
Segmentation reports are useful to provide analytics of which clients are most profitable. Collection information keeps cash-flow needs in check.
Eliminating data-entry redundancy is another key requirement of time and billing systems, one that is met by integrating with other productivity and scheduling applications.
Most of the products reviewed interface with several accounting applications, Microsoft Outlook, Excel and Word.
So, at the end of the day, it all boils down to this: To achieve profitability, time entry by staff needs to be convenient and timely.
If this goal is accomplished, then employee excuses for lost and delinquent time entry should be few and far between. Like the presidential candidates on the campaign trail, make every minute count. And be sure that every minute doesn’t also cost by losing potential revenue to unrecorded billable hours.
BillQuick incorporates numerous flexible and robust features that allow you to adapt the software to meet the needs of many different client situations.
It integrates with many major accounting applications. Extra features include workflow tools, project management, document management and online payment functions.
BillQuick makes excellent use of wizards that guide the user through the setup of clients, staff, projects and rates. The customizable, role-based navigation screen provides easy access to key employee, client time, expense and billing tasks while also displaying key performance metrics for management review.
The client profile screen displays summary information for hours, expenses, billable amounts, cost amounts, invoices and payments. Project profiles impact how data flows to various reports and invoices.
Billing types include fixed fee, recurring, hourly, retainer or prepayment. Business alerts notify the user when clients exceed predetermined credit limits or maximum billable hours.
Staff billing rates can vary based on client, project or activity. Robust project management features allow tracking of engagements by phases, which is extremely useful for reporting purposes.
The multiple time and expense entry options include timers, timesheets and calendar view. Integration with Outlook provides additional flexibility.
Web- based and PDA time entry is also supported for entering time when at the client site. BillQuick also automatically detects incomplete timesheets, emailing notifications to employees who have not yet submitted timesheets.
BillQuick generates invoices by client, project, manager, contract type and user-specified billing period. The invoice review screen provides several options to finalize and print invoices. Invoices can also be emailed and client payments received electronically via add-on interfaces that also provide alerts when project costs exceed budgets. You can combine multiple invoices for the same client into a single consolidated invoice.
Reporting allows the use of Crystal Reports. The many reports provide multiple filter options and include staff performance, work in progress, gross margin, productivity analyses and profitability by client, engagement, employee or activity. Output options include PDF, HTML, XML and Excel.
Billing Matters combines time and billing and full back-office accounting to offer a total billing and accounting solution for your practice.
New features include customizable pre-bills and automatic sending of invoices.
Time Matters (a companion product) provides very basic time-and-billing functionality that interfaces with Billing Matters and the billing functions of Billing Matters can also be used with other software packages.
The integration between Time Matters and Billing Matters provide a complete time and billing solution. Billing Matters extends the rudimentary billing functions of Time Matters to include accounts receivable, productivity reporting, budgeting and advanced billing methods such as split, flat, consolidated and allocated fees.
In addition, document management, online research and calendaring functions are available.
Navigation to the many program functions is customizable per user and works in conjunction with forms, windows, toolbars and keyboard shortcuts.
Lists and Quicktabs allow users to locate, add, view, edit or delete records using various viewing options and filters.
Setup data includes entry of users, staff, resources, billing codes, contact names and matters.
Using the setup wizard, you can enter multiple billing methods, staff rates and payment terms. Billing methods include contract or matter billing and rate tables relate these to staff and clients. Time and expenses are entered using quick items, timesheets or billing forms.
The calendar view displays a summary of the billable or total amount of time by day that has been entered. Billing preference templates provide recurring defaults for multiple clients.
The BillFlow Manager provides access to the complete billing process from one screen. You select which clients and matters to bill, the billing item criteria and then review the pre-bills. The billing review process displays the status of bills: outstanding, approved, printed or final.
Metrics offer billing summaries by staff and billable versus non-billable time. The Bill Express feature allows you to enter time and expense detail and payment information from a single screen
Billing Matters provides an extensive selection of billing reports, categorized by billing, transactions, staff and financial.
The Report designer provides customization to the standard reports. Time Matters also offers synchronization of contacts and calendars from various mobile devices.
CaseWare Time goes way beyond basic time and billing features to include practice management, project tracking, workpaper analysis, calendaring functions and full-featured contact management.
Navigation occurs primarily through the Time Workflow interface, which accesses the navigator, main window and document manager.