A Small Agency’s Challenge. Operating At A Profit. Is Mastering Timesheets An Answer?

Image Source: Adobe Stock

by Minson Chen

posted on 12-04-2017

How we got here.

Creative life is tough. Small design shops to global agencies are facing challenges to do more with less. The old adage of “better-faster-cheaper: pick two” has been pushed aside with clients demanding all three. Workloads are increasing while fees are shrinking.

According to Ad Industry veteran Michael Farmer, author of “Madison Avenue Manslaughter, the Advertising Industry is imploding because of self-inflicted wounds that allow external parties to compete more effectively. At the root of the problem is that agencies don’t think of themselves as organizations that make things, and that they need to keep track of what it is they make.

Agencies have faced many different challenges over the years. “But one thing has been constant throughout the 25 years and that is, number one, agencies aren’t used to keeping very good track of what they intend to do for their clients, in scopes of work. They don’t document it. They don’t really use it to negotiate their fees,” says Farmer.

Rather than fixing the inherent problems, existing firms lose their top talent and push their remaining employees to deliver more. This creates a vicious cycle of strain and churn. Processes are severely broken, and operations are mismanaged, but many of these issues can be resolved. For example, consider timesheets, the decades-old process for reporting how employees are allocated against jobs.

Preparing time sheets takes away from billable hours, but essential to running a profitable Agency business.

Is mastering the dreaded timesheet an answer?

Accurate timesheets are critical to an agency’s ability to run a profitable business as it provides the key inputs used for billing, forecasting, client reporting, and resource planning. Employees complain that timesheets are a waste of time and have no true purpose because the manual and tedious process relies on a lot of guesswork, but creative management is forced to rely on these numbers.

Creative leaders need more effective tools to improve their operations. Enter a new breed of automated time tracking tools designed for creative agencies, like Openhour’s TimeTracker, that provides seamless integration with Adobe Creative Cloud. With automated timesheets, designers can stay focused on what they do best and are passionate about — creating awesome digital experiences for clients. As a result, agency owners and creative directors will see improvements in billable hours and reporting, and a work environment where team members aren’t constantly dreading an activity that is critical to running a profitable agency.

In the image below, you can see Openhour’s TimeTracker for Creative Cloud running inside Photoshop CC 2018. It’s an extension panel, just like Layers and Info, and it indicates which project is currently being worked on. It helps creatives automatically capture how they spend their time in Adobe Creative Cloud tools like Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC, and InDesign CC, allowing them to privately review, revise, and submit accurate timesheets.

Run the TimeTracker extension in Creative Cloud to generate draft timesheets through automated tracking and job code attribution.

How automated time tracking works.

As a creative, you can generate your timesheet draft automatically with virtually no effort. After logging into the TimeTracker extension from within your Creative Cloud app, simply start working. TimeTracker detects the application and document most actively used each minute. It understands when you are idle, so it’s okay to step away. To be clear, there are no “start” or
“stop” buttons. Just go about your business.

TimeTracker is smart. It is continuously aware of the application and document you are actively using. To get started, you assign a job code to an active document by selecting it from a list with one click, or just include the job code in your filename. You can also include the job code in a folder name, and all unassigned documents saved to that folder will be associated with the job. TimeTracker then does the rest to automatically generate a draft timesheet.

Review your timesheet draft at any time. A single click within Creative Cloud links you out to the TimeTracker web interface, as shown below, to review and make any necessary changes, then submit directly into your agency’s financial system, where compatible. The “set it and forget it” automation frees creatives so they can focus on client work, not manual timesheets so agencies can increase revenue and utilization rates.

TimeTracker’s Web interface for viewing, editing and submitting timesheets.

But wait a minute. Is Big Brother watching me?

Rest assured, “TimeTracker is not a tool for management to watch over employees. Absolutely not!” says Mark Hirsch, CEO of Openhour, who created TimeTracker to reduce administrative work for creative professionals and to help agencies better manage their businesses. Your automatically generated timesheet draft is not viewable by anyone else on the system, including the system administrator or management. Click submit only after you review and edit the draft timesheet as needed. Only typical timesheet data (date, time, job code, and possibly a note) are sent.

Keep a finger on the pulse of your agency business.

Are you an agency owner or creative director responsible for resourcing, capacity utilization, and budgeting? TimeTracker’s real-time dashboards give you a global view of your pipeline using data derived from submitted timesheets. No need to wait for others to export CSV files, reformat data, or build complicated pivot-tables. Just login to take the pulse of your business.

TimeTrackers real-time dashboard to monitor your business.

To try Openhour’s TimeTracker, sign up for a free trial here. Once you have your TimeTracker account, you’ll receive a link to download the free TimeTracker extension for Creative Cloud from Adobe Exchange, our marketplace for third-party apps.

Topics: Future of Work, Digital Transformation

Products: InDesign, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Creative Cloud