Effective Tools to Track Your Time and Price Your Creative Work
Ever since I switched my major to graphic design, I had this “itch” to work for myself. Not to be an entrepreneur, or to have a creative business… I didn’t even know what those words meant. I just wanted to live a balanced life. Have control. Back then I knew I had the discipline and will to pull it through.
Even though, at my first attempt to formalize my business, a bad experience with a prospect client made me jump into the first employee position that came my way. “Luckily” they hired me. I don’t regret that decision. Those almost five years build in me a stronger person. Many personal things shifted during that time. When I left that job my life, as a person, was exactly where I dreamt it so many times before.
During those last two years as an employee, I started listening to a lot of entrepreneurial podcasts.
From design topics to administrative aspects. I really don’t remember which one specifically, but one of them suggested that to know how much to charge for a project, the FIRST thing that you should know is how much time a designated action took.
Sometimes we get “in the zone” and times “flies”. Then we are happy with the results but have no idea exactly how far we “flied”. That’s where a time tracking service is such an important tool to add to your workflow.
Now, I am not saying that you should charge by the hour.
I don’t either. There are many ways to set prices for design work. Maybe when you are starting out you take longer to do something. While you gain more experience, you will do the same thing in much less time. And that still has a value.
What I am saying, that knowing how much time something takes you helps you to better set your prices. Because if you do a $100 job that took you 20 hours, you are charging $5 an hour as a professional designer. That is below the minimum salary in the United States (and anywhere!). That is just not sustainable.
To time track your projects helps you in the following ways:
1. Set realistic time frames for each project.
I always ask my clients by what date they need the project to be finished and delivered. That way I can make sure to schedule it in a healthy time frame for both myself and the client. If I don't have the time available and the client can't wait, I can kindly decline the project. At other times, the client does not know how long a project takes and it is our job to educate him. The only way to know this is by knowing how long these types of projects take.
2. Know how many clients you can take by a certain time.
Again, If I work the traditional 40 hours a week and I know that designing a book of 100 pages takes me 30 hours, I can’t take 3 book design clients for one week. This is kind of an extreme example. A book is never designed in just one week. But you get the idea. Knowing how many hours you have available to work and how much time every project demand, helps you to be a better businessperson. It is also healthy for your body and mind. You will have time to cook proper meals and have peace.
3. Know the realistic scope of a project.
You shouldn’t only track the actual design time you invest in a project You should also track the administrative part: the schedule and impromptu client phone call, the sending and answering emails, the creating the invoice section… I mean everything. Usually, we spend an equivalent of 20% of the design project in administrative/communication aspects. If you track that time, you will have a better idea on how much a project really cost and demands of your time.
There are many time trackers services out there.
The thing is that it doesn’t matter which one you use, as long as you track your time. I use the free version of the time track “Toggle Track”. They also have a mobile app, but I prefer to use their website version.
I like it because I can create a set of clients. Then I can create projects for those clients, and you can even color code those projects!
You can create tags to describe those client/projects. And you can add an extra description if you need to.
For example, here I am working in the client “NCS”, which stands for “Nayda Cruz Studio”. I am working in the project “Blog”. Then I wrote the description “Time Tracking” because that is the blog I am working on.
Tags was something I started using not long ago. Because it seemed repetitive for me. For example, in the image I have a tag created called “Blog”.
But the thing is that if later I am writing a blog for another client or project, I can still use that tag. Then I can do a report by "blog" and know how much time I spend across all clients and projects working in a blog, or sending/reading emails, or working on a specific social media. You get the idea, right?
For example, I have a project called “Social Media”, and the then I tag which Social Media I am working on.
You can also create reports based on a client, a project, a tag or a description. Also by year, month, week, a specific day, or a specific period. You can even download a PDF of your report and save it. I do this for specific clients.
I tell you this is awesome! And it’s free!
Let me add something extra.
I don’t like too much the “productivity” message out there. Most time it makes you feel like crap. I like more the “be efficient” message.
When you start tracking your work time like this, you can feel a little bit frustrated. Trust me. When I see that, even though I spend an entire week working, I only registered 12 hours, I feel not very nice feelings.
But give yourself mercy and grace. This was part of the process for me to be more efficient with my time. You will learn that some days you only registered 4 hours, but the results from it are efficient.
This tool is to help you. Not to torture yourself. They are to help you make adjustment to have a more balanced life. All right? Let’s keep going.
As I said, time tracking helps you better price your work.
The time you invest in a project is only one of the factors in the pricing formula. There are many ways to combine this information with other aspects to better set your prices. Here I share some of my favorite resources to set your prices as a designer. They both work if you are a solopreneur or a have a small staff.
Jessica Hische pricing class or PDF:
In this super affordable seminar. You get exactly what you want. How much to charge for lettering, illustration, logo design, editorial illustrations, book cover design, murals, graphic design work, and some extras creatives projects. But she also gives so much valuable information about understanding your finances, how to calculate your hourly rate, how to get paid, contracts, the difference between hourly/day rates vs. flat rate pricing, how "creation" and "usage" works…trust me this is gold. I believe these are global industry numbers that we should all be aware. Maybe you charge less in your home country for specific clients, and that’s okay. You can buy the video seminar or the full PDF of this seminar along with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet showing the pricing formulas in action. Learn more here: https://jessicahische.teachable.com/p/the-dark-art-of-pricing
The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines:
This Book has been around for the longest time. They published every 2 or 3 years with updated information. The 2021 edition is the latest one. Here you can find the market standard prices for: graphic design, web/interactive design, illustration, cartooning and comics, animation and motion, and surface pattern design. It also has great information about legal rights, contracts, income, and best business practices. Learn more here: https://graphicartistsguild.org/the-graphic-artists-guild-handbook-pricing-ethical-guidelines/
Michael Janda book “The Psychology of Graphic Design Pricing”
This book was the one that taught me how much it cost me to produce my clients work. Yes, your work has a cost to YOU. It also taught me how I can set my prices by first knowing how much I want/need to make in a year and then analyze how realistic I am being. Or if it’s even possible to make a living from my work as a designer. It teaches you how to figure out your production cost by knowing your hourly rate, your production hours, and your hard cost. Then it shows you the formulas to estimate these. It also teaches about what are overhead costs, how to learn the market value of your work, and learn how to talk about budget with your client. I truly recommend this book. Is so simple to understand and apply this knowledge. Learn more here: https://michaeljanda.com/psychopricing/
There you go!
I receive no commissions for these recommendations. They are truly the tools that had helped me charge with confidence and peace of mind. They are easy to understand and straight to the point.
I hope they shine some light into your creative business!
This blog is a space to learn about design and how it intertwines with life; and also about technical aspects of design. I invite you to join my email list. This way you will receive a message every time I publish a new blog. I respect your privacy and will never share your personal information.