The timesheet is a simple but critical tool for businesses. They are used by small and large organizations alike to keep track of hours and keep projects moving forward.
Timesheets are especially important for freelancers. They help you maintain accurate records, they keep your relationship transparent with your clients, and they ensure that you are paid properly for your labor.
If you bill by the hour and aren’t using timesheets, there is a good chance you are failing to report all of your tasks and leaving money on the table. Plus, your clients may wonder if you are actually being honest with your hours. From their perspective, a generic figure (like “10 hours this week”) might make them think you are padding your invoice.
For the sake of your income and client relationships, it’s important to prepare accurate timesheets. In this article, we will explain what a timesheet is and how it works for freelancers. Then we will give you some tips to prepare timesheets accurately.
For the sake of your income and client relationships, it’s important to prepare accurate timesheets. Click To Tweet
What is a Timesheet?
Before we show you how to prepare timesheets, we should first clarify what they are.
A timesheet records the amount of time you spend on tasks and projects. Your clients use it to review how you spent your time and verify your payment. It also gives your clients an opportunity to make sure you’re working on the right tasks and projects.
Although a timesheet may seem like a lot of work, it offers a number of benefits:
- It creates a detailed record of your work in case there is any dispute with a client. In extreme cases, it can protect you during a lawsuit.
- If a client isn’t happy with how you’re spending your time, they can catch it early and redirect you, ensuring a productive relationship for both parties.
- Clients are aware of how much time you spent on work before they see your monthly invoice, so there are no surprises.
Not all clients need to see timesheets. Some just want your invoice at the end of the month. Others require timesheets, either because they need to stay compliant with regulations (often the Fair Labor Standards Act) or simply because of their internal processes.
Timesheets are different from invoices. An invoice shows the hours worked, hourly rate, and the total due, which indicates the client’s obligation to pay. A timesheet supplements an invoice. You might send a timesheet to your client each week, but send an invoice only once each month.
A timesheet can be any format: a PDF, an Excel or Google Sheet, a report generated from your time tracking software, or a simple email with bullet points. It depends on your process and the needs of your client.
10 Tips for Preparing More Accurate Timesheets
Now that you understand how timesheets work, let’s talk about preparing them. The following tips will help you prepare timesheets accurately so your clients are billed accurately and you get paid for all of your work.
1. Track time automatically
The accuracy of your timesheet is only as good as the data you collect. If you record your projects and tasks manually, there’s a good chance you’ll make mistakes. You might accidentally record tasks you never completed, record incorrect times, or fail to record tasks that you deserve to be paid for.
The easiest and simplest solution is to track your time automatically using a time tracking app. A tool like Timing records everything you do on your computer. There’s no need to press “start” or “stop” to control the timer. It logs everything on a timeline so you know exactly how your time was spent. This makes it simple to prepare timesheets.
Further, Timing lets you organize tasks by project and client. You can set rules, like “All Photoshop tasks get attached to Client A.” If you need to manipulate a task (by adding it to a project or client), simply drag-and-drop in its appropriate place.
2. Define your billable activities
Countless disputes between freelancers and clients occur when there is a disagreement over what is billable and what should not be. In most cases, for example, it is inappropriate to bill for the time it takes to put together an invoice. So if a client sees a line for “account management” or “bookkeeping” or “administrative fee” on your timesheet, they will probably protest.
(To be fair, this is not always the case. Some highly sought-after freelancers can get away with charging for every service they provide. It depends on the stage of your career and your contract with your clients.)
Therefore, in order to accurately prepare timesheets, you must define your billable activities. Have a conversion with your client about what you will charge for and what is exempt from your timesheets. This way there won’t be any confusion in the future. Ideally, you should have this discussion over email so there is always a written record.
3. Use an app to make your timesheet
If you are using a time tracking app, it makes sense to use one that will prepare timesheets for you. Why do the work when software can automate it?
We have to recommend Timing again. Timing offers sophisticated reporting that creates ready-to-go timesheets for you. Generating the report only takes a few button clicks.
Once your timesheet is complete, send it off to the client as-is. There’s no need to format it into a new spreadsheet because Timing’s report is already professional and easy to read.
However, here is an important word of advice: If you use an app to track your time and prepare timesheets, you must ensure the app is running every moment you are working, otherwise the app will miss your work and fail to add it to your timesheet. This is another reason you should use an automatic time tracking tool like Timing that is always running in the background.
4. Create a timesheet template
Rather than formatting a new document from scratch each time you prepare timesheets, create a template to use for each new document. Templates offer several advantages:
- You do not spend time formatting columns, rows, or calculations each time. All you have to do is plug your numbers and comments in the right spots.
- You will not forget to include all of the appropriate information, as long as you fill out the entire template.
- Since your clients will see the same template every week, they will quickly understand how to read it and find the right information.
- If you decide to make a change to how you prepare timesheets, you just need to make that change on your template and it will apply to all future timesheets.
When you make your template, give plenty of room for flexibility. All clients are different. You may decide to include some extra details in one client’s timesheet due to the nature of the project. So don’t build rigid templates that can not be changed.
5. Calculate overtime pay and other fees carefully
In some cases, you might charge extra for overtime work, emergency services, or tasks outside your normal scope of services. While it’s important to charge for all of the fees you list in your contract, make sure to calculate them carefully on your timesheet.
You see, of all of the charges on your invoice, your clients will scrutinize these the most. They will make sure your calculations are correct so they do not pay more than they should. If you are inaccurate with these extra fees – even by just a few dollars – your client will lose trust. They might assume you have been dishonest in the past or simply find a new freelancer to meet their needs.
First, start by defining your calculations carefully in your contract. For instance, if you charge a 1.5X rate when clients ask for work to be turned around in less than three days, your contract should explain exactly what this means. Does the timer start when you receive the request? Or does it start when you commit to the project? What happens if a client inadvertently makes a rush request? Will you notify them of the rate increase before starting, or do you expect they understand that clause of your contract? Spell this out clearly.
Second, when you prepare timesheets, identify overtime hours or work that is subject to additional fees. Use some kind of visual element (like bold text, highlighting, or a separate line) to indicate hours that will be charged at a higher rate when the invoice comes at the end of the month. This ensures your client is aware that their bill will be higher than usual.
6. Include the right information
If your timesheet is for another person (perhaps you plan to send it to a client or to another freelancer you worked alongside), it’s important to include all of the information they need to process your payment right away. If you leave anything out, you may have to engage in some back-and-forth emailing before they can release your payment.
So what should be included on a timesheet?
- Your name. Obviously you don’t want to be confused with other people.
- Date or time. This refers to the period when work was performed, not the day you are submitting the timesheet. Your timesheets should not overlap. If you submit a timesheet for June 1-June 7, the next timesheet should be for June 8-June 14.
- The project. Identify exactly what you’re working on. Be as clear as possible. Use a title the recipient will understand. “June Website Project” is a bad name, but “Acme Inc. Branding and Website” is more clear. In some cases, it helps to use a separate timesheet for each project.
- Tasks. Include a list of tasks you performed each day, including the amount of time each task took to complete. Add start and end times if you have them. You can add as much detail as you like (which is especially helpful if your tasks are complex), but if you need to write paragraphs of copy to update your client, consider putting them in a separate message or in a project management tool.
- Completion percentages. For each task, include an estimate for how far along you are toward completing it. You don’t have to add a percentage after each entry on the timesheet, just one entry for the total at the end of the week.
- Final total. The end of the timesheet should include your final total for the week. Do not include your hourly rate or total price. Leave that for the invoice.
- Notes. For each day and/or task, it can help to add some notes to explain a task’s progress. For instance, you might mention that you would have completed a task, but you’re waiting on someone else to submit their piece.
That said, you do not need to include all of that detail if the client does not want it. Some clients just want a simple number, especially if your service requires working closely alongside them where they can see your output firsthand. Communicate with your client about what they would like to see on the timesheet so you can give them the right information.
7. Include any necessary context
Sometimes your timesheets require some additional information to help the recipient understand why you spent as much or as little time on their work. Add a few bullet points at the bottom of your timesheet to explain these variables.
For instance, you might remind the recipient that you missed a day due to illness, or that progress seems light because you are waiting on documents, signatures, payment, etc. Or you might point out that a project is ahead of schedule or dealing with challenges.
Do not get carried away here. You do not need to explain everything. Just give enough information so the client can reach out to you if they do not understand something.
8. Request a signature or confirmation
The final element of your timesheet should be a request for your client to sign-off. You want your client to acknowledge that your timesheet is accurate so there won’t be any disagreements when you send your monthly invoice. If there are any disputes, you want to overcome them as early as possible while the tasks are still fresh in your mind.
You do not need to do much to get a signature on your timesheet. You can use an e-signature application (there are several options), but that usually is not necessary. Instead, simply ask your client when you email them the timesheet. Ask them to review the document and confirm that everything looks right. If they agree that the timesheet is accurate, there should not be any problems with your future invoice.
9. Analyze your weekly or monthly performance
When most freelancers prepare timesheets, they do so over the course of the week. You may open the document a few times a day (or at least once at the end of the day) to update your time. So when they close out their week, they simply send the timesheet off to the client without reviewing it.
However, it is important to give your timesheet a once-over before you submit it. This helps you identify challenges early before they become bigger problems. Use this opportunity to look for mistakes or inconsistencies. Keep your eyes out for two important errors:
- Instances where you overreported your time. This will result in charging the client too much and damaging the relationship.
- Instances where you underreported your time. This will result in billing the client too little and compromising your income.
Next, consider your performance. Did you complete as much work as you hoped to during those hours? Are your projects and tasks ahead of schedule or behind? Will you complete your work within the client’s budget, or will you need to have a difficult conversation with the client?
For example, suppose you notice that you have already reached the 20 hour mark for a project you estimated to take 40 hours, but you have not completed 50% of the project. You will have to figure out how to realign your work to complete the project within the remaining time?
10. Learn from mistakes
Our last piece of advice to help you prepare timesheets accurately is the most important: learning from your mistakes.
If you are new to freelancing, your first timesheet will not be perfect. Your clients may complain about inaccuracies, complexity, or too much or too little data. They may protest about your formatting (perhaps it is hard to read) or your verbiage (perhaps they do not understand your word choices).
Do not be discouraged! Thank them for their feedback and improve your timesheet process so you are giving out the best information. Eventually you will prepare timesheets accurately and thoroughly so your clients never have a reason to complain. Make sure to create these changes in your timesheet template so your improvements carry forward.
By now you should understand what timesheets are, how they work, and how to prepare them accurately. This advice will help you create timesheets that report your labor accurately so clients continue to trust you and pay you appropriately.
Timing is a powerful time tracking app that monitors everything you do and records your time automatically. Its reporting feature is a simple and convenient way to prepare timesheets for your clients. Grab your free trial here.