Consulting billing and time and expense sheets
For a consulting firm, billng clients — that little-understood, underappreciated activity that provides the life blood of cash flow needed for any company to survive — is directly enhanced or badly harmed by how employee time and expenses are tracked and processed.
The reality is: good invoicing depends on the time and expense sheet data that flows into the invoice. Improving your time and expense sheets for billing is where you need to focus.
Common problems of time and expenses
Time and expense low priority
For most consulting firm employees, who focus on customer service or bringing in new business, timely and accurate time and expense sheets rank low on their task list. Put another way: the content of every client invoice is a low priority for your employees.
Horse and buggy
In 1855, you would have John Jones ride a horse to your client's office in Cleveland. Today, you shouldn't have your employees using paper or Excel time and expense sheets.
Timing problems and overbillingWith consulting projects, timing is everything. Take the case of inactivating "project 100" at mid-week. The highly-organized consulting project manager might email his project team, or mention this at the end of a meeting. But employees can miss the email, or forget the conversaton. A week later, the consultant uses the inactive project code, "project 100." If a change order has not been already been approved by the client, this error has put the company into an overbilling situation with an important customer.
Tasks not appropriate for a project. Wrong billing codes. Missing notes. Sloppy record keeping begets more errors. Wait too long to write things down and you forget the work you did.
Late submittals, rejections, corrections and approvals
Submitting time and expenses late gives approvers less time to fix mistakes, or to reject items in need of correction. Being late is common. Intense work weeks. Constant interruptions. Changing schedules. Submitting time and expense sheets on time can sometimes be the exception. Closer to the preparation of a final invoice, running out of time makes it harder for managers to do a thorough job of reviewing each and every time and expense sheet.
Consulting project managers with poor data visibility
Consulting project managers reviewing paper or Excel sheets can keep running totals in their own project tracking spreadsheets. If they're not that organized, or don't know the terms of the project contract, estimated hours to complete, or project cost budgets will not be on their radar as they approve employee project hours.
Consulting project accounting and payroll
Consulting project accounting and payroll staff, who must check time and expense data against client contract terms and budgets, have the thankless task of checking all hours and expense entries for mistakes. Incorrect project codes, tasks, client codes, expense type, leave pay codes, and leave entries against employee balances can all have mistakes that must be caught. With few helpful tools, their tired eyes dart back and forth between pieces of paper spread out on their desk.
Client tacit approvals and the payment of invoices
In consulting, the final test is whether the client pays the invoice. Turning around client questions with paper and Excel time and expense takes time. Here's a common scenario. A client has a question about Jim Smith's project work. Smith needs to pour through his paper or Excel sheets for notes on the task work he completed a month ago. "But," Smith warns, "I'm on travel in Chicago and my project timesheets are in New York." Unless he gets help from an assistant or colleague, Smith won't get the answers until he gets back to New York next week.
Paper and Excel time and expense tracking has multiple points of failure, from recording project hours and expense entries, to approvals, and validation checks. Smooth and accurate client billing, and fast speed to cash might be important for your company. But with manual processing of time and expense data, you're company is increasingly out of the game, not competitive and losing ground each day.
One answer is to upgrade your time and expense tracking to a best-of-breed software system before it's too late.
5 benefits of time and expense software for billing
You should anticipate significant returns on investment when you transform your time and expense sheets from paper or Excel to software.
1. Improved user experience improves compliance and more
Provide employees with time and expense tracking software tools that they love and some great things happen. User adoption soars. Excuses disappear. And loud complaints about time and expense sheets fade to a whisper. Improved usability means time and expense sheets are completed with fewer errors, submitted and approved more on time, easer to validate and process. With better and more timely user compliance, everything improves: the quality of data, the speed of approvals, the turnaround times of corrections and more. Turbocharging the user experience benefits everything you need to do later on: more easily retreive the data you need to check details and backup for invoices, report on and monitor project progress, bill customers more accurately, as early as possible, and improve your cash flow.
2. Automation significantly speeds up and reduces costs of time & expense data processing
When looking for an automated time and expense system make sure it's compatible with other important third party systems, e.g. payroll, accounting, project management, and human resources. When you integrate time and expense, you can automate all steps from data capture and processing from end to end: from timesheets and expense sheets entry and submission, to approvals, project accounting reviews and validations, payroll and human resource reviews and validations, to time off and leave request submissions and approvals, and sending all finalized data to payroll and accounting electronically. When you synchronize time and expense with your accounting and project accounting systems, users will only record their time and expenses against valid projects and tasks. No mistakes. No need to correct hours and expenses booked against inactive projects. There's more. Automated reminders and late notices keep all tasks on track and on schedule every step of the way. Rejection notices speed up the turnaround of user corrections.
3. More accurate invoices and reduced invoice corrections
Doing it right the first time is easier said than done. Time and expense software dramatically increases the accuracy of time and expense sheets in a few ways. First, software eliminates the need for double data entry by allowing the employees to enter their time and expense data directly into the system. Fewer hands touching original entries means fewer errors. Second, a great time and expense system has an audit trail that allows system administrators to retrace the steps of time and expense entries from beginning to end. All entries can be checked easily, including when an employee created entries, or modified them later on. Third, when approvers and reviewers of project, work and leave data have 100% visibility of that data in real time, they can more proactively manage their employees and their activities. Rather than waiting for the submission of timesheets and expense sheets, they can monitor and review them by viewing sheets or running one-click reports while they are in progress, and give valuable feedback along the way.
4. More efficient time & expense approvals
Even-handed application and validation of federal, state, and local labor laws across multiple jurisdictions or country groups can be a daunting task. Failure here is not a good option. Avoid mistakes and you have lower employee complaints, labor law suits, and penalties. When you automate policy and rule processing, and put in place other validation rules, you make the manager approver's job much easier and less subject to costly mistakes. Managers can automatically reject time and expense sheets and leave it to the employee to correct invalid entries. With a robust audit trail recording that your managers "reject but not modify" time and expense sheets, you will be in the clear legally. All liability is on the employee to submit correct, and corrected, time and expense sheets, eliminating the chance of them coming back to complain of trimmed hours or shorted expense reimbursement checks.
5. Significantly enhanced resource planning
Automated time and expense software lets you know, in real-time, how your projects are staffed, and their progress, or lack of progress, at every step of the way. Easily analyzing utilization and absences makes it easier to plan for future projects, and to know the availability of your resources in the future.
Choosing the right time and expense software
Great project time and expense software offers simple, easy-to-use features that automate every aspect of tracking and project time and expense for billing. Take our product tour to learn more about how automated time and expense software can save you time, money and increase the efficiency and accuracy of your customer billing. If you'd like to learn more about how to significantly improve your project time and expense tracking for billing get our new e-book "The Definitive Guide to Project Time and Expense Tracking for Billing."