The Art of Business: Time and Billing Software for the PC Set

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Two weeks ago we ran what we thought would be a sleepy column about Mac-based tracking and billing software.

Boy, were we given a wake-up call.

We got throngs of mail from irate PC-based creative professionals taking us to task for forgetting to include PC software programs. The once-timid contingent of PC creatives obviously has grown more vocal. In deference to them (us?), here is a round up of PC-based tracking and billing programs.

One Size Fits All?
Unlike most Mac-based programs, which are specifically, or largely, designed for creative professionals, PC programs as a whole tend to be designed for larger firms with creatives lumped into the pile. Hence, these programs tend to have a more business-like approach or utilize terminology slanted more toward attorneys, engineers, IT management, and consultants.

But, hey, project tracking and billing is not rocket science, and all these programs do a good job of billing in time increments, invoicing, task tracking, and report generation.

Here are few programs worth considering.

Logging your Time
Time Logger 4.0 from Responsive Software, like all time and billing applications, keeps track of the time you spend working on different projects. You can track your time while working on up to four simultaneous projects with mouse-driven "stopwatches," or manually enter data after-the-fact, including, of course, expenses and car mileage information. Once done, Responsive Time Logger automatically compiles your information into detailed reports that are easily customized.

Time Logger runs on all major Windows versions (higher than 3.1) and is available as a single-user application for $89 or in a networked version charged by seat license.

Time Logger offers plenty of flexibility. You can categorize each time or expense record by up to 10 fields such as Client, Project, Subproject, Activity, and Hourly Rate. You can then link these fields and customize reports using simple drag and drop techniques. Time Logger also keeps track of payments and automatically prints your invoices on supplied invoices or your custom invoices created in a word processor.

Best of all for creatives, Responsive Time Logger's now features a Palm interface and support, letting you track time on your Palm then HotSync the information back to your desktop. On your Palm, you tap "Start" when you start working, select and fill in information about what you're working on, and tap "Stop" when you're done {see Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Responsive Time Logger lets you enter data on your Palm and Hotsync it later.

If you're a code tinkerer, you'll appreciate Time Logger's VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) macro language. With it, you can write a Visual Basic program to control Time Logger and other applications. For example, you can write a macro that compiles time record data, then opens Excel, and summarizes that data with a pie chart. Responsive Time Logger also lets you use SQL commands to filter or sort the time record database.

A Slip in Time
Timeslips from Best Software is now in its 17th year of development, so you could say that the wrinkles have been worked out. A perennial bestseller, Timeslips is available in two versions, a $199 Sole Practitioner version (good for two non-networked "timekeepers") and a network version, Timeslips 11, for $399 (plus seat licenses) for up to 5,000 users. Both versions integrate with a wide number of accounting packages, contact management programs, time and expense gathering tools (including phone and photocopy tracking), and other third-party products.

The Sole Practitioner version offers some nice touches, including:

  • Dozens of text abbreviations, custom task and client codes, and shortcuts designed to make the recording of time and expenses quick and easy;
  • A smaller version of the entry view can be placed in the corner of your screen, allowing you to work on tasks while keeping an eye on the time and charges being accumulated (see Figure 2);
  • An integrated phone dialer that tallies up time spent on the phone with clients;
  • A customizable "one-screen" snapshot of your entire billing cycle;
  • Global changes to billing rates, task dates, or client's bill formats;
  • Up to 30 custom fields for tracking detail important to you;
  • Dozens of preference settings that let you tailor Timeslips terminology, default values, and features.
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    Figure 2: Timeslips lets you choose between a full-screen (top) and "mini" version of the Entry Log.

Both versions are designed to run on Windows 98 SE, Me, NT, 2000 or XP. See the Web site for required service packs.

Journyx is the Reward
Timesheet from Journyx is designed for large enterprises, but the program's user-friendly interface allows you to track your time and billing with as much or as little detail as you want.
Here's the best thing about this program: To attract large companies, Journyx gives away the program for use by 10 users or less. As it says verbatim on its Web site: "Download Timesheet and use it to your heart's content, for free, for up to 10 users. Not 'free for 60 days.' Not 'free if you buy this timeshare in Florida.' Just plain free."
Since most creative shops fall under the radar in this category, you can pick up this program gratis and upgrade later should you expand. Meanwhile you'll enjoy Timesheet's many features:

  • Customize Time Entry screens for users, groups, or the whole company (see Figure 3);
  • Standardize task descriptions for work groups or company-wide;
  • Display employee accrual balances on time-entry screen;
  • Employ a hierarchical structure in the project display or implement project dependencies;
  • Create and manage multi-level approvals based on projects and/or employees;
  • Automate approvals via email reminders to employees and approver;
  • Define "auto-reject" rules to ensure accuracy across entry methods;
  • View vital data in real-time, from anywhere in the world;
  • Export billing and payroll data to other systems;
  • View project status using hierarchical rollup reports;
  • Share data via emailed, copied, and scheduled reports;
  • Search for users, projects, or records globally;
  • Customize the color scheme and logo for your company;
  • Include daily reminders and helpful links on the login screen;
  • Rename, re-populate, or remove fields as needed by your organization.
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    Figure 3: Timesheet's time-sheet approval capability is a good fit for larger organizations (top). Shown below is a cropped view of an individual time report.

Timesheet is particularly strong in billing, allowing you to:

  • Mark individual entries with appropriate accounting codes;
  • Track client billing information in customizable fields;
  • Allow client access to reports & billing/work order approvals.

As with all software programs, the Golden Rule is: Try before you buy. Responsive Time Logger and Timeslips are available in time-limited demo versions. As mentioned, Journyx Timesheet is simply free forever for 10 users or less.
There's not much to lose but your billing headaches.

Read more by Eric J. Adams.

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