Time tracking is a fact of agency life. You do some work, you record your time. This is logical because you’re charging by the hour: tot up the hours done at the end of the month and you can send an invoice.

But time tracking is something that in-house marketers seem to have never got on with. Surely the only point of doing it is for management to monitor how long your tea breaks take?

If they introduce time tracking, what will the next step be? Rationing of biscuits? A maximum number of loo breaks? 

This idea misses something very important: for some activities tracking time is the only way of measuring and improving return on investment.

And at the end of the day, that’s what your boss (and his boss) care about.

For more on this topic, read our post on the best time to review a project.

What’s the ROI of your blog? Only time tracking can tell you

According to Lord Kelvin:

If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it

Everyone blogs nowadays. It’s a standard piece of advice that even managers in large organisations are happy to take and dish out.

Want to improve your online visibility? Easy, start a blog. Contribute to it regularly, get the articles out there on social media, do a bit of PR and soon you’ll be diving into piles of cash like Scrooge McDuck.

That advice is all well and good, but after months of hard graft how do you know that your blog is a success? Well, there’s only one way to prove the success of a medium and that’s by answering this question:

Did this make us more profit than any other medium we could have used?

Profit, of course, means analysing both revenue and cost. You can probably look at your web analytics software to find the revenue side of the equation, but that’s just the vanity metric.

To find the value of the actionable metric you also need to work out cost. But how can you work that out? You’re not paying a marketing agency for their expertise or a publisher for their space, so what’s the cost of maintaining a blog?

There are some people who would say it’s free because you haven’t paid anybody for the exposure. But this is wrong.

For every minute somebody spends writing a blog post they could have been working with other media. Designing an ad, say, or cold calling prospects.

They were paid their salary for each one of those minutes spent researching, brainstorming, writing, and publishing their blog posts.

Which means that knowing how long all of those activities took is the only way to measure the cost of your blog, and so how profitable it is. And the only way of measuring how long blogging takes is by tracking time.

Of course blogging isn’t the only activity that has time as its main cost element. The main cost of community management is time. The same for speaking at a conference or putting together a whitepaper.

Even with traditional advertising you need to add a time to figure out the true cost of a campaign – your team’s wages were being paid during every meeting they sat in. 

So the only way you can tell your boss that your blog – or ad campaign, or conference, or any other marketing activity –  is truly profitable is by tracking time. And which is more powerful for your boss to hear: ‘more marketing budget should hopefully make us more money’ or ‘expanding the marketing budget will make us more profitable, and this is how’?

Tracking time improves efficiency

Let’s say your blog is profitable (you know this because you’ve started tracking the time spent on it). Bosses, of course, are never happy with just being profitable. They always want to know how something can be more profitable.

How does that work with a blog? You could ask for extra budget for guest blogging elsewhere or for a link building campaign, but extra spend is always risky. The easiest way to increase profit is usually to become more efficient. 

Let’s say you look at your time tracker for the past few months and notice it takes you four hours to write a blog post from start to finish.

Using this knowledge you can push yourself over the next few weeks to bring that average down to three and a half, then three. You reduce your costs – without reducing quality of course – and so increase your profit.

Another example could be improving meetings. We all feel like we spend too long in meetings and have all resolved at some point to reduce that time. But how long is ‘long enough’ for a regular meeting?

Your answer to that question might be very different to mine. But if you track time you can set a measurable goal:

Our weekly catch-up meeting with the sales team takes an hour. Let’s cut that down to 30 minutes. There are four of us there, so that will save us 104 man hours every year.

Agencies use lessons from tracking time to improve efficiency in all sorts of ways, from cutting down the length of meetings to getting specialist training that reduces skills gaps. In-house marketers could start learning those same lessons in exactly the same way.

Time tracking helps you remove bottlenecks

We’re all busy people, but some people seem to work longer hours than others. It might be that they’re extra-dedicated, but it might be that they have too much work.

It’s very important for a manager to know the difference, because one behaviour points to a high-performing team member but the other is a sign of low morale in the months to come. So how do you tell the difference? 

If you track how people spend their time and analyse the patterns in that data you can find out whether they’re in the office until 8pm because they want to be, or because they feel they need to be. Then you can take action to help their training or to discuss their workload.

Either way, tracking your team’s time gives you the data you need to improve their performance and their happiness.

You can also use that data to identify bottlenecks in your projects, and so improve your team’s performance as a whole. This is part of what makes time tracking great for improving a team’s efficiency.

It doesn’t stop there!

I think that being able to track ROI on an aspect of your marketing that other people really struggle to provide value on, improving your efficiency, and removing bottlenecks in your team’s work is reason enough to start tracking your time.

But there are all sorts of other benefits as well:

  • Agencies use time tracking to inform their estimates. If you start tracking yours then like them you will be better able to set clients’ (AKA your boss’s) expectations about deadlines.
  • Ever been told off for taking too long on a project when you know it’s because of scope creep, but been unable to prove it? If you track the time spent on each task you’ll be able to back up your case.
  • Want to improve your own productivity? Analyse your own working week in the same way as suggested for your blog and you might be surprised at where you can save time – and exactly how much.

Without numbers, you can’t set goals

Both measuring ROI and improving your efficiency are great examples of setting goals that make a real difference to your business.

In both cases, they will help your team to get better and to shine in the eyes of the people you report to. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a large corporation or a small business, these are the kinds of actions that will help cement your reputation.

And if you’re using the data you get from time tracking to help your team members become more efficient you’ll also end up with a happier team. Tracking your time can also help you reach your personal goals in productivity, efficiency, and how your boss perceives your work.

But if you don’t track your time accurately, these kinds of improvements will be beyond your reach. As the quote at the start of this post says, if you don’t measure it you can’t improve it.

Which means that instead of being a management tool for weeding out people who aren’t working as hard as some bloke from HR thinks they should, time trackers might just be the best tool available for helping your team and making them happier.

For more on agency life, read our post on how the agency model is changing or download the Top 100 Agencies Report.