Ah, the life of a consultant: Do the work. Invoice the client. Get paid. Repeat the process.
In most cases, consultants charge for time, completed work, or expenses. Which means time and expenses need to be recorded, and projects need to marked as "completed". Only then can invoicing occur so clients can pay.
Unfortunately, while consultants are experts in their field, they are not necessarily good timekeepers. They got into consulting to do the work, not fill out timesheets and expense reports. Ask your favorite consultant which they prefer: working on a project or filling out a timesheet? Most consultants will choose the project.
So tracking time, expenses and projects needs to be easy - very easy; so easy that even a consultant will do it.
Here are four ways time tracking can be made simpler for Google Apps users, thanks to three apps found in the Google Apps Marketplace: Crisply, Freshbooks, and Harvest. These three apps all enable time tracking and invoicing.
1. Easy to access
Choose time tracking and invoicing apps from the Google Marketplace, so consultants don't have to remember additional website URLs, usernames or passwords. Instead, consultants login to Google Apps, click on "More..." in the universal navigation bar, then click on the name of the time tracking app.
Crisply, Freshbooks and Harvest all integrate with the Google Apps universal navigation bar. To enable any of these three apps, a Google Apps administrator must add and configure the app from the Marketplace once for the entire organization.
2. Easy to track, enter, and edit time
Freshbooks provides a web page for users to select a project, enter a task, then enter billable hours and notes. Freshbooks time entry occurs on the Freshbooks.com website.
Freshbooks provide easy time entry
Harvest also provides a web page for users to enter billable hours for projects by day. Harvest time entry can be done at the Harvest.com website. Harvest takes the Google integration a step further: consultants may enter their time without leaving Gmail, by filling out a form sent from Harvest to users. That extra prompt may help spur consultants to complete their timesheets!
Harvest also allows time entry from within Gmail
3. Easy to automate time tracking
Crisply integrates with a user's Google Calendar: it pulls in all appointments from a consultant's Google Calendar as potential billable activities. As long as the consultant adjusts Calendar meeting times to reflect actual start and end times, Crisply will accurately identify billable time for the calendar event.
Crisply draws on several sources to identify possible billable activities
Crisply can connect with Gmail, Google Docs, Google Voice, Dropbox, Foursquare and many other services to identify possible client related activity. For example, if a consultant makes a phone call to a client using Google Voice, the date and time of the call will display as possible billable activities. The consultant reviews and approves which activities are to be billed.
Crisply lets the user select which activities are to be billed to clients
As of January 11, 2013, Crisply does not have a payment processing solution. But Crisply does integrate with QuickBooks Desktop and Online, as well as Harvest. A consultant might use Crisply to identify billable time, and then use Harvest to provide a friendly client-facing interface for invoicing and payment.
4. Easy to use while mobile
Harvest and Freshbooks both support mobile time tracking with an iPhone app. Harvest also provides an Android app.
Crisply doesn't provide a mobile app. But since Crisply accesses data from Gmail, Google Calendar, and Foursquare, any activity on those services - even from a mobile device - should be pulled in and identified.
5. Easy to afford
All three services offer relatively affordable paid plans. FreshBooks is free to use for invoicing three clients, with paid plans starting at $19.95 per month. Harvest starts at $12 per month for a single user. And Crisply is free for up to five users, with paid plans costing $5 per month per user after the fifth user.
Of the three, Freshbooks and Harvest offer relatively complete solutions for consultants. And Crisply offers the most innovative way to identify potentially billable time for web-using consultants yet.
As a consultant, I want time tracking and billing to automatically happen. Time tracking and billing isn't magic yet, but Google Apps and a couple well-chosen Google Apps Marketplace apps certainly make the process simpler.
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.