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14 Strategies To Reduce Your Unbillable Time

14 strategies for reducing your unbillable hours
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10 hours worked, 6 hours charged 🤔

As virtual assistants we’ve all done those ten hour days, only to find we’ve tracked time for just six!  No matter how organised we are, unbillable time remains one of our biggest challenges. As a virtual business manager it’s much easier to keep those hours under control.  Being on a retainer helps, as does setting clear expectations about your role and your deliverables right from onboarding your new client. 

So without further ado, here’s some tips to make sure you’re invoicing where you should be: 

14 strategies for reducing your unbillable hours

  1. Say no when you’re asked to do something outside of your skillset (or say that’s not something I can do but I can find someone who can).
  2. Know your area of expertise and work within that.  This reduces unbillable time learning how to do something or worse, learning how to get something to work!
  3. Those 5 minute jobs you don’t track time for, either save them and do them all at once or add time each month to account for those “I’ll just do this quickly” tasks.  This one is a biggie for me as I tend to go through my inbox, doing the ‘quickie’ so I can go back to the client and move the email out of my inbox. 
  4. Emails!  Sort emails by sender and only open them when you are tracking time for that client.  Where possible, email clients and contractors from your project management tool. Request your client setup an inbox and chat channel for you where you will communicate on your work for them. That way you know your timer’s on when you’re communicating (plus it keeps ‘noise’ out of your inbox).
  5. We track time on task for clients meaning the timer goes on when we are working on a task.  When setting up projects or clarifying tasks, try to minimise the amount of emails by ensuring you get all the information in one email or form.  This is the form we use for our casual client briefs.
  6. Have your project management or time tracker tool open all the time and track time as you’re working.  Don’t go back and add your time at the end of the day, week or month.
  7. Plan your week/days depending on your client priorities by assigning time blocks daily to each client. For example, one of our VBMs is working with two 40-HR per month VBM retainer clients so she time blocks 10 hours across each week for each client. This allows her to spend 2-3 hour time blocks in “deep work” for each client, avoiding distraction from her other client. She enters her time in our PM system in rounded blocks of time of no less than 15 minutes.
  8. Establish boundaries of availability with your client. Be clear on your other business and/or family commitments and how and when you work. As a VBM you generally work on a retainer basis and you are not on-call. Commit to a quick daily check-in of inbox and chat channels, but beyond that stick to your client time blocks.
  9. Track your unbillable time as well as billable.  This can help you spot trends on certain tasks (or clients!) which regularly call for unbillable hours.  You can’t change what you don’t know and sometimes seeing that stat is enough motivation to prioritise reducing unbillables.
  10. Consider outsourcing those tasks you’re tracking unbillable time for.  It’s more profitable to pay someone a lower hourly rate which frees you up to track more billable time (at your higher rate).  Just like we train our clients to do!
  11. Try to automate some of those repetitive tasks you’re doing.  How can you make your invoicing or reporting more efficient?  Like point 10 above, treat your own business as you do your clients … looking for efficiencies where you can.
  12. Use the unbillable time you do track as a differentiator.  Clients love to feel like they’re getting something for a better value. Including both billable and non-billable hours helps to build stronger relationships with clients. When you explain all the work that goes on behind the scenes to your clients, they have a better understanding of everything you do for them.  Time spent on each non-billable task relates to the high-quality work you do for them, all at no extra cost.
  13. With your VBM clients, keep a balance between what can realistically be accomplished within their retainer allowance each month which provides the client with return on investment. Don’t try and take on more than one big project per month.
  14. Under-promise and over-deliver. Never allow yourself to get flustered during a client meeting and agree to a project timeline that will cause you to spend time on work you cannot realistically bill for, lose sleep or worse, have an anxiety attack. If you think you can get a project rolled out by Tuesday next week, let the client know that you’ll have it ready for them by the end of day on Wednesday. Never put yourself in a position where the result is disappointment for the client and unbillable hours for you.

Action

  1. If you don’t use a time tracker already, sign up for a free account with Toggl.
  2. Start tracking every task you do, both billable and unbillable.  
  3. Review these (and Toggl provides good reporting) each week and use the strategies in this article to reduce your unbillable time.
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