How much cargo is on that Crazy Train?

by Kelly Totten on January 28, 2011

© Rick Sargeant -

Time tracking is an area that most creatives vehemently oppose.  “It’s a creative process, we don’t know how much time it will take.”  or “It depends on the person and the project.  Sometimes it’s quick and sometimes it’s not.”  These are valid arguments.  These arguments can be applied to other service based businesses as well.  I can assure you, I don’t like time tracking either and when I hire bookkeepers, some are faster than others.

Even though the argument is valid, you still have to find a way to price projects appropriately, track work in process, and measure profitability.  Like it or not, time is the best measure.  That’s not to say there aren’t other ways of estimating.  You have to figure out the easiest, best way to reasonably approximate how much effort each project takes.

In my own business, I quote similar projects a lot.  No two projects are exactly the same, so I never know exactly how long things will take or, when I use a contractor, how quick they will be.  The other big variable is the nature of my clients.  I work with creatives… I never know how much crazy is coming down the tracks.

There are many different variations in how creative firms are managed.  Some owners are pretty organized and/or have systems in place, some want to track down to the littlest detail (often out of fear of not seeing something…that’s a different article), and some have absolutely no processes or systems and are resistant to putting them in place.  So even if the project looks exactly the same, there could be an entirely different amount of cargo on that Crazy Train.

By tracking time and costs to each project and using my experience to scope out projects and understand the business in question, I can get a better handle on pricing the next similar project.  If you don’t collect information on each project, you’ll never be as good at pricing and understanding what’s coming down the tracks as you could be.  Of course, that can lead to lost profits.  How do you estimate how much cargo is on the next Crazy Train?

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