Tracking Consulting Expenses

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At the end of the first year of self employment, consultants quickly discover that their income is taxed differently than that of an employee. To offset this, self-employed consultants also have the advantage of claiming far more expenses. Long before tax time arrives, talk with your accountant to learn how the tax law applies to your practice and develop a method to track these expenses as they occur. Then, tax time will become a far less painful experience.

Expenses While Consulting

Almost any amount spent with a client can be claimed as an expense, as long as it pertains to the job. You can claim paper, pencils or any office supplies. Rental of equipment like a computer or projector and the purchase of items for the client need to be tracked and can often be included on invoices. Food set out during presentations or meetings also can be reported, but track meals with a client separately, since different rules apply.

On the Road

Airfare, hotels and car rental all qualify as business expenses. Keep all bills and receipts and credit card slips. Some meals can be reported, but talk with your accountant to determine which can be expensed. When driving to a client, whether to a distant city or just up the street, always track the miles driven. Keep a log book listing the reason for the trip, the starting and ending odometer readings, and then calculate the number of miles driven. Each year, the IRS publishes a standard mileage rate and these miles add up quickly.

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Home Office

If you set aside a separate room for your consulting practice, the IRS allows you to expense a percentage of your mortgage, utilities, insurance and other home expenses. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to this practice, so discuss this with your accountant. Even if you choose to not deduct the space, keep track of the furnishings and equipment purchased for the business. Desk, chair, computers, fax and other equipment all apply. Also remember to track phone calls and consider purchasing a separate cell phone specifically for the business.

Tracking Expenses

The best time to track an expense is when it occurs. Keep a notebook or Day-Timer handy to jot down expenses or tap them into your smartphone. Remember to also keep all receipts. Once you are back at home, enter them into a spreadsheet or small business accounting program. For most, a checkbook program like Quicken works well, is easy to learn and offers a variety of reports by category and time period. Buy a file box or cabinet and a stack of file folders. Then, organize the receipts, credit card slips and other paper by expense category, month or client.

THE IMPORTANCE OF TIMESHEET COMPLIANCE

Assuming you want your business to be profitable, if your product is predominantly people, in that you’re delivering a service or project, it is the same people that are your profit margin. Therefore, how you measure billable time is of utmost importance; do it poorly and risk damaging your profit margin, alienating customers and creating a despondent workforce.

Beyond this any business whereby utilization is a primary metric, whether or not for forecasting deliverables or implementing them, you’ll likely be reliant on the employee themselves to accurately record their time, likely in the form of TIMESHEETS!

But, and we’re not pointing fingers here, employees tend to not like them making it problematic to the following departments:

WHAT IS TIMESHEET COMPLIANCE?

Stage one is understanding this question. Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? Do ya timesheets! Beyond that timesheet compliance is about filling it in accurately and correctly; often these are to a set of standards that are predetermined at the company level, to establish what is pertinent to them, or on an industry level, so there is affinity to project types. This means projects are tracked effectively and forecasting is consistent and accurate, but also people get paid accurately.

WHY DO PEOPLE CARE?

For the employee it might not be that simple though. Yes there are rules to follow but as a PM you have work to do and a poor memory for the hours you’ve worked. This can cost your business for the following reasons (nicely they all turned out to be P’s):

  1. Profit: if your employees are mis-reporting it’ll likely lead to inaccurate forecasting and this could be in either direction - over or under. Clients getting overcharged, or mis-charged in line with sales promises (sometimes referred to as the value-promise gap) often results in poor customer success, churn and no repeat business; this is only further exacerbated as you then provide correctional work for free. It can also create issues with starting on time when the volume of time required is mis-forecast, further hitting your bottom line.
  2. Pay: on the flip side, undercharging clients might mean your employees are getting the short end of the stick, especially if there is variance in billable rates due to differing types of work or if you offshore your resources. You want to be accurate for both internal and external reasons.
  3. Projections: your forecast’s accuracy is dependant on historical data and if timesheet compliance is low you’ll likely be mis-judgeing how long work should taking in actuality; this can impact in a variety of ways from losing clients at the bid stage as your competitors were able to provide more realistic timelines and SOWs, or it can impact success later with work not aligning to the SOW at each milestone. Timesheets are essential to the concept of good resourcing and beyond - under or over budgeting time can kill a profit margin.
  4. Performance: all of the above puts a customer relationship at risk but also can damage your employee satisfaction, which exacerbates the former. Using timesheets effectively means you can track the important moving parts of a project and your business overall as it can highlight these risks, for example, burnout, underperformance, unprofitable work, client engagement and (un)fulfilled promises.

THE SOLUTION


The SystemX Time Sheets Module in our Business Management Platform. You don’t have to buy the full platform license, and instead just use our time sheet module integrated you’re your accounting software to record billable hours by employees, and project based consulting.

Timesheet tools are commonplace and there are a variety of options to choose, but if service delivery is your world then you should look at our Time Sheets module. Click here to book a 15 minute no obligation demo with us.

The best systems should easily accommodate flexible working practices like part time workers or those who have less hours a day in comparison to a colleague, so that you can truly see the cost and capacity based on individuals as opposed to blended data. If you want to be able to make business decisions based on data, the data has to be accurate and automation can create a more accurate picture of work with the added bonus that employees don’t have to spend hours on doing the thing they hate the most...timesheets!