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How To Boost Your Billable Hours As A Consultant

Barnaby

Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

11 minute read

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As a consultant, you’re constantly looking for ways to increase your billable hours and make the most of your time. After all, more billable hours mean more money in the bank!

But let's face it, sometimes, you’ll get bogged down with low-impact, non-billable work that eats away at your valuable client-facing hours. That means working long hours but still struggling to hit your revenue targets. Struggling to balance your clients' work and administrative tasks will take its toll on your motivation and can become a huge source of stress.

But here’s the good news:

Minimizing the amount of low-impact work and maximizing your billable hours is easier than you might think. Keep reading to learn more.

What are billable hours?

Billable hours are the hours you spend working directly for a client and for which you can charge them. These are the hours you’re directly engaged in providing your clients with services, advice, or solutions.

In other words, billable hours are your income-generating hours. These hours contribute to your revenue and help you make a living as a consultant.

But of course, not all your consultant hours can be billed. That's because some of your hours will be spent on non-billable tasks, such as administrative work, professional development, internal meetings, and meeting prospective clients.

While these tasks are necessary for your consulting business, they don't directly contribute to your income. So, your goals should be to maximize your billable hours and minimize the non-billable ones. The more billable hours you have, the more money you can make.

What are the best ways to boost your billable hours as a consultant?

Boosting your billable hours as a consultant is all about streamlining your workflow, being organized, and learning to prioritize. The following tips will help you boost your billable hours:

Remove distractions

Distractions are huge productivity killers and can interfere with even your best-laid plans. They can seriously derail your workflow and steal time that could be spent more productively.

Removing distractions is vital, given the significant time it takes to get back to a task after a distraction. A study by the University of Chicago found that it takes, on average, 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track after an interruption. So if, for example, the average hourly rate for consultants is $100 per hour, that's the equivalent of $38.75 worth of productive billable time you could be missing out on.

A good first step in eliminating distractions is to arm yourself with everything you need to complete the task at hand. Keep all relevant documents and tools within easy reach, so you don't have to risk being sidetracked by searching for them.

The next step is to clear any clutter from your workspace. One study shows that a messy desk can make it difficult to focus. The presence of many visual stimuli interferes with concentration as all the visual items are competing for your attention.

Remember to turn off notifications from social media apps and other non-essential platforms. Close unnecessary tabs in your browser and use tools such as Freedom to block websites that could be a time-suck.

See: 10 Ways To Overcome Distractions And Stay Focused As An Entrepreneur

Leverage time management hacks

No matter how much we wish for more hours in the day to get everything done and achieve our goals, we'll only ever have the same 24 to work with each day. The key is not to try and cram even more into an already hectic schedule, but to get the most out of the time we have.

These time management techniques can be a real lifesaver for any small business owner. By structuring your workflow as efficiently as possible, you not only reduce stress and bring more balance into your life, but you also open up more opportunities to maximize billable hours working on client projects.

Task-batching

Have you ever noticed how simply switching back and forth between tasks can be a real productivity killer? Truth be told, most people don't—which is one of the reasons why it's such a powerful silent assassin.

Every time you switch from one task to another, your brain has to adapt to the new situation and figure out what you're supposed to be doing. This process takes time and energy, both of which could be better spent on actually getting work done. One study found that the brief 'mental blocks' that occur when shifting between different tasks can cost you as much as 40% of your productive time. And in the world of consultants, time is money.

Task-batching is a game-changer in this regard. It involves grouping similar tasks together and working on them consecutively or completing them all in one sitting.

By focusing on one type of task consistently, you'll find it much easier to stay in the zone and produce quality work, as well as avoid being derailed by those 'mental blocks' and wasting valuable time and energy constantly having to get back on track.

Day-theming

Day-theming takes task-batching one step further, assigning specific task themes or categories to different days of the week. For instance, you could dedicate Mondays to client meetings, Tuesdays to research and analysis, Wednesdays to writing reports, and so on.

By theming your days, you create a clear framework for your work, as well as eliminate decision fatigue. You'll know exactly what to expect each day and can allocate your time accordingly. This method helps you maintain a balance between different aspects of your work and ensures you stay focused on billable tasks without feeling overwhelmed.

See: 5 Essential Reasons To Stop Multitasking And Start Monotasking Today

Time-blocking

Once you've batched your tasks or decided on your themes, it's time to block out slots in your calendar to complete them.

Many of us are used to writing out a to-do list to work through each day, but without a firm structure or boundary in place, a seemingly simple task may end up taking all morning or afternoon to complete. Before you know it, you’re falling increasingly behind on your workload.

This is why time-blocking is such an essential technique for protecting your valuable time. When you block out set amounts of time to dedicate to certain tasks, rather than just writing a to-do list for your day, you’ll naturally find yourself becoming more disciplined, focused, and efficient to make sure you finish within that block of time and don't overrun.

During these dedicated time blocks, aim to keep your environment as distraction-free as possible. Avoid checking emails or getting sidetracked by non-essential tasks. At the end of the day, you’ll have done much more in the same amount of time. No need to work late or spend your evening feeling stressed or guilty about unfinished tasks.

Prioritization

Prioritizing may seem just like common sense, but it cannot be overestimated when it comes to business success.

While some tasks may feel important, their return on investment doesn’t truly justify the effort you spend on them. When you prioritize effectively, you're making a conscious decision about how to best use your time and energy to create the biggest impact in your consulting business.

Aim to tick off your highest-priority tasks each day. Anything that has a deadline fast approaching or will significantly push your business further should always be dealt with first so you can tackle them with the full force of your mental capacity. Not only that, but this also reduces the risk of important work being put off or falling through the cracks.

Once you've completed them, you'll have a sense of accomplishment and a clear mind to power you through the rest of your day.

See: How To Prioritize As An Entrepreneur: What To Do When All Tasks Feel Important

Use Time-Tracking Tools

It's impossible to manage and optimize your billable time if you don't know how you're spending it. That's why you should invest in time-tracking tools that provide valuable insights into your workflow and help you pinpoint areas that need improvement.

These tools enable you to accurately monitor and record the time you spend on each task. But there's more to these tools than just tracking time.

As a consultant, time-tracking software will benefit you in the following ways.

Accurate invoicing

One of the main benefits of time-tracking is that it allows you to charge clients accurately for your time. Keeping track of the minutes and hours spent on their projects allows you to create detailed invoices that reflect the effort you've invested. This transparency builds trust with your clients, as well as ensures you are always compensated fairly for your skills since there's minimal risk of underbilling.

Identifying time-wasters

Time-tracking tools also enable you to identify and eliminate time-wasting activities from your workflow. By monitoring the time you spend on different tasks and projects, you can pinpoint areas where you could be hemorrhaging time without realizing it, or where you can be even more efficient. This helps you gain more control over your day and avoid losing out on potential billable hours.

Increasing productivity

Time-tracking tools can help you increase your productivity by creating a sense of accountability. Knowing your time is being tracked can motivate you to stay focused, avoid distractions, and tackle procrastination.

Clearer client communication

The tools provide you with data that you can use to enhance communication with your clients. When you share your time utilization data with clients, you can demonstrate the value you are delivering and provide insights into the progress of specific projects.

Insights into profitability

Time-tracking provides insights into the profitability of each project by comparing the time spent with the project's revenue. This data can help you make informed decisions about your hourly rate, scope, and resource allocation for future projects.

After learning how time-tracking apps can boost your billable hours, the next question should be, which tool should you choose? There's no shortage of time-tracking apps on the market, each with its own unique features.

Some of the best ones include Toggl, Harvest, RescueTime, TimeCamp, and Clockify. When choosing your time-tracking app, there are a few things you should bear in mind.

These include ease of use, reporting capabilities, and available integrations. For instance, in integrations, you should look for a tool that integrates with the other apps you’re using, such as invoicing, project management, and accounting software.

Invest in self-care

As a consultant, you rely on your creativity, focus, logical reasoning, and problem-solving abilities to come up with effective solutions for your clients and build a reliable brand.

But the truth is, you'll struggle to do either if you're constantly stressed and exhausted.

It's been well-documented that mental and physical exhaustion wreaks havoc on your cognitive capabilities, including all of the above. Thinking clearly, recalling information, and generating new ideas can feel all but impossible when you're in the grip of brain fog. No matter how hard you push yourself, you just can't get over the finish line.

And what happens when unfinished tasks start to pile up? Do you work overtime to get everything done, sacrificing valuable personal time to rest and recharge? Or do you vow to finish it all the following day, where you'll either have to eat into time that could be spent on billable client work, or risk falling even more behind with more tasks on your to-do list than time to complete them all?

Let's be honest, there are no winners in any of these scenarios. All roads lead to a vicious cycle of stress, burnout, and ever-decreasing quality of work.

If you want to be successful in this field, it's important to find ways to take care of your body and mind and keep stress levels as low as possible.

So what does self-care look like in practice? A crucial part of self-care is setting healthy boundaries to maintain your work-life balance. When looking to increase your billable hours, it's easy to fall into the trap of saying "yes" to every opportunity that comes your way and taking on as much work as possible. However, this can do much more harm than good in the long run.

Self-care can also be as simple as taking breaks throughout the day to relax and rejuvenate yourself, as well as maintaining healthy habits like eating well, staying hydrated, keeping active, and getting enough sleep. Taking care of yourself is not selfish—it’s necessary. You owe it to yourself, your clients, and your business itself to be on your best form, so investing in your mental and physical health will always pay off.

Offload non-billable tasks to a virtual assistant

As a consultant, you likely have a laundry list of repetitive, back-office tasks that are needed to help keep the wheels of your business turning. But have you ever wondered just how many hours are being lost each week to these non-billable tasks?

According to a survey of independent consultants, out of an average of 52 hours spent at work each week, 10 hours are spent on admin.

While there's no denying these tasks need to be done, they don't need to be done by you. Your valuable time and energy should be spent where it counts the most.

The good news is that you can delegate almost all administrative duties to a virtual assistant (VA).

  • Email management: Sorting, organizing, and responding to emails, flagging important messages, and filtering out spam or low-priority emails.
  • Calendar management: Scheduling appointments, meetings, and conference calls with clients, as well as taking minutes during online meetings and sending follow-ups.
  • Travel planning: Researching and booking flights, hotels, and transportation, and organizing travel logistics for business trips.
  • Data entry: Inputting data into spreadsheets, databases, or CRM systems, ensuring accuracy and organization.
  • Research: Conducting online research, gathering information, and preparing summaries or reports on specific topics.
  • Document preparation: Formatting documents, creating templates, proofreading, and editing reports, proposals, or presentations.
  • File organization: Establishing a logical file structure, managing digital files, and ensuring documents are properly categorized and easily accessible.
  • Financial admin: Assisting with billing and expense tracking, creating and sending invoices, and chasing late payments.
  • Social media management: Creating and scheduling posts across platforms, checking notifications, and responding to any comments or direct messages.

If you're looking to increase your billable time with clients to boost your cash flow, you're probably wondering if the expense of hiring an extra set of hands is worth it—especially if you don’t need that much support. And you'd be right, hiring someone full-time can take a pretty hefty chunk out of your budget.

However, while many people believe that doing everything themselves is the more cost-effective option, in fact, this approach could be costing them way more in terms of missed opportunities for billing clients.

If we use the figures from earlier examples, the same number of hours spent on admin each week would generate $1000 in revenue if they were spent solely on billable work for clients. That works out at just over $4,000 per month.

The cost to hire a virtual assistant for the same number of hours each month is $1,360.

And it’s not just salary costs you save on. When you include the costs of recruitment, employee benefits, office supplies, and equipment, hiring a virtual assistant could be up to 90% cheaper than a full-time employee. The money you save can then be reinvested into other areas of your business, which could provide many more opportunities for growth.

See: How To Hire A Virtual Admin Assistant To Boost Productivity In Your Business

What's the bottom line?

Figuring out where you should spend your time is one of the most important business decisions you’ll make as a consultant. By focusing on the right activities, you’ll get more done and earn more money.

If you’re ready to cut out the low-value tasks that stop you from doing more revenue-generating work, Time etc is here for you.

Our mission is to help ambitious and hardworking professionals reclaim their time by pairing them with the best virtual assistant to take care of all the tasks that are holding them back.

Speak to our expert team to get started. We’ll set you up with a dedicated professional based on your unique requirements.

Or try a skilled virtual assistant for free today!

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About the author

Barnaby
Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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