In 2020, 59 million people in the US completed freelance work at least once. That's a surprising figure, even with the rise of the gig economy and increasing globalization. Not only that, but Upwork found that 58 percent of non-freelancers plan to start freelancing in the future.
But here's the catch – it can take a while to get into freelancing and find your consistency, which means your weekly income chops and changes a lot. Every cent counts; every minute counts. This is where tracking your time as a freelancer becomes so important.
Time tracking for freelancers is the process of recording and monitoring the amount of time spent on tasks or projects. We can use this data to improve productivity, measure against goals, and – most importantly for many freelancers – bill clients correctly.
There are several ways that you can track your time as a freelancer. You can do it manually with a simple pen and paper, but automated tools are far more accessible and more reliable. We’ve tested a variety of tools and narrowed them down to our top three.
1. Hello Bonsai
For a long time, freelancers had to use clunky software built for large companies. There wasn't anything specifically designed for them. But now there are plenty of great options, like Hello Bonsai.
Hello Bonsai is the utility knife of freelance administration. It's got absolutely everything a freelancer needs to organize their business and finances:
- Customer relationship management
- Automated forms
- Task tracking
And of course, Hello Bonsai has a comprehensive time tracking function that integrates with the rest of the platform.
Benefits and Features
The Hello Bonsai time tracking tool has several great features that can make your life easier. You can:
- Set an hourly rate for each project for automatic payment calculations
- Centralize your timesheets for freelancers working as a team
- Download the time tracker onto all devices – Android, Apple, Mac, and Chrome
- Automatically get accurate invoices generated based on your timesheets
- Add projects, tasks, and sub-tasks to keep better track of your work
- Get detailed reports on how you're spending your time
As you can see, the dashboard UI design is minimalist, clean, and easy to understand.
Even though some of Hello Bonsai’s tools are superfluous to one-person freelance businesses, we didn’t feel that the interface was overly cluttered. It seemed like a lot of thought had gone into workflow so that every function integrates seamlessly.
Hello Bonsai has a Starter plan for $24/month, a Professional plan for $39/month, and a Business plan for $79/month. As a freelancer or solopreneur, the Starter pack has everything you need to get going. They’ll give you two months free if you pay yearly.
Hello Bonsai Pros & Cons
- All-in-one; no need to switch between multiple tools
- A clean and straightforward interface that is easy to learn
- Goes beyond time tracking capabilities to offer proposals, contracts, invoicing, and more
- Time tracking tool doesn’t capture photo evidence of your work
We see Hello Bonsai as an excellent solution for those who want comprehensive financial management in one neat package. The time tracking feature – which we were most interested in for this article – is accurate and easy to use.
Known for its iconic white and orange branding, Harvest has been one of the most popular time-tracking tools since its release over a decade ago. It's got a clean, intuitive interface that we found appealing.
Harvest doesn't go overboard with its features list, but it does include the three most important functions: time tracking, reporting, and invoicing. Most freelancers don't need anything else to run their business – and Harvest integrates with other tools in case you need more.
Harvest comes in the form of a desktop, mobile, and web app so that you can track your time no matter where you are. We were impressed with features like idle detection that gently prevent you from accidentally billing for breaks.
Benefits and Features
With Harvest, you can:
- Track time from your browser, mobile, or the toolbar at the top of your screen
- Integrate with other workflow tools like Monday, ClickUp, and GitHub
- Create automated reminders so that you never forget to track time
- Get reports on where time is spent
- Keep an eye on budgets, and income goals with analytics
- Generate invoices and accept payments based on time tracked
Harvest has a Free plan that gives you all the features, but you can only add two projects. The Pro plan has unlimited seats and projects for an affordable $10.80 per month.
Harvest Pros & Cons
- Integrates with other popular workflow tools
- Easy to add information like billable rates
- Reminds you about idle time without being overbearing
- Doesn’t cover the entire client management and invoicing process
We’d hesitate to recommend Harvest over Hello Bonsai, since there are no customer relationship features and the interface can feel rudimentary at times – but it’s an excellent tool for those who value simplicity and functionality.
3. Toggl Track
Like Harvest, Toggl was launched in 2006 and has been gaining popularity since then. It started as a tool for internal company use – but since then, it’s developed into a multi-faceted cloud-based tool that anyone can apply to their professional life.
Toggl released Toggl Track as a dedicated tool for freelancers and businesses who track employee time. You can track your time with a click, integrate with your calendar, set up an auto tracker, and bill your clients accurately.
Benefits and Features
Considering that Toggl Track is a lightweight tool it offers an impressive feature set. You can:
- Track time manually or automatically with the auto tracker
- Integrate with over 100 business tools like Asana, Trello, Jira, and more
- Get detailed reports on where your time is spent
- Create invoices based on tracked time
- Automatically start tracking in the background when you use specific apps and websites
- Bill your clients seamlessly
It helps that the Toggl interface is highly aesthetic and visual, as you can see in the calendar view above. The design is clean and colorful, making it a joy to use. You can also see visualizations of your analytics:
Toggl Track's Free option is ideal for freelancers; it's provides unlimited time tracking, projects, and clients. If you want to add billable rates and calendar integration, you'll need to update to Starter for $9/user/month. There's also a Premium option for $18/user/month and an Enterprise option with custom pricing.
Toggle Pros & Cons
- Free plan has everything you need to track time and bill clients
- Very aesthetic design that isn’t overwhelming
- Helpful data visualizations to highlight inefficiencies
- Not the best for freelance teams
We were pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of features you can access without paying anything at all. It’s not as comprehensive as Hello Bonsai, but it does the job well.
Things To Consider Before Buying a Time-Tracking Billing Tool
Some time tracking tools will be better suited to you than others. A 5-star rating is no guarantee that a tool will work for you, as it depends on your specific needs. To help you choose the right time-tracking tool for your freelance business, consider the following factors:
How much are you willing to spend on a time-tracking tool? If you’re a bootstrapping freelancer, you may want to look for a free or low-cost option like Toggl Track. Freelance teams would benefit from using a more comprehensive paid tool like Hello Bonsai.
Time tracking tools don't always come with a great user interface. If you prefer something that's visually appealing and easy to use, take a close look at the tool's design before signing up. We were impressed with the UI of all three tools we tested, but Hello Bonsai is one of the better options.
Ease of Use
The best time-tracking tools are those that you'll want to use regularly. If a tool is too difficult to set up or takes too long to learn, chances are you won't use it for long. Harvest, for instance, has a simple toolbar drop-down toggle that makes the timer super accessible.
The features you need from a time-tracking tool will depend on the type of work you do and how you like to track your time. Some features are essential for all freelancers, like invoicing, for example. Others, like CRM integrations (available with Hello Bonsai), might be necessary for those who work with many clients.
If you use other business tools to run your freelance operation, look for a time tracker that integrates with them. Both Harvest and Hello Bonsai integrate well with most tools. There were complaints about Toggl Track not having enough integrations in the past, but it now integrates with more than 100 other tools.
Ultimately, your choice of time-tracking tool should come down to what works best for you and your business. We recommend Hello Bonsai for an all-in-one solution that covers time tracking, invoicing, customer relationships, proposals, and everything else you need to run your freelance business.
Freelancing is a great way to build a career – but it comes with its unique set of challenges, one of which is tracking your time. After testing them out, we recommend Hello Bonsai, Harvest, and Toggl Track for their reliable feature sets that cover all bases.
FAQs on Time Tracking for Freelancers
Yes. Adding another monthly bill to your business bills may feel like an unnecessary expense. However, the heightened productivity and more accurate time records will save you time and money in the long run.
There are several ways to go about it. You can use an online time tracker, like Toggl Track or Hello Bonsai, or keep your records with a simple Excel spreadsheet. Automated tools will be more reliable, however, as there's less room for human error.
There are many excellent time-tracking apps on the market. Our favorites include Toggl Track, Hello Bonsai, and Harvest; we were impressed with their list of features and ease of use.