Living by the Non-Billable Marketing Hour
For many professional services providers – including those specializing in accounting, law, engineering, architecture and consulting – tracking time is a way of life. There are two major time buckets – billable and non-billable. Billable time is client work and there are usually specific client codes and sub-codes for active client projects. There is always a great deal of attention placed on tracking billable time and rightly so - that is what pays the bills!
From Marketing Junkyard…
From my experience as a client services professional, in-house professional services marketer and now marketing consultant to professional services firms, non-billable marketing time codes are a lot like junk yards. Marketing, business development, non-chargeable client work such as travel and even administrative tasks are dumped in the non-billable marketing pile. Some may argue that this time is non-revenue producing, and why should coding matter? Trash is trash, after all.
…To Marketing Treasure
Well, some firm’s trash can be another’s treasure - savvy professional services firms can transform their non-billable marketing junkyards into plush fields blooming with valuable business intelligence. As an example, instead of having one code for all marketing time, try dividing the time up into sub-codes by your firm’s target markets. This structure would enable the COO, CMO and/or Managing Partner to see your firm’s time investment in a particular sector and compare it against the return such as new clients and increased revenue. I’ve worked with many clients to restructure their marketing time tracking systems. We often discover that there is a measurable opportunity cost involved with investing too much professional time marketing to one segment at the expense of another that produces a higher ROI.
For hard-core time trackers looking to gain even further knowledge from their non-billable marketing time, I recommend additional sub-coding as follows:
Marketing Admin: This sub-code might include time spent in internal marketing meetings and discussions.
Marketing Business Development: This sub-code would represent networking activities, face-to-face meetings with referrals sources and prospective clients.
Marketing Activities: This sub-code might include writing articles or blogs, speaking, and posting on social media platforms such as LinkedIn.
What management will glean through analyzing non-billable marketing time sub-codes like the ones noted above is how much time is spent “behind the desk” versus “shaking hands.” Successful professional services marketing programs typically strike a balance between the two. Ultimately, people do business with people they know, like and trust and so nothing replaces “face time.” If most of a firm’s professional marketing time is spent on “Marketing Admin” or “Marketing Activities” at the expense of “Marketing /Business Development,” it may experience high brand awareness but maintain a relatively empty sales funnel.
There is a fine balance between smart time tracking and creating an unnecessary headache for busy billable professionals. But for firms that truly invest time and hard dollars into proactive marketing, creating some level of specificity in coding non-billable marketing time just makes good business sense. The information gained could truly transform your time into treasure.