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Articles written by guest contributors

Do you track time & materials on every job?

Weston Zimmerman

By Weston Zimmerman

The last thing you need is another item on your plate. And that’s exactly what taking time to track materials/time on your jobs feels like. It’s yet another item on the to-do list that isn’t getting done.

When you’re an owner-operator of a landscaping business, you’ve got a lot on you. Most likely you’re still out in the field, making sure jobs get done, logistics go smoothly, materials show up on time, handling customer complaints, employee challenges… the list goes on. Then you still have estimates you need to do at night (hopefully not).

And after a while, it’s just easier to prioritize the urgent, not the important.

I think we could agree that tracking every material, receipt and minute of time on a job is, well, hard. Do you know what else is hard? Working your tail off all year, getting to the end of the year, and realizing there are pennies in the checking account. That’s hard.

Getting it done
To make tracking easier and more doable means setting up systems and processes, and then having the discipline and leadership to follow those processes consistently. And yep, building systems and processes is hard.

That said, if you don’t, you’ll be stuck in your owner-operator entrepreneurial prison forever. You’ll be the only guy that knows how to do stuff. Systems and processes help the team around you know what to do.

Why you need to track
To avoid getting to the end of the year and not having anything to show for it, you need to be making a profit. To make a profit you need to get the math dialed in on your estimating, ensuring you’ve got your labor, materials, equipment, overhead and profit margin covered. Building a company budget will dial in that math for you in a jiffy, giving you awesome clarity and confidence that your numbers are spot on.

But, that math is only half the battle. You can build an estimate with “perfect on paper” math. But if you estimated that the job would take 100 hours, and it took 130, that’ll wipe out your profit just as easily as if you had made a grave error in your estimating math.

The same goes for materials. If you estimated 20 tons of stone, but then it actually took 35 tons, that comes straight out of what was supposed to be your profit.

You must track to compare
And that’s why tracking is so important. Getting the math dialed in is only half the battle. You’ve got to track your actual labor and materials, and then compare them with your original estimate to see where you were off. Learn from that and make notes and adjustments for the next estimate.

Don’t make the same mistake twice. Not tracking is a little like taking a rifle to the shooting range to sight it in, carefully measuring the distance to the target, settling in on the sandbags, and gently squeezing the trigger to pull off the perfect shot…. but never looking where you hit.

Then you shoot again. And again. You could be completely missing the target. But you don’t know it.

Just the same, you could be completely off on your estimates. But you won’t know it until you run out of cash in the checking account. By then, it’s too late to be responding to the problem.

Sometimes it is not that obvious either. Maybe you’re making great money on certain types of jobs, but then do really poorly on others. At a high level, it just looks like your business is not as profitable as it should be, when in fact you have some really profitable jobs and some that are losing you money.

Making tracking easier
Some tips on setting up your systems and processes to make tracking jobs easier:

  • Make sure every receipt has a PO on it. Don’t let your team pick up materials without getting the vendor to add a PO to the slip.
  • Pay your crew based on the hours tracked to the job. A time clock on the shop wall doesn’t count. Use a time tracking app (like SynkedUP) and track every minute of payroll to a specific job.
  • Unbillable time like cleaning trucks, meetings, etc can go to a job named “Shop Time”.
  • If you don’t pay your crew based on the hours tracked to jobs, don’t expect it to be accurate. I’ve talked to folks who try to do both a payroll time clock, and then also track time to specific jobs. It doesn’t work.
  • Sit down with your team and brainstorm how you can design your process to track things in a way that is simple, lightweight and effective. If it’s not simple and lightweight, it won’t get done.
  • Tracking has to be consistent, or you won’t be able to trust the data you did track.

Which “hard” do you want?
In the end you have to decide, are you willing to take on the “hard” of disciplining yourself to systems and processes that allow you to see where you hit when you squeezed off the shot?

Or will you accept the “hard” of working your tail off all season, sacrificing your evenings and family time, and not having the reward to show for it?

There is more than one way to skin this cat of tracking. But it’s important that you find what works for you. I built SynkedUP for this exact purpose. Check us out. See below.


For help with your company, email Weston@SynkedUP.com, follow on IG at @synkedup, call (814) 383-1901 or visit SynkedUP.com. Weston Zimmerman is CEO & co-founder of SynkedUP project management software and app. SynkedUP helps contractors know and track their numbers, estimate and job-cost jobs, and manage their jobs efficiently. Check out his podcast "The Cost of Doing Business."

Digital Edition
June/July 2024