Q: I run a small business that bills hourly. Is there a better way to keep time other than having my employees count one Mississippi, two Mississippi?

A: Isn’t that how everyone does it? My contracts even bill on a per-Mississippi rate. I have been thinking about upgrading in that area, though, so your TIMING is perfect. See what I did there? No? Not even with it in all caps? You see, since we’re talking about time records… oh, never mind.

There are a lot of options out there in this area, so let’s start by identifying what your priorities are. While every business will have its own specific requirements (and you should map those out before evaluating different products), the three high-level ones that might help you narrow your search are cost, ease of use, and customization.

Let’s start with the ease of use because if we’re anything here at PropellerHead HQ, it’s simple. Harvest (getharvest.com) is a relatively intuitive time tracker that has just enough options to meet many small businesses’ needs, including custom invoicing and useful project/client dashboards.

It has a similarly clean interface on its mobile app and has a reasonable price tag of $12 per user per month. One thing we liked about Harvest was that it integrated with other productivity software, including the project management tool Trello (trello.com), Slack (slack.com), GitHub (github.com), and others. They have a free trial version for one person (2 projects), if you care to check them out.

If money isn’t as large of a concern and you want customization, but want it to be fairly user-friendly to set up, you might want to check out Mavenlink (mavenlink.com). Mavenlink is a big dog in this area. It has a crisp layout and a lot of configuration options, and while it’s not quite as user-friendly for setup as Harvest, the learning curve for most people should be fairly short.
Mavenlink is pricey at $19 to $39 monthly per user, but you certainly get what you pay for here. In addition to being a polished product, it has favorable customer service reviews and a robust knowledge base to help with most questions you may come up with.

If you like cheap, how does free sound? qdPM Free (qdpm.net) is the solution for the truly tech-savvy. Their claim is that everything is customizable. This is in every phase, from setup to actual project management, invoicing, and reporting. Getting this up and running will take a bit longer than the other solutions I’ve mentioned, but with some trial and error (and the support of a very active user knowledge base), you should be able to get exactly what you want from it.

While free and fully customizable are great, it comes with a cost, which is the greater time investment needed to get things customized to your liking. You won’t have the warm and fuzzies that come along with a fully-staffed customer service/tech support team, so you will have to deal with issues in-house. There is an “extended” version that only costs $195 to purchase with some additional features, but most companies can probably use the free version just fine.

The three products mentioned here are a drop in the bucket of all the solutions available, but they impressed us the most. Some other honorable mentions on the affordable side we found were Time Fox (functionfox.com/timefox) and Paymo (paymo.biz). If you’re looking higher-end, you may want to check out BillQuick (bqe.com) and ClickTime (clicktime.com).

Hopefully I’ve kept your attention and you didn’t clock out a hundred words back. Get it? Clock out? You see…