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How do you document or proof the hours you were coding when on an hourly paid freelance job?

I normally use timesheets for in-house consulting, but if a customer would question the billed hours that I was working on my own in my office, I couldn't proof anything.

Is there some typical contract clause that you can use to safeguard against having to be able to legally prove (witness or similar) the duration, as long as the billed hours are resonable and documented in some basic form?

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  • @ratchetfreak that isn't always possible, e.g. if you reveice orders to implement a tiny adaption, nobody wants to create a whole contract for this. A phone call should be enough and the work is done in 2 hours. However, a one time signed frame contract should protect the programmer against claims popping up a year laters, e.g. through a change in managment or similar events, claiming it took less time to implement and the bills are incorrect or even fraudulent.
    – Franz Kafka
    Feb 2, 2013 at 12:49
  • It is just a matter of trust. You can use various time tracking software which records your hours spent in each applications and wesites.
    – user67275
    Aug 30, 2020 at 4:33

3 Answers 3

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You need to look at this issue from another perspective - the mutual trust.

There is no way to prove the number of hours you bill your client is the actual number of hours you spend on the task you are assigned.

Before you take the task, you should ask the client how many hours they expect you to spend for that task. Then you tell them how many hours you will need. You and your client eventually reach a mutually acceptable number of hours needed before you start the task.

You go do that task, document the hours you spend in a readable format. After you finish the task, report the result back to the client and then bill them with the invoice and the time sheet.

If the number of hours is within the reasonable range, say you told them you need 40 hours to do the task and you put in 42 hours, chances are the bill would be accepted. If you report 50 hours, 25% more than expected. Yes, they would question you. And you expect that. So, you would have to explain why you spend 25% more than what you agreed earlier.

If you did all that and the client still give you hard time by asking you to provide proof of time spent. You and your client are having the mutual trust issue. This is another problem, not what you're asking in this question.

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  • In theory this is a great practice and I wish it worked all the time in the real world. But I gave up on this approach because too many clients challenged and refused to pay the bill due to the commitment of X hours. That refusal stood up in court as the statement of hours was considered a binding part of the contract.
    – Steve
    Feb 4, 2013 at 15:22
  • @Stephen - agreed; if you get near the end and realize you may go over, you should probably speak with the client and let them know, so that you can come to an agreement on what should be done. Going over your hours unilaterally may be frowned upon, but you may be able to come to an agreement for additional time, or alternately to cut back the scope as necessary.
    – Adam V
    Feb 4, 2013 at 18:59
  • @Stephen I agree with Adam V. It's basically the mutual trust issue. Once you get over the mutually agreed hours, you must have the client's consent to continue. When you go to a store(virtual or real), you check the price tag before you go to the counter to pay. What would you do when the casher charges you more than the price tag says?
    – Nobody
    Feb 5, 2013 at 2:35
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If you’re working as a freelancer there are legit sites that handle invoicing automatically to bill clients for hours of work. There are also lots of time tracking tools online that you could use to track work hours. However, there are different approaches to time tracking like Time Doctor, which tracks time accurately on real time. It gives you analytics of your workday on where exactly you've spend your time and how much of that time is productive or unproductive. Another time tracking tool is Toggl, which automatically syncs with Quickbooks and Freshbooks (accounting tools). It also gives you record of work hours through mobile.

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    The following comment is not to you (you're just answering the question). I am a human being, not a machine. I don't want my activity to be tracked every minute.
    – Nobody
    Feb 5, 2013 at 3:59
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Generally speaking all that is required is a log of your activity, anything that you can refer back to at the end of the week to submit your hourly billing.

Any documentation would be helpful if the client questioned your invoice or refused to pay for all of the hours you billed. The lack of that documentation would pretty much turn it in to a 'he said, she said' battle, while the documentation itself, for the most part would be considered reasonable proof if challenged in court.

A few suggestions that you may find helpful:

  1. Outlook tasks if you're using MS Office. There are also a number of plugins available to semi automate the process.
  2. A spreadsheet log.
  3. Most accounting packages (Quicken Professional, Freshbooks, ...) offer basic time tracking and invoicing.

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