One of the worst part the worst parts of my job is having to invoice clients and do our accounts. I am not sure why really, you would think invoicing someone should be a good job, it means that people owe me money and that is always good. I always used to use Sage Accounts, and while I am sure its a brilliant piece of software for my accountant I can’t bear it!
The past 2 months I have been trying out FreshBooks as an alternative method of invoicing. It is basically an online invoicing and time tracking service which simplifies you client and invoice management.
Some of the features it includes are:
- Easily create, send and manage invoices
- Track time (for you and your staff)
- Send invoices by snail mail or email
- Accept payment with PayPal, Authorize.Net, & more
- Automatically send invoices & late payment notices
- Create robust reports and import/export your data
The main aspects of FreshBooks I like are: (After the jump)
- Client management – all my clients and their details are stored on the site, including company details, Primary and Secondary contact details. I realise this isn’t exactly a groundbreaking feature but I suck at keeping track of things.
- Very easy invoicing system – Probably the whole point of me moving away from Sage was to simplify my invoicing. I can add items which are basically pre-defined billable items for example I have .co.uk registrations, yearly hosting etc. For individual/unique invoices you just input the detail as you go. While it doesn’t specify VAT normally the system lets you input 4 custom tax details with either a numerical or percentage value. Each invoice you create can have up to 2 sets of Tax applied. Not entirely sure why I would apply 2 lots of tax but I guess it varies per country.
- Recurring Profiles – While things like Web Design are invoiced as and when, my SEO and Hosting clients are invoiced regularly with SEO clients being billed monthly and hosting yearly. You can set up recurring profiles to bill a clients automatically as frequently as you like. You can also set it up to continue billing indefinitely or for a set number of invoices.
- Emailed Invoices – When you create an invoice, or the system auto creates one for a recurring profile the invoice is automatically emailed to the contacts you have stored on the system. Again, while this is nothing groundbreaking, it is a great help to me, it means all my monthly clients get billed on the same day every month, and they receive an email copy of the invoice every month so I always know they have received at least one form of the invoice.
- Each client receive their own User Name/ Password to login to my control panel. This allows them to see all invoices they have received. Including all paid and unpaid invoices. I am hoping this will help my clients keep a track of all the invoices we send out, it will also help resolve any disputes etc that may come up as both the client and myself have detailed copies of what has been invoiced etc. The client control also includes a Dispute Invoice option. While I am not entirely sure how that works as, touch wood, it has not happened yet but I assume I it will inform me of the dispute and update my own records accordingly.
- Enter Payments – Again due to my awful lack of organization this has helped out a lot. As I receive each payment I can enter the payment which includes the Method, Date, Amount and notes. I generally try and use the clients payment reference in the notes which allows us both to keep track of what was paid when.
- As each payment is entered it updates all my Accounts informing me what has been paid and what’s outstanding, this can be per client or overall. The system can also email the client confirming and thanking for payment.
- Reporting – I haven’t tried out all the reports yet just the Invoice Details report which allows me to select individual clients or all clients over a custom date period and the invoice status (All, Sent, Paid, Disputed). Again this saves me a lot of time as once a month I print this off and give it to my accountant! Other reports you can do include:
- Tax Summary based on date range and invoice status (that’s my next VAT bill sorted then!)
- Item Sales based on date range and invoice status. Useful to find out how much you earn for a set item etc. For example I will be able to easily check my Hosting profits.
- Payments collected, based on all payments made in the specified date range. Displays the payment notes, date and method of payment for each invoice.
- Revenue by client for chosen year.
- Recurring Revenue, Annual by individual or all clients. Displays a forecasted recurring revenue for each client in every future calendar month of the year.
- Recurring Revenue, Detailed, shows forecasted recurring revenue for each client and recurring profile for every date of recurrence over the specified date range.
- Accounts Aging, summarizes the outstanding invoice total by client. This report can be shown by the outstanding amount or by number of invoices and can be selected by client.
- Online Payments – You can use one of a range of payment gateways to allow the clients to pay online when they receive each invoice. This is a great feature which allows you to accept a wide range of credit cards as possible payments. Some of the Gateways also allow you to Auto-Bill clients on a recurring invoice. There are some problems for UK based users such as myself which I will discuss later.
- Snail Mail Invoices – Ok so this isn’t a feature I use/like yet which I will discuss next, but it is possible to have all the invoices sent out via traditional mail. Snail Mail Invoices are printed on perforated paper and include a payment stub that can easily be torn away and included in the return envelope. The cost of this is 1 or 2 stamps and each stamp costs $1.39/£0.66 so each stamp is about twice as expensive than a 1st class stamp (£0.34 is think?). If you are sending out an invoice for £100+ I suppose it isn’t that expensive really especially if you send a lot out. I also find that all/most of my clients want a paper invoice, while the invoice is the same as the printable online version I still post a copy to my clients.
Ok so now you know I love FreshBooks, but there are a few weaknesses. The main reason for most of these weaknesses is my location. I am in the UK not the US. The issues involve:
- Auto-Bill Online Payments – All the Auto-Bill capable gateways are US only so while this is a brilliant feature I am unable to use it. All is not lost yet however as I believe the development team are looking into a UK/EU based payment processor.
- Other Payment Gateways – FreshBooks has a list of other Gateways that you can use but don’t support the Auto-Bill feature. The main problem I have here is that the only UK capable Gateway is PayPal, and I loathe PayPal. I also think people would be a little judgmental with me using PayPal(or I would be if I was the client), I cant help but think that Ebay users/Soletraders/Individuals are the only people that use PayPal as a payment processor and to be view as professional/larger a more advanced system like WorldPay/Protx etc would be better. It is probably just me being judgmental/opinionated though. Again the FreshBooks team are looking into UK/EU Gateways so this should be resolved one day.
- Snail Mail – Ok so I said I liked it above, and I do in theory. Unfortunately the company that process the Snail Mail is US based and therefore FreshBooks charge you 2 stamps for international delivery ($2.78/£1.39) which is really quite expensive. The length of time for delivery is also vastly increased, I am unsure of exact time but its about 7 days for the US so I expect at least 14 days for the UK.
While the above 3 problems are quite big for a UK/EU customer I only think it is a problem because the US customers have it. If they did not have these functions I would not notice and still find the service is worth the money.
Other features FreshBooks uses but I haven’t tried so can not comment on include:
- Members of Staff – Separate logins for staff, they can access/do as much or as little as you want including Client, Invoices, Estimates, Time tracking, Support, Documents, and Reports
- Staff Time Sheets/ Projects – Clock on, Clock off, Select which project and task you are working on. I imagine we will start using this feature as I expect it will be excellent for keeping track of work and billable hours. It is more a feature we will use as we expand.
- Document Sharing – Share Documents with Clients and Staff
- Support Ticketing – Manage your clients support tickets. I admit I haven’t even looked into this until I just checked it, I think it could be quite useful.
Finally, the FreshBooks team are constantly developing the service so the features will continue to grow. One area I would love them to work on (and I think they maybe based on forum discussion) is expense tracking. The main reason I joined up to the company was to simplify my accounts (or recording all the things I need to for my accountant). It would be the perfect service for me if I could add monthly and individual expenses along with reference numbers/details etc then incorporate that info into the reporting etc. Each month I could just print off a report and give it to my accountant and that would be it. My main paranoia is the Tax man and Vat so while the current service allows me to keep a track of what I owe the VAT, keeping track of expenses would be great for keeping track of what I can claim back!!!!
If you want to try out FreshBooks then you can sign up to a free account which allows you to manage 3 clients for as long as you want with as many invoices as you want. Paid packages cost (£’s are not exact):
$14/£7 for 25 clients 1 member of staff unlimited invoices.
$27/£14 for 100 clients 2 members of staff unlimited invoices.
$39/£20 for 500 clients 3 members of staff unlimited invoices.
$89/£45 for 2000 clients 10 members of staff unlimited invoices.
$149/£75 for 5000 clients 10 members of staff unlimited invoices.
Personally the system saves me a couple of hours work invoicing and logging payments a month which makes £20 a bargain.
And yes they are referral links by the way. I may as well try and save a few quid if I am gonna big FreshBooks up.