It’s almost a cliché to talk about how important it is for the Web Worker to keep track of time worked, client billing and invoice status; but we’re going to cover it one more time with this roundup of some of the leading online invoicing services available to you.
Choosing an invoicing and billing service can be overwhelming, not only because of the sheer number of options available but because each of us works differently and has different needs. The key is to turn that into a positive and examine the services based upon your working style and your goals. Each service has their own strengths and weaknesses but one of them is sure to be a good fit with you if you can define just what it is you are looking for.
Make a list of just what your ideal app would do and then visit them all to see how they match your needs. Set up a trial account and go through the process of creating some dummy accounts and invoices. See what works for you and what may be missing. Ask a question in the forums or by email to test their support.
We’ve done some of the hard work for you though with the reviews below.
FreshBooks advertises painless billing and my experience with them has certainly made me a believer. From estimates through payment, FreshBooks handles the whole process with all of the features you would expect, plus a lot more. One feature I particularly like is the integrated support tickets. Your clients can log in and create support tickets which are automatically routed to the proper people in your organization. Updates are communicated back to the client via email while time spent on tickets is logged and invoiced accordingly.
Some other standout features of FreshBooks include:
- A wide range of payment processing options are available where most others are limited to PayPal Standard.
- Optional Snail Mail availability. Do you have clients who need or prefer hard copy invoices? FreshBooks can print and mail them for you.
- Expense tracking and the ability to apply expenses to a client invoice.
- Personal Support. They post their phone number right on their site and want you to use it. User forums are lively and email requests are responded to in a timely fashion.
Their free Moped plan lets you take things out for a spin while paying plans range from the $14/month Shuttle Bus up to the $149/month Time Machine. Plan increases allow increased number of clients and staff that can access the account.
Learn more at FreshBooks or sign up for a free trial account.
I spent some time logged into their online demo and found the service straight forward and able to handle common invoicing and billing tasks admirably. A standout feature is their template system. Easily create standard invoice types and choose among them as your needs require. This is a great touch and very nicely done.
There is no integrated time tracking though. While you can hook into Zoho Projects to pull time you have logged there, that is the only option available. It seems you either need to commit to the Zoho suite or have a standalone timer and enter in your times manually.
Zoho Invoice does integrate with PayPal for processing but that appears to be the extent of their options currently.
If you have committed to the Zoho Suite, using their invoicing option is a nobrainer. It is a solid service and the integration is just going to get stronger.
Zoho Invoice is attractively priced with basic plans starting at$5/month and capping at $35/month for the Elite plan which allows 1500 invoices / estimates per month. A free plan is also available.
Blinksale has one of the cleanest interfaces of any of the services I have looked at and is probably the easiest to just jump in and start using. It was a snap to enter companies and contacts and generate my first test invoice.
Customization options are impressive allowing a choice of pre-styled templates or allowing you to add your own CSS to completely modify your invoices and thank you messages. A very nice touch particularly for design companies.
Like FreshBooks, Blinksale has basic Basecamp integration so you can quickly pull client data to create invoices. They promise greater integration in the future so if you are a heavy user of the 37signals project management service, Blinksale probably deserves a good look. There are no time tracking features inherently available.
As a means to just create and send invoices, Blinksale does a great job and is highly recommended if that is the extent of your needs. However, if your requirements are more complex, it lacks some of the extra features we expect from an invoicing service.
Pricing for Blinksale ranges from the obligatory free account to paying accounts of $12-$49/month. Account usage is based primarily on number of invoices allowed each month.
Cashboard could almost qualify as a project management system with integrated invoicing capabilities. With very strong estimating and task tracking features, it excels in keeping you and your clients on the same page with the time spent on all tasks related to your project. The default interface is sleek and easy to navigate (albeit a bit dark for my tastes) and there are a slew of nice touches that show that a lot of thought went into the design. Paying plan users can customize the color scheme and add their own logo.
In terms of functionality, it ranks right up there with Freshbooks as the most fully featured offering. Track an unlimited number of estimates and turn them into projects when accepted by your client. Use a downloadable widget for time tracking or bulk enter using a simple timesheet interface. The client interface is nice and allows them to instantly track the status of their project and time billed. There doesn’t appear that they can introduce new tasks but I believe that is by design to keep the integrity of the estimate accurate.
Cashboard adds authorize.net to the standard PayPal payment option and also features client and time imports from Basecamp.
I really couldn’t find any fault with Cashboard other than the potential for the project tracking workflow to overwhelm someone who is billing clients differently. Otherwise, it seems to cover all the bases and is worthy of a good look if you are considering moving to an online billing service.
Cashboard offers a free feature limited Vinyl plan to test the service. The pay plans are all fully functional and range from $12-$140/month with the upgrades allowing greater numbers of active projects to be managed.
Harvest is at it’s core an excellent time tracking solution that also does invoicing. It offers the best group time management features of any of the services, including the ability to set up a timesheet approval process so that hours worked are along with expectations.
The interface features the ubiquitous horizontal tabs along the top but it is generally pretty intuitive. I particularly liked how the timer is integrated right into the task lists so it is easy to start and stop as you move among your daily work. Clicking start on one task automatically stops the current timer. A multi-platform offline widget is also available.
There are no client access features to speak of, no online payment integration, and the customization options may seem to be lacking compared to some of the other services, but if you are looking to seriously manage time for your group Harvest may be a great choice. Basecamp integration is good and Harvest also exports data into QuickBooks.
Harvest offers a free plan to give things a try while other plans range from a Solo plan for $12/mo to a Business plan starting at $90/month. Upgrades primarily allow more users to access the service.
Some other services worth considering include:
- Simplybill – Generates invoices and tracks time but has no payment functionality.
- The Invoice Machine – Just an invoice creator but a very nice one. Has no time tracking or payment functionality but can generate quick pdf invoices quickly and easily. Great for one offs or for simple job based charging.
- Simply Invoices – This handy Basecamp add-on service will, in just a couple of clicks, convert the time you log in Basecamp into a great looking invoice.
- Billing Orchard – A fully featured offering with nice recurring billing options.
We all know that time is money, hopefully I’ve saved you a bit of both with this review. Be sure to let me know which service you use, or ones I may have missed in the comments.