Freshbooks–The Verdict

I can’t believe how quickly the time went on my experiment.

Now that June is behind us, it’s time to sit down and review the month I spent with Freshbooks. There are many questions to be answered.

Did I like using Freshbooks exclusively?
Did it work better than QuickBooks?
Would I recommend it to others?
Did Freshbooks help me lose 10 pounds, boost my self-confidence, and stop people from kicking sand in my face at the beach?

Let’s read on and find out.

I’d like to start by describing the perfect Freshbooks customer. This isn’t going to be the right app for everyone, so before you try it out, I think it’s important you fit the majority of this profile.

You will most likely be a freelance service provider, working alone or on a small team of freelancers. These will be other contractors, not employees (since payroll isn’t a part of the software). Ideal candidates would be bloggers, writers, consultants, designers, and people offering technical support.

You will either not need or not possess a knowledge of accounting terminology. However, either due to budget or other reasons, you prefer to handle your financial records yourself, rather than hire a bookkeeper. Freshbooks data will most likely be used to generate reports that will be sent to an accountant each year during tax season (or maybe even a bookkeeper that you update monthly).

You are very comfortable working online or in remote locations (coffee shops, remote offices), and already use other web services to help your business; possibly some that tie into Freshbooks (Shoeboxed, Basecamp, etc.).

Most importantly, you want to spend your valuable time working on your business, not on its financial records. You want a simple service that will allow you to look professional without having to spend a lot of time or money doing so.

If any of that sounds familiar, Freshbooks might be the app for you.

I didn’t use all of Freshbooks’ features. I don’t have other contractors I work with. A really cool feature that is available is to collaborate with other service providers on a project. For example, if my client needed their website updated, I could outsource that to a web designer. He or she could (using their own Freshbooks account) bill time and expenses to my project. From there, I could bill the client and pay the designer, all from within Freshbooks.

The other thing I really tried to use was the support, which I’ve heard is amazing. In fact, the folks at Freshbooks asked me to try out their support as a part of my review. I just never ran into any reason to ask for help. The interface is really simple to use, and I just couldn’t find a situation where I needed something explained to me. There were never any glitches, the service never stopped working, and I never ran into a situation where I didn’t understand how to perform a task. Having such a clean, easy to use product must help them with their support calls. I can’ t imagine how many calls the QuickBooks team gets every day, just because of how unnecessarily complex some of their UI is. 

Like any product, there were pros and cons. Freshbooks isn’t for everyone, so here’s a list of positives and negatives I ran across last month.

Pros

  • Really simple to use
  • Canadian company
  • Small, enthusiastic support team (from what I’ve read, I didn’t need to test this)
  • Support for GST/HST reports
  • Time tracking w/ Windows app
  • Integration with 3rd party apps/services (Basecamp, Shoeboxed, Google Apps, etc.)
  • Flexible account pricing (from free to $80/month)
  • Professional, customizable interface for your clients
  • many more

Cons

  • No ability to download transactions to QuickBooks directly
  • Too stripped down for more complex businesses
    • no inventory, payroll, or Chart of Accounts
  • Premium plan is more expensive than competing products
  • Expensive iPhone app

The Pros speak for themselves. I really found a lot to like about Freshbooks, and certainly couldn’t list everything off. I will, however, give a bit more detail on some of the cons.

I wish there was a way to download your transactions directly to Quicken or QuickBooks, like you can from your bank account online. I’m not sure what would be required on their end to accomplish this (maybe it’s something only banks are allowed to do?)

There are quite a few similar products currently on the market. Two examples are Zoho Invoice and WorkingPoint, both of whose premium accounts were less expensive.

Zoho’s free plan lets you have unlimited clients, but only lets you send out 5 invoices/estimates per month. For $8/month, you get 25 invoices/estimates. Both accounts also let you have 2 users (you only get additional users in Freshbooks with the $39.95/month Team account).

WorkingPoint is much more robust. It’s a lot more like QuickBooks, with a Chart of Accounts, inventory, and payroll (optional, and quite pricey). Their free account lets you have 5 clients, and unlimited invoices. The premium account is $10/month, which gives you unlimited clients, and the ability to import transactions from your online bank accounts.

Finally, there’s what I currently use. I am a QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Basically, it’s a membership at Intuit for bookkeepers and accountants. For $25/month, I get free copies of QuickBooks Premier (with full payroll) and Enterprise, along with access to special training and support. I don’t use the Enterprise software that often, but I’m basically getting $1,500 worth of software for $25/month. There’s no real comparison here. Freshbooks could never replace QuickBooks for my client work. Even WorkingPoint would have to be really good to justify switching my clients over to it.

The last complaint was about the iPhone app. There is an app called MiniBooks, that lets you do all of your work from your phone. The app is $14.99. There’s also an app called ExpenseBooks, which just tracks your expenses for $4.99. I haven’t tried out either, but $15 seems like a lot for an iPhone app. I’m pretty sure there used to be a “Freshbooks” iPhone app that just did time tracking. It was either free or very cheap. That’s all I’d want, and it’s too bad it’s not available.

The Verdict

So, this huge post (sorry for my verbosity) is here for one purpose. I wanted to see if Freshbooks would be something I could use day to day for my personal client work.

If you fit the description I gave for the ideal customer, I think this is a great option. You can use Freshbooks for your day to day tracking, and then hand off the heavier work to a bookkeeper or accountant.

As for me, I’m not quite ready to make a full switch.

The problem is I just can’t justify another $20/month for bookkeeping software, especially given the nature of my clients. Right now, I have clients who mostly pay me in cash or by cheque. Only some of them use email regularly, and I usually just hand them an invoice in person when I meet with them each month.

If I had lots of web-savvy clients, who always paid me by PayPal, then this would be a good choice. In fact, the $80/month plan makes more sense to me than the $20/month plan does. If I had 20 clients who I could automatically collect from each month, the time savings alone would more than justify the extra cost.

I really enjoyed doing this review. I’ve been stuck with the same app for so many years, it was nice to see what other people are doing. Not only does this give people a new choice to manage their finances, it also puts the pressure on companies like Intuit and Sage to improve their own products. I would love to see a version of QuickBooks that was this easy to use, and backed by equally friendly support staff.

If you have any questions about my results, please let me know in the comments, or contact me directly.

Freshbooks Experiment–The End is Near

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I can’t believe it’s been a month since I started my experiment with Freshbooks. Tomorrow will be the last day of my trial, and then I’ll be making some decisions.

I’ve enjoyed the chance to learn about a program in this way. Usually, when I “review” a product or program, I spend a day or two with it, and get a very superficial idea of the overall experience. Spending a full month has been nice, it let me try everything out, without the time pressure. It also allowed me to use my own data, so instead of replicating a real life situation, I used it in my real life.

During the past month I also received a message from two other companies, one that works with Freshbooks, and another that is an alternative to it.

Early in the month, the folks at Shoeboxed recommended that I try out their service alongside Freshbooks. With Shoeboxed, you send in your receipts in an envelope, and the folks at Shoeboxed scan them, organized them, upload them, and then send you back the originals. Considering how much time I spend doing this with my own business and personal receipts, it sounds like a great thing to outsource.

Also, the folks at WorkingPoint offered me a trial of their premium service. WorkingPoint is much more robust online bookkeeping software. Although a freelancer can use this, it seems like you could run a fairly substantial business with this app as well. It handles banking, a full Chart of Accounts, inventory, and payroll (optional).

I wanted to focus on Freshbooks this month exclusively, so I didn’t try either of these out yet. I’m seriously considering taking a similar experiment with both of these companies in July. No matter what bookkeeping app I use, I think Shoeboxes would be a great time saver. I think the membership I’d use is around $20/month, which is much less than my billable time that is spent every month doing this on my own. WorkingPoint looks interesting. It might be something to suggest instead of QuickBooks. My main concern is that it is very US-centric, so I wouldn’t get some of the reports I’d like. Since Freshbooks is a Canadian company, it natively supports the GST reports I need.

I’m going to finish up the month tomorrow. I’ll need a couple days to sort through the pros and cons, and then I’ll be writing up a full review.

Stay tuned!

Freshbooks Experiment – Reporting

Any good software handles two things very well; input and output. This is the basic requirement of all software, and certainly bookkeeping is no exception.

Freshbooks makes it very easy to enter expenses, track time, and generate invoices. However, as a bookkeeper, I need reports. I want to know how much revenue I generated, if I made any profit, and how much I will owe the government.

As you would expect, the list of reports Freshbooks can generate is smaller than a typical bookkeeping program. 

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freshbooks_qb_reports1

Here’s a side by side of the reports Freshbooks offers, compared to the Report Centre in QuickBooks Premier 2010, which is what I use for my clients. As you can see, I could only show the list of categories in QuickBooks. The full list of reports wouldn’t show up in a simple screen capture. But, as I have said many times, Freshbooks isn’t supposed to be as full featured as QuickBooks. The majority of Freshbooks’ ideal customers wouldn’t have a clue what to do with the amount of reports that QuickBooks spits out.

The question is, are the reports in Freshbooks good enough for their target market?

I think the answer is yes.

The reports are split into 3 categories; Finance Reports, Invoice Reports, and Timesheet Reports. Once again, I have created slides in Slideshare (via PowerPoint) to show you the various reports you can generate.

Freshbooks experiment reporting

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Eric Matthews

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As I said, there aren’t as many reports as I’m used to working with. However, the ones you get are simple, use basic terminology, and give the average freelancer exactly what he or she needs. At a quick glance, these reports should tell you everything you need to know about the state of your business. Or, they’re easy to export to an Excel spreadsheet. From there, you can save them, email them to me, and let me take care of the rest.

Freshbooks Experiment – Invoicing

I suppose this should have been one of the first posts about Freshbooks I wrote, given the fact that this is the most important aspect of any bookkeeping program. Sure, it’s great to have all your expenses accounted for. However, if you’re not spending a lot of time creating invoices (and thus revenue), then you probably won’t be doing this for long.

As with everything else I’ve been testing thus far, invoicing in Freshbooks is quite simple. It’s clear that the folks at Freshbooks want you to make money. There are so many ways to create an invoice, you could trip and fall into one if you weren’t careful. Instead of just having the Invoices tab be the only way, you can also convert a lot of your other tasks into invoices. Instead of writing them all out, I thought I’d give you something a bit more visual. Also, I wanted to try out Slideshare, so you get to be my guinea pigs.

I really like using Slideshare. I don’t do a lot of presentations (0 to be exact), so my PowerPoint skills are a bit rusty. Sadly, it was fun being able to bring it out and take it for a spin.

On top of leaving your comments about Freshbooks, please let me know what you think of using Slideshare.