Freshbooks - An Experiment

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I have been a very loyal QuickBooks user for the past 6 years or so. Prior to that, there were several other programs I used, including MYOB (which is no longer available in Canada) and Simply Accounting. For the most part, they’ve all done their job, and done it well.

Are there things I’d like to change about them? How long do you have? The problem with using a “one-size-fits-all” program is the same problem you face when you buy clothes that say that on the label. They never really fit, but they’re usually close enough that it’s not worth the drive back to the store. With software, being this “one-size-fits-all” means you have to be good at everything, for a wide range of industries. Because I work with that wide range of industries, it’s the best option for me. The problem is that, when you don’t specialize, you can’t be “great” at any one aspect.

For accounting software, QuickBooks is my favourite. It has a lot of really good features, and it does enough of what I want it to do, that I don’t think it would be worth my time to switch my clients to something new. I know that’s not really strong praise. Maybe I’m just really picky. Either way, I still buy it, year after year, so that must mean something.

But what about my business?

See, here’s the irony about bookkeeping businesses. As a rule, we don’t require that complex of a bookkeeping program. I bill out a handful of clients throughout the year. Sure, February-April is usually a bit more hectic with tax returns, but otherwise, it’s fairly straightforward. I don’t get the kind of customer traffic my clients who run retail establishments get. I have a fairly basic set of expenses that I have to pay for on a regular basis, like;

  • office supplies
  • software
  • web hosting
  • home office expenses (utilities, phone, etc)
  • advertising
  • and so on

I don’t have a huge list of vendors to deal with. I pay for everything in the moment, or on a monthly subscription, so I don’t have Accounts Payable balances to worry about. I also have great clients, who tend to pay on time, so I don’t have Accounts Receivable balances to worry about. All in all, my accounting software needs are pretty basic.

The Experiment

I recently started reading (listening to) John Jantsch’s The Referral Engine. I’m only about 1/7th of the way through, but I can already tell this is going to be a favourite. He talks about the power of customer referrals, and how few companies do a good job asking for and then harnessing those referrals to grow their business. He uses examples of companies who do a great job taking care of their customers. Of course, Zappos is listed, as it always is. However, he mentioned a company called Freshbooks.

Unlike QuickBooks, Freshbooks is by no means a “one-size-fits-all” application. It targets a much smaller niche with its product. It doesn’t do payroll or inventory, and will not reconcile your bank accounts. Because of that, I think it has the ability to focus on what it does do, and possibly do it better. Freshbooks is a web-based billing and time tracking application. I guess “bookkeeping-lite” would be a good way to describe it. It helps you track your time and expenses, and then lets you bill your clients for those expenses. The web-app is really slick. It has a nice clean interface, and there are lots of 3rd party apps and services that work with Freshbooks. For up to 3 clients, the service is free. You can send out as many invoices, and track as many expenses as you want, you just can’t go over the 3 client limit.

If you want to break through the 3 client limit, there are 4 levels of paid service. All paid accounts remove the branding from any emails you send out through Freshbooks.

Solo and Solo Unlimited ($19.95/month and $29.95/month, respectively), Team ($39.95/month), and Recurring ($79.95/month). The only difference between the first two is client limit. Solo gives you support for 25 clients, Unlimited is, well, unlimited. Team and Recurring give you the option to have additional staff members work on the same company file, and setup team reports, etc. Recurring gives you 500 auto-bills, which lets you setup recurring charges to your clients each month.

This would be really helpful if you were charging a subscription service. Actually, if I had enough clients, and I was billing them a fixed monthly fee (which I usually do), this would save me a ton of time.

Now, I wonder if Freshbooks will help me find enough clients to make it worth the $79.95/month.

I had tried them out a year ago, very briefly. I billed a client, which included sending out an invoice by email. You can also choose to have them send the client an invoice by mail, as long as you pay for postage. Talk about convenience! The emailed invoice includes PayPal (or similar) instructions so the client can pay you online, or information on the other ways you accept payment. I quickly received a payment from the client, and marked it off as paid in Freshbooks.

Why Didn’t I Keep Using It?

When you work in an industry, you tend to use the same tools that the rest of the industry uses. For me, I kept thinking I needed to use QuickBooks for my own records. But, just like the NASCAR mechanic using racing fuel for his Hyundai, QuickBooks is overkill for me.

Listening to the book reminded me of Freshbooks, and how much I enjoyed using the service. I also wasn’t aware that it was a Canadian company (based in Toronto). I know, it’s a bit foolish to sign up with a company based on their geography. If I end up hating the service, I won’t keep using it out of Canadian guilt. But, if I end up liking the service, it’s a great bonus to know that I’m supporting a fellow Canadian company.

Enough Already…What’s the Experiment?

Sorry, I got a bit wordy there, didn’t I. Here’s the experiment. I’m going to use Freshbooks exclusively for my own record keeping for the month of June. That means all my invoicing, as well as all of my time and expense tracking. At the end of June, and perhaps along the way, I will post my thoughts. If things go well, I will permanently switch to using Freshbooks. Although it may not mean an immediate switch to a paid account, it will absolutely mean one in the near future.

Don’t worry, Intuit, I won’t stop using QuickBooks for my clients. Since the software I use is part of my monthly ProAdvisor subscription, you won’t be losing any money from me either.

update: I posted a brief summary of my experiment on my Squidoo lens, and then posted the update to Twitter. Within minutes (at least it seemed like it), @freshbooks had sent me a reply, offering their help if I needed it. They suggested that trying out the support as part of my experiment would be a good idea. THIS, is exactly the kind of service you need to provide your current AND future customers. Well done Freshbooks!

If any of you out there have used Freshbooks in the past, I’d love to hear from you. Leave your comments, including any good or bad experiences you’ve had.