Small Business Guide to Online Billing Software - Page 2

By Jennifer Schiff | Posted June 08, 2011

Can you customize invoices, beyond just adding your logo?

If having a unique-looking invoice is important to your brand, make sure you choose an online billing solution that supports easy invoice customization.

Is the solution flexible and scalable?

Can it grow (or shrink) with your business -- that is, allow you to upgrade or downgrade -- without a hassle?

Does the service generate automatic reminders?

"Automatic reminders solve the etiquette problem and awkwardness of asking your client to pay an overdue bill, and it can save you time," noted Karen Schoellkopf, community manager at Harvest.

What level of customer support can you expect?

Harvest.com; online billing software
GetHarvest.com
(Click for larger image)
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If you run into a problem is there a number you can call? Or can you only send an email, or submit a question via a form? Are customer service representatives available 24/7 or just during normal business hours (e.g., 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central Time), or does it depend on the level of service you purchased? These are important questions to ask up front.

Perhaps most important, find out -- by doing a free trial -- if the online billing service you're considering will actually save you time. "Evaluate it like any business decision," said John Coates, the marketing communications Lead for FreshBooks. "How does the new solution compare to your current solution for invoicing? If it saves you more hours in billable time than the monthly subscription, it’s worth it."

Evaluating Three of the Most Popular Online Invoicing Solutions

While there are dozens of free or low-cost online invoicing solutions currently available, three of the most popular and reliable choices among small business owners are FreshBooks, Harvest and Zoho Invoice. All three services were specifically designed for small business use and they all share the following features:

  • 30-day free trials (and/or 30-day money back guarantees)
  • Create, track and manage invoices from a Web-connected computer or smartphone
  • SSL encryption and a high level of data security and backup
  • Some form of customer support

What are the main differences between the three services? Price, interface, some features -- and personal taste. Here’s what three small business customers had to say about the three billing services. Also, be sure to ask business owners you know and trust what online invoicing service they use -- and do a 30-day free trial.

FreshBooks

FreshBooks prides itself on being incredibly easy (and intuitive) to use and for providing "stellar customer support." Unlike some other free or low-cost invoicing services, "FreshBooks picks up the phone," boasted Coates.

Other noteworthy features:

  • Easy time tracking
  • Ability to see the entire invoice trail, including when a client has viewed and paid it
  • PayPal integration
  • Multi-currency invoicing
  • Set-it-and-forget-it email late payment reminders
  • Streamlined reporting (profit & loss, income taxes, sales taxes)
  • Ability to collaborate with staff and contractors
  • Dozens of helpful add-ons

For Larissa Schwartz, a digital strategy and user-experience consultant who works with small and mid-sized businesses, using FreshBooks has been a huge plus. "I initially chose FreshBooks because it was free for a limited number of clients/projects," she explained. "I stayed with it because it is easy to use, continues to add new features and is responsive to customers."

Schwartz found FreshBook’s time-tracking feature efficient and easy, allowing her to create an invoice in seconds. Tracking revenue is also easy. "You can see where your total revenue is at a glance or drill down by client or project." And she likes that FreshBooks lets you accept payments online. "Clients love it," she said. "Even if they don’t use it, their perception of my business has changed for the better because of it."

The only downside to FreshBooks, if you plan on having two or more employees using the software, you will need to purchase the "Mighty Oak" monthly subscription for $39.95 -- and that only includes one additional staff member (with additional members costing $10 each).

That said, if you are the only person who will be using FreshBooks and have just a few clients, you can get a free monthly account, which lets you manage up to three clients -- and send an unlimited number of invoices -- using the software. For businesses with between four and 25 clients, FreshBooks has a "Seedling" subscription for $19.95 a month. And there’s the "Evergreen" subscription for businesses with more than 25 clients.



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