FreshBooks Makes Invoicing All But Automatic

The second-biggest lie in business, after “the check is in the mail,” is “I never got the invoice.” For a small business owner or sole proprietor trying to manage cash flow, hearing either of these can mean the difference between a month in the black and one in the red.

FreshBooks screen shot

Under the Invoice tab you’ll also find a choice to create a recurring bill. Simply enter or select the client to bill, the frequency, the number of occurrences (or “0” for no set end date) and other parameters, and FreshBooks will automatically generate and send invoices at the specified time. If you’re starting in the midst of a billing cycle, FreshBooks can even generate a pro-rated invoice for the first occurrence.

The Invoice area also lets you enter line items that are common to your invoices. Select “New item,” then enter the item name (note the 15-character limit), a separate description (this can be any length), the unit cost and applicable tax rate (if any). Click the Save button, and this item will be added to your drop-down list when you create an invoice, saving a lot of duplicate typing. The Track Inventory checkbox lets product-based businesses keep tabs on the products they have in stock.

After you send an invoice via e-mail, FreshBooks can track when the recipient views it. This lets you know if a client trots out Lie #2 (whether you call him on it is up to you). At any time you can click on “List of invoices” to see all your invoices at a glance; a legend tells whether they are drafts, sent, viewed, disputed or paid. There’s also a Reports tab that can generate reports on aging invoices, sales by client, sales by staff, payment history and more.

Time Tracking, Too
Another welcome facet of FreshBooks is its ability to keep track of billable hours for a given client or project. Click the Timesheet tab, and you’ll find a calendar (your choice of daily, weekly or monthly view) where you can enter the project name, the task you worked on, the hours and pertinent notes.

FreshBooks screen shot
You and your staff can keep track of billable hours associated with a given project and task.
(Click for larger image)

Each of your staff members can have his or her own timesheets, which can be viewed by anyone with administrator privileges (designated in the Settings menu). You can then view the hours logged by staff on a given project, a project task summary and so on. Our favorite feature: A handy start/stop timer that lets you and your staff keep track of the time they spend on a given project, without having to scribble down their start time on a Post-it note.

FreshBooks isn’t for everyone. Businesses that use a desktop or online accounting program are better off using the invoicing component of that application, to keep tight integration between billing and other accounting tasks. And if you are uncomfortable with the software as-a-service (SaaS) model, where the application and your data resides on an outside company’s servers, not your own, then FreshBooks is not for you.

That said, all transactions on FreshBooks are secured with 128-bit SSL encryption, so your data is safe. And having your billing info reside outside your four walls keeps a critical component of your business safe from any disaster (virus, theft, fire) that might befall your PC. So while FreshBooks can’t force clients and customers to write that check, it does let you get them an invoice in a timely manner and help you track who owes what and when.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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