Online accounting winner: FreshBooks
Well, I've kicked the tires on all 3 online accounting/invoicing systems, and the winner for me is FreshBooks. There are several reasons (detailed below) but the main thing is that FreshBooks did everything it advertised, effortlessly. Furthermore, my clients seemed to like what they saw as well: two of them asked me for my opinion about the system because they were considering using FreshBooks for their own online invoicing. Both Blinksale and LessAccounting appear to be suffering from a few teething problems, which is really not something you want to have to deal with when it comes to finances:
- LessAccounting had a problem linking my invoice to my PayPal account, meaning my client couldn't pay the invoice online. He got an error message instead - not good.
- LessAccounting also seems to have a glitch where it sometimes displays the amount due as £0.01 even when you enter the payment in full (and double-check it is the exact/correct amount).
- Blinksale created real invoices every time I previewed a design in the template chooser. This meant I reached my limit of invoices without ever having created one! It also meant I had to manually go and delete the invoices. And worst of all: when I sent an email to Blinksale to inform them of this glitch, I received no reply.
Aside from the above, there were also more fundamental reasons why Freshbooks won my business:
Integrated, customisable reminders
FreshBooks will automatically send reminders of overdue invoices at up to 3 different time periods you specify. You can customise the text on each reminder, meaning I could use a different tone of voice in each subsequent reminder (and warn the client when they are about to start accruing interest for overdue payments). Blinksale has one single template for all reminders, and I couldn't see a way to specify when they are sent. LessAccounting doesn't offer reminders at all; instead, they want you to sign up to - and pay for - yet another system called GettingPaid.
Freshbooks has a really easy-to-use timetracking tool that is easily customisable to track your time by project, client and/or task. You can then invoice the client at the click of a button. There is also a standalone app timetracker for Freshbooks, and the uber-chic can also get the timetracker on their iPhones, too. Blinksale has no timetracker, and LessAccounting make you sign up for yet another separate app (TimeLessSpent) just to do timetracking.
Simple interface / excellent usability
Entering my expenses in FreshBooks was a dream. I sat down with a pile of receipts an in no time I was able to input them all and generate reports for my accountant. LessAccounting's expense function is a bit more complex than it needs to be IMO - I mean, who wants to fill out a Tax Deduction Expense Category, specify how you paid, or write a bunch of tags for every receipt? Maybe larger businesses will benefit from this level of detail, but not me. And Blinksale has no expenses feature.
As a general rule, all the other tools and screens in FreshBooks are also more simplified than LessAccounting. If you need/want a lot of detail, then maybe LessAccounting would be a better match for you. Plus, with LessAccounting you can (in theory) link directly to your bank account, so you can keep track of incomings and outgoings all in one place. In practice, I couldn't get the link to my bank to work.
Blinksale is also very user-friendly - in fact probably the most simple of all three - but I'd say that some of the templates it includes border on the cutesy. I don't want a sunshine on my 'thank you for paying' email. And the bottom line is that it's just not as rich a package as what you get from FreshBooks for around the same price.
Blinksale scored a big fat ZERO for support, as they never replied to me, but both LessAccounting and FreshBooks were very quick to respond whenever I had a query or problem. Maybe I just got lucky, but the really cool thing for me in terms of support was when I suggested to FreshBooks that it would be nice if the expense reports included the name of the vendor... they agreed this was a good idea, and a few weeks later, it had been done.
I was able to brand my FreshBooks site to match my business colours and logo, meaning that when clients log in to monitor timesheets or pay an invoice, it all looks very polished and professional, like an integrated part of my business. I don't think LessAccounting or Blinksale is meant to be seen by anyone other than employees or your accountant, so this point isn't entirely comparable... but it's a nice touch nonetheless. And in fact it highlights the fact that Freshbooks is more than just an accounting tool, it also includes some client/project/relationship management features as well.
The downsides to Freshbooks? There are few but they include:
- Limited invoice templates. Very limited. Two, in fact. Um, TWO?!? Yes, this is one area where Blinksale and LessAccounting both beat Freshbooks by a mile. LessAccounting has the most standard templates, and Blinksale has plenty too - plus you can even design your own by importing a CSS file.
No ability to upload photos/scans of receipts for invoices... LessAccounting does this, but it's more a nice touch than a deal-breaker for me.UPDATE: You can add scans/pics of receipts.
- No ability to individualise the email that goes out with each invoice. You can customise the general template, but sometimes it's nice to add some notes or comments to the specific client. LessAccounting does this, as does Blinksale. UPDATE: You can now customise to your heart's content as there's a preview box that pops up before you send the email. Just type in this box to customise, or click send to use the default.
No ability to automatically add interest for late payments. Blinksale is the only tool I tested that does this.UPDATE: You can automatically set interest now.
I didn't get a chance to test out every single feature of all the tools - for example, the estimates/proposals features of FreshBooks & LessAccounting, but for basic management of business finances, I am happy with what I chose.
So if you think you might like to try FreshBooks yourself, do me a favour and sign up by clicking here or on the round green button. Those kind folks at FreshBooks will give me a little discount for every referral, which is nice. And if you do decide to sign up, let me know how you like it. I reckon it's a pretty sweet app.