I’m a huge fan of online invoicing and billing software for small businesses and freelancers. There are a few I use on a regular basis (you can see my personal favorites below). For the advanced features section, I took trials of Free Agent, Due.com, and The Invoice Machine — all worthwhile contenders in the invoice solutions space.
Taking The Pain Out of Getting Paid
We’ve all been there. We do the marketing. We close the deal. We do the work. Then, it’s time to get paid.
And getting paid is a bigger hassle than marketing, negotiating or performing on the contract.
Sometimes it’s the client. (Hey, who wants to shell out money?)
Sometimes it’s the team. (“What do you mean you don’t know how many hours you worked on the project!”)
But most of the time, it’s the process.
Billing is a pain.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Set Your Goals for Billing
Discuss Invoicing Details at the Start . . . When you start working with a new customer, it’s good to get the invoicing details confirmed as early as possible. Some customers will stall on an invoice payment simply because one thing, such as a purchase order number, is missing. ~ Small Business Trends
Invoicing doesn’t have to be a royal PITA. It’s another one of those administrative tasks where you have to “take the bull by the horns,” spend some time thinking about your organization’s needs, and take some action. You define your goals for billing (aside from getting paid), do a little research on available options, make a short-list, evaluate the offerings against your goals, select the most promising candidate, and commit to consistent use.
Sure, setting goals can be daunting. (Have you ever heard of anyone who set goals for their invoicing app?) Big business sets goals for everything; small businesses, microenterprises, freelancers, and consultants should do the same.) In this brief article, The Small Business Guide to Invoicing and Getting Paid, the author does just that: lays out considerations that can help you create a plan for successfully invoicing your clients and getting paid without delay.
Do or Die: Must-Have Features in Invoicing Apps
Mind boggling: the number of invoice and billing apps has risen exponentially over the past few years. But all apps are not created equally. From simple create-a-bill-and-nothing-else to full-fledged online bookkeeping software, what you need is what they’ve got.
As a freelancer, you probably fall somewhere in the middle.
Between super simplistic and brain-numbing number crunching are the set of invoicing features important to every freelance business. But small business and freelance users have been clamoring for even more advanced features to cover the broad spectrum of use cases.
Rising to the top of the list are these five sought-after features (providers who have them are noted in parentheses):
- more payment options, i.e., integration with Stripe (Zoho Invoice, FreeAgent, Invoicera)
- preparing, sharing and approving estimates (Apptivo, Invoicera, Zoho Invoice, FreeAgent
- design control over templates and client emails (Due.com, Invoicera, Apptivo)
- tracking and assigning billable expenses on per project basis (all)
- mobile apps for the most popular smart devices (Apptivo, Invoicera, FreeAgent, Zoho Invoice
Another one worth noting takes into account the global nature of freelance work. You’re as likely to have clients in other parts of the world as you are to have clients from your own home town. With this in mind, invoice apps are increasingly adding the ability to calculate tax rates for local, domestic and international jurisdictions. (For a refresher on complying with EU laws for VAT, check out Paul Robinson’s article on the matter.)
Those are only a subset of the important features necessary to help you meet the goals set for successfully billing clients and getting paid on time.
PITA: Capturing What’s Due
You’ve set your goals and reviewed what any invoicing solution worth its salt should offer by way of advanced features (in light of what’s important to you). You signed up for some free trials, put the apps through their paces, and selected one that’s right for your business.
Now comes the fun part: capturing what’s due in real world scenarios. (We all know what you used to do!))
Use a timer
Toss aside your sticky notes. (Hasty scribble . . . “Call from client: 15mins last week.”)
Timers make the world go round and a billing software that includes a timer just makes your world that more enjoyable
These apps include a stop-watch/timer: Due.com, Free Agent, The Invoice Machine, Zoho Invoice, Invoicera
Accurate accounting on the go
Dump the coffee-stained napkin from the Bean Haus. (“Revised report over latte. 495”)
Whoa! Is that $4.95 for a latte or 4.95 hours on the report or a note-to-self to charge client $495 for the revisions?
When your invoicing software provides a complementary mobile app, time and client-related expenses can be immediately recorded — even when you’re on the go.
Micro-manage your money
You’re not a clown, this ain’t the circus. But with so many balls in the air, you walk a wobbly tightrope that could snap at any minute.
“We got billed an extra $875 on this project. I’m confused … didn’t we already pay that invoice?”
Uh oh! With more than one project going at the same time for the same client, absolute accuracy is absolutely required. That’s one more layer of fine-tuned detail that can be handled by your invoicing app.
My Personal Favorites?
Over the years I’ve used a variety of online billing and invoicing programs.
- Desktop versions of QuickBooks and Peachtree Accounting (now Sage Accounting) had invoicing built-in (used one or the other for decades!)
- Invoicera — they were one of the first to include expenses and vendor contact info; I wrote a detailed review here
- Zoho Invoice — used for a couple of years, particularly happy with their Stripe integration and estimate-to-invoice function
- Apptivo — my day-to-day workhorse, invoicing is part of their comprehensive business solutions suite
As mentioned earlier, I picked up free trials of Free Agent, Due.com, and The Invoice Machine in order to get a wider view of the advanced options. All are worthy of a closer look during your evaluation phase.
Over to you . . .
How about you? Are you still creating invoices with Microsoft Word? Compiling time, expenses and project billables by hand or in a spreadsheet? Which invoicing and billing solution are you using now? Share your experiences with us in the comment section.
Great article Vernessa! I invite you to take a look at our app: TRATO. We are currently only focused on the market in Mexico but our vision is to be available worldwide considering online & onsite freelancers’ needs. We are integrating payment in order to fulfil our mission: Offer stress-free legal agreements to freelancers and avoid all the pain involved in GETTING PAID.
Vernessa, what a lovely piece. Like you, I used Sage for years and loved it’s CRM features, but it did take a lot of getting used to a lot of its’ really great features. My only negative was that it wasn’t mac compatible without some form of emulation software (I found a way around it and it served us well for years).
I found your tips and insights very useful and quite valuable. Well done, keep up the great work