Online Invoicing & Accounting: Freshbooks vs. Harvest vs. Billings vs. FreeAgent vs. Kashoo vs. Xero vs. Wave vs. LessAccounting
Ah, the magic of the internet. Finally, we can integrate our front-end (invoicing) with our back-end (accounting) and do it all from any computer anywhere in the world via a web-based interface. If you’re running a small business that is service based (i.e. Freelancer, Consultant, Web Designer, Developer, etc), the sooner you start using these incredibly cheap tools to streamline your bookkeeping and time/project management, the better. I resisted anything to do with numbers for many years, but finally learned (the hard way) that running a business without having some basic understanding of bookkeeping is like buying a boat without learning to swim: you don’t have to be an Olympian, but you should at least know how to dog paddle.
A well-integrated system––from estimate to production to invoicing to accounting–– is the key to freeing up time and keeping your accountant happy. I spent a week researching, testing and evaluating these top contenders: Freshbooks, Billings, Harvest, Kashoo, FreeAgent and Xero. They all handle global clients, multiple currencies, compound tax, online invoicing & payments. Some also include accounting software. And they’re all on Twitter. I wanted the simplest, best integrated, most robust system available.
Freshbooks: simple, clean, user-friendly, idiot-proof, extremely popular.
Based in Toronto. $20/month
Pros: Great name and marketing. Simple interface. Integrates with Basecamp, Kashoo and Xero. Allows you to see when a client has viewed, approved and paid an invoice. Also has a send-by-snail-mail feature. Great front-end for your services. Built specifically for service-based small businesses, it has everything a freelancer/consultant needs and no extraneous junk (no restaurants, no manufacturing, no retail).
Cons: Expensive compared to the alternatives, but then, so is an iPhone: you get what you pay for.
Harvest: the lean little project management machine.
Based in NYC. $12 to $40/month.
Pros: Known for its A+ time tracking and project management, it also offers estimates and invoicing. Export in Excel/CSV. Integrates well with Basecamp, HighRise, GoogleDocs, Coop and Outright. Scalable. Popular with start-ups. Far more sophisticated and feature-rich than Freshbooks. I’ve used Harvest for years and love it.
Cons: Online payments via PayPal only avail for US$ invoices. No accounting software, but connects to Outright (for US customers).
Billings: popular with graphic designers and Mac users.
Based in Toronto. $7/month
Pros: gorgeous estimate, proposal and invoice templates. Fully customizable. Fantastic looking front-end for your services. Won an Apple Design Award 2009.
Cons: Invoice design is so dazzling it can take a minute to figure out where the $ totals are. Not connected to other add-ons. No accounting. You host the data yourself so you better be diligent about back-ups and securing your machines and gadgets. You must be running the latest MacOS.
Kashoo: The new kid on the block.
Based in Vancouver. $10/month for everything.
Pros: Phone support (!) plus email/forum support. Import your bank statement to cut down on data entry. Connected to an extensive network of accountants across Canada. Integrates with Freshbooks for time-tracking & invoicing and eSmart tax for easy tax filing .
Cons: Post-sign up interface is not nearly as pretty as the pre-sign up. No integration with Harvest or Basecamp.
FreeAgent: soup-to-nuts services.
Based in UK. $20/month for everything and everyone.
Pros: Perfect for entrepreneurs intending to grow. CSS customizable invoices. Interactive visual charts. Jargon-free. Clean, simple, sleek interface. No need for add-ons. Webinars and how-to videos. Import your bank statement to cut down on data entry.
Cons: Minimal integration of payments via PayPal, but they’re working on it.
Phone, forum and email support on UK time-zone only.
Xero: the Ferrari
Based in New Zealand (yep, New Zealand). $10 – $40/month for multi-currency.
Pros: Gorgeous interface with groovy interactive graphs and charts. Most popular system with (the few) forward-thinking accountants online. Including mine (in Montreal). Best choice for multi-currencies. For service or product-based businesses (ecommerce with inventory, payroll, time tracking). Import your bank statement to cut down on data entry. Also has a Personal Checking option for $30 per year. Syncs with Freshbooks, PayPal, SalesForce.com, ShoeBoxed.com and many more.
Cons: Expensive if you need multi-currency option.
Wave: the freebie (with ads)
Based in Toronto. Free, but with ads (same concept as GMail)
They received 5 million in venture cap October 11, 2011 and the President is quoted as saying “there are many online accounting services in the market, but none of them offers full-range services, free of charge. In 11 short months, we have signed in 75,000 small businesses in 198 countries to our services… When you’re logged into Wave you’ll see unobtrusive yet clearly marked Business Savings on pages like your Dashboard.”
Pros: Did I mention it’s free??
Cons: includes ads, tech support is email only, weekdays 9 – 5 EST
I’m not sure they offer They do not offer compound taxes (State and Federal compounded, not just 2 separate taxes) or true multi-currency (i.e. you have bank accounts in 2 currencies and customers in multiple countries). They sound promising, but they’re awfully new…I’d be inclined to wait another 6 months to see if they’re still around. Maybe Google will buy them Update Sep 2012: Wave now supports compound taxes. Incidentally, tech support response time via email averaged a 5 day turnaround. Consensus amongst colleagues seems to be that they ‘need a bit more time on the vine.’
LessAccounting: the bootstrappers
Florida-based, $30/month, operating since 2007.
Run by 2 savvy developers, with a helpful compare page (https://lessaccounting.com/compare) where you can see (their version of) the differences between them and Xero, QuickBooks, Outright and Freshbooks. Also a list of apps they integrate with; note that they do not list Freshbooks, probably since they also offer a simlar adjunct service called LessTimeSpent.
Pros: Slick code, lotsa features, and they’ve had time to improve it.
Cons: Not sure if they offer true multi-currency support or compound taxes. Their About page shows that they have built other apps (LessProjects, LessTimeSpent) which makes me wonder if their main focus is accounting or general app development. The interface looks like it was designed by programmers, not designers: it needs a shot of pretty, stat.
Conclusion: If you’re in the US,
Harvest Freshbooks + Outright is the way to go. If you’re in Canada, Freshbooks + Xero (or Kashoo) for medium-sized businesses, or the all-in-one FreeAgent for small businesses and freelancers. Billings is a great front-end for Mac users but does not integrate with any online accounting services. I ultimately went with Xero, as I have clients in Canada and the US, so I needed multi-currency support. Plus I just love the sleek, modern interface. Hey, when all else is equal, a gorgeous look and feel is the deciding factor (for me).