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FreshBooks review

FreshBooks continues to excel in the micro-business bookkeeping market

Our Verdict

FreshBooks’ ease of use and powerful invoicing, timekeeping and project management tools make it a standout for freelancers and sole proprietors. But larger businesses may need a more complete accountancy solution.

For

  • Very easy to use
  • Good integration with third party apps
  • Great timekeeping and project management tools

Against

  • Limited features compared to some rivals
  • No budgeting or accounts payable
  • Larger SMEs may need more

FreshBooks is a clean and powerful invoicing and time-tracking package for small businesses. While its various pricing plans appear to aim FreshBooks at everyone from freelancers to medium sized businesses with a book load of billable clients, it has really made its name at the smaller end of the market. Here, pricing plans start at $15 per month (for five billable clients). In this niche it goes head to head with the likes of Wave and GoDaddy Bookkeeping, both of which are cheaper, though less well established.

Features

  • FreshBooks’ new interface is clean and refreshingly simple to use
  • Its time tracking tool is simple, powerful, and perfect for freelancers who bill by the hour
  • FreshBooks’ comes with apps for Android and iOS, so you can keep track of your invoices anywhere and at any time 
FreshBooks specs

Deployment: Cloud
Apps: Android and iOS
Training: Documentation, webinars, live online
Support: Email, phone, FAQs

It is worth repeating that Freshbooks’ features won’t satisfy every small business. Some may find just two invoicing templates limiting. In addition, Freshbooks isn’t a full featured accountancy package, and the lack of features like budgeting and accounts payable might be off putting for larger SMEs. But for freelancers, FreshBooks offers a wide range of powerful tools and applications.

FreshBooks underwent a complete refresh in 2017, and it worked. The first thing to note about the popular invoicing and bookkeeping package is that it looks great, and navigating around the site is simplicity itself. Pages are clean and clear, with navigation tools pushed to a vertical blue pane on the left hand side of the page.

That pane contains the core of the FreshBooks package. For sole proprietors and micro-businesses, you might say that FreshBooks gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t. There’s nothing extraneous here. You’re likely to use everything FreshBooks offers once, find that it makes your life easier, and keep using it. It’s that sort of package.

For a start, we really liked the FreshBooks invoicing tool. Setting up a new invoice using the software’s two (partially) customizable templates was easy. You can add your company logo and change colours, but it’s fair to say that Freshbooks is not as customizable as some rival packages. The invoice screen lets you toggle between invoices that have been drafted, sent, received and paid, and you can even see if a customer has viewed your invoice. You can set reminders to make sure that if they haven’t yet they will do soon.

(Image credit: FreshBooks)

This is really important for very small businesses, who often spend spirit-sapping lengths of time chasing unpaid invoices. Now you can let Freshbooks do the legwork for you.

We also liked the ability to create estimates – which can easily be turned into invoices – and proposals. Proposals are akin to a costed statement of work, and can be turned into contracts when signed by a client.

FreshBooks also stands out for its powerful project management and time tracking tools. The project management option lets you set a time, budget for hourly or flat rate projects, discuss details and progress internally, and assign it to specific employees and clients. When it’s done, a couple of clicks turns it into an invoice. Time tracking, meanwhile, lets you enter the time for a project (by the hour or via a start-stop timer), and log both the time expended by yourself and your employees and by contractors working on the project. You can then bill accordingly. It is an extremely useful feature.

You can also take a firm grip on expenses. Add receipt files, fill in vendor details and costs, and add a description if you want to. File the expense under one of numerous categories and let FreshBooks keep track of where your spending goes and when, giving you the information you need to rein your extraneous spending in if required.  

Interface and usability

  • Clean and easy navigation - it’s hard to get lost in Freshbooks
  • It takes just minutes to set up and start using

That’s a real selling point for many, but Freshbooks may feel too simple for those used to full-featured accountancy packages. The latest iteration of the software does include standard accountancy tools like double-entry accounting and bank reconciliation, but many users of Freshbooks really want it for working up invoices in seconds, recording expenses and tracking time. Those looking for a full accountancy solution might be better off looking at the likes of Xero or Intuit Quickbooks Online.

FreshBooks has something of a reputation as a great bookkeeping and invoicing package for freelancers. It does a very good job of recognising that some users opening it for the first time may have very little previous experience of bookkeeping or accountancy software. Beginner or not, it takes just minutes to set FreshBooks up and start sending invoices. From there, users can gradually familiarize themselves with its deeper and more complex features. The learning curve is anything but steep. 

We do like the FreshBooks dashboard, which presents a simple graphical summary of important financial information about your business. The dashboard features graphs for Outstanding Revenue, Total Profit, Revenue Streams, Spending, and Unbilled Time. The graphics are both nice to look at and easy to understand.

A vertical pane on the left links to the meat of Freshbooks, from clients and invoices to time tracking and project management. An ‘Invite’ button at the top right of the screen lets you invite other team members to your account, with varying degrees of permissions. Next to it, a ‘Create’ button is a fast track to invoicing, expense tracking, adding clients and projects and creating estimates.

Click on Projects from the vertical pane, then click on Create, and you are presented with the choice of creating a flat rate or hourly charge project. Choose the one you want, add a client from your database, give your project a name, assign a fee and a deadline, and you’re finished. It’s that easy. Once you have created a project Freshbooks offers a very handy ‘Discuss’ feature, where you can post questions and updates to other members of your team who are assigned to the same piece of work.

That’s how it works with Projects, and the same ease of use is apparent with all Freshbooks’ functions. It is, in a word, a joy to use. The whole thing feels clean, intuitive and easy.

Performance

  • Integrates seamlessly with a network of useful third-party apps
  • Freshbooks’ performance is smooth and efficient, ensuring you don’t waste more time than you need on basic bookkeeping

It’s also worth pointing out that Freshbooks has a reputation for excellent customer service, so if you do have issues with the software they’re unlikely to slow you down for long. You can get help in many different formats, from phone and email contact to in-software support, a large repository of how-to articles and a useful blog. Videos on its YouTube channel are clear, concise and useful. 

Freshbooks doesn’t overcomplicate, which means pages load quickly and smoothly. Setting up clients, raising invoices and creating projects can all be completed in a matter of minutes. 

The site’s layout means that all the basic information that a freelancer or micro-business needs is easily accessible via the dashboard. Clicking to relevant sections for more in-depth information is quick and easy.

Bookkeeping does not exist in a vacuum, of course, and Freshbooks integrates with a wide range of complementary applications, including Trello, Gusto, G Suite and Stripe. To take payment app Stripe as an example, integration is simple and effective. Customers simply pay you within the FreshBooks environment using their credit cards without ever being redirected to another site. In the case of payroll app Gusto, every time you run payroll in Gusto, your payroll transactions automatically sync to FreshBooks and appear as categorized expenses.

None of this will revolutionize the way you do business, but it will save you time, and so will downloading the Freshbooks app. Android and iOS versions are largely identical, and let you undertake basic invoicing, expense management and time tracking tasks on the go. Like their desktop counterpart, both apps are well designed and straightforward to use.

Verdict

Freshbooks is a breath of fresh air for freelancers and micro-businesses who have (perhaps belatedly) come to the conclusion that they need to get organized with invoicing and expenses. Within minutes, even bookkeeping innocents will be sending and tracking invoices, categorizing expenses and managing their time in a more efficient way. 

And that is what Freshbooks is really about. Chasing payments is the bane of every very small company’s existence, and Freshbooks makes it simpler and less frustrating. The same can be said for its powerful expense management and time tracking functions. 

Thanks to its useful integrations, Freshbooks can also act as the hub of a network of complementary apps, and its own apps – for Android and iOS – are useful and well designed.

Are there downsides to Freshbooks? Very few if you’re a freelancer, but larger businesses will almost certainly find that it lacks features they eventually come to need. It does now come with some standard accountancy tools, but not enough to make it a serious challenger to more complete accountancy solutions like Zoho or Xero. 

But for freelancers, sole proprietors and micro-businesses, Freshbooks is powerful and extremely well designed, though it isn’t cheap. Whether it’s the bookkeeping software for you or not will depend on whether you are prepared to pay a little bit more for its undeniably excellent user experience.