I’ve been using FreshBooks for over 10 years. In the early days, the company would travel around to different cities and take its customers out to dinner! I got a chance to meet the founder, Mike McDerment, at one of those dinners. Like me, Mike started out as a web designer and he needed a way to track time and invoice his clients. FreshBooks was born.
FreshBooks is particularly well-suited to freelancers and independent workers with multiple clients and projects. The software makes it easy to track time and create invoices for your projects. Anyone that needs to send invoices or keep track of time for work will find FreshBooks useful.
Before FreshBooks, I used a simple invoicing spreadsheet template and sent paper invoices in the mail to clients. This worked okay, except when it didn’t. Occasionally, a client wouldn’t pay promptly or at all, and it would be up to me to track down the payment. Plus, creating and sending out paper invoices is a hassle. I don’t remember how I tracked time in the early days.
With FreshBooks, it’s very easy to create an invoice and send it to a client electronically. Your clients can pay online which means you get paid faster. And emails can be set to go out automatically with a gentle reminder for your client in case they don’t pay right away.
What follows is a brief discussion of the first version of FreshBooks, called FreshBooks Classic. If you prefer, you can skip ahead to an overview of the current version of FreshBooks.
The classic version of FreshBooks is the first iteration of the software. This is what I started out using in 2007. The interface is clean, straightforward, and well-organized with clear navigation at the top of the screen.
In some ways, I prefer the top horizontal navigation of FreshBooks Classic to the sidebar navigation in the new FreshBooks. But the navigation is easy to use in the new version as well. There are additional contextual navigation items at the top of the screen in the new version. So, I can understand why the company made the design change.
There are a few things I really like about FreshBooks Classic. But since there is no new development on this version of the software, I decided to migrate to the new FreshBooks. You can learn more about the differences between the new FreshBooks and FreshBooks Classic. This will only be of interest to you if you are migrating to the new version. If you sign up for a new account, you will automatically be on the new version of FreshBooks.
On the dashboard of FreshBooks Classics, you have an activity list noting when your clients log in and view your invoices or estimates. In the new version of FreshBooks, invoices are marked as viewed when your client views them. But you are not given an indication of when, and there is no activity list on the homepage dashboard. However, you can see when a client has viewed an invoice in the new FreshBooks under the “relationship” section on the details page for that client.
I also found FreshBooks Classics very easy to use with the keyboard. The new application also works well with the keyboard, but it does take some getting used to, and I think I was faster with FreshBooks Classic. I find that it takes me an extra step or two when I’m looking for archived data.
Reports and Exporting Data
The reports in the classic version of FreshBooks are simple, straightforward, and easy to access. The new FreshBooks also includes reports available for download as CSV for import into a spreadsheet, or as a formatted PDF. This is completely subjective, but I was faster at finding the data I needed in FreshBooks Classic. The new reports look good, but I preferred the plain old utility of the previous reporting section.
Also, you can export data in the new FreshBooks, but not all data. FreshBooks Classic has a more comprehensive data export. For example, you can export all of your data from FreshBooks Classic and import it into Harvest. The new FreshBooks has no global export function. Instead, you export data in the various sections of the application. You can learn more about exporting your FreshBooks data.
The new version of FreshBooks is a complete rebuild of the application. As an aside, I think a better strategy would have been to upgrade FreshBooks Classic and build on what was there rather than rebuild everything. But, the new version of FreshBooks is the latest version of the software, and it includes many new features that make it worth migrating.
The team is consistently improving the product and adding new features, so I would consider upgrading if you are still using FreshBooks Classic. There is a test account available, so contact FreshBooks if you want to try it out before you upgrade.
Check out this page from FreshBooks on what has changed between FreshBooks Classic and the new FreshBooks before you migrate. I also took advantage of the export function and exported key data before I migrated.
Migrating from FreshBooks classic to the new version is fairly easy. There should be a button in your dashboard to try the new version. If not, send a support email to the FreshBooks team and ask them to start the migration. They will schedule it with you, and it only takes a short amount of time to move your data from the old version to the new version.
Note, that if you try the new FreshBooks, and you end up not liking it, you can move back to the classic version. But any data that you recorded in the new version of FreshBooks will not be migrated back to the classic version. So you should give it a try, and make a decision to stick with it, or move back promptly if it’s not for you.
Since I had so much data already in FreshBooks, I had some issues where old data resurfaced. For example, I had an archived or deleted draft invoice show up as outstanding. I also had unbilled hours appear for old projects. Those were minor issues I could work out on my own.
I also had some minor problems that just have to do with the difference in workflow between the old FreshBooks and the new. For example, when reviewing hours in the timesheet, I was marking unbilled hours as billed. Moments before, I sent out an invoice for a project.
Somehow when manually marking off hours as billed, I managed to mark hours as billed for an active project, and my recently sent invoice ended up being a zero dollar amount.
This seemed to be a combination of a quirk within the software and my actions of marking hours as billed. I decided to just give them a call rather than try and explain everything over email, and Patricia on the support team was very helpful, and we fixed the issue quickly.
So if you have been using FreshBooks Classic for a while, I would plan for some time to learn the new system and to work out any minor issues.
The All-New FreshBooks
For the rest of this post, we’ll take a look at the new FreshBooks system.
You can sign in at my.freshbooks.com. If you have multiple businesses on the platform, you’ll need to select the business when you sign in.
You can log in either with your FreshBooks account, or a Google account. If you use your Google account, you can take advantage of two-factor authentication. It would be great if this were built into the FreshBooks platform directly rather than needing to use a Google account.
FreshBooks uses a responsive design so everything works well on mobile or tablet. It’s worth noting there is a mobile app for both Android and iOS.
Assuming you don’t log out, your browser will stay logged in for a period of 12 hours. This is helpful if you tend to leave browser tabs open and come back to them later as I do.
Once you’re logged in, you are presented with your homepage which has an overview of your business. If you’re brand-new to FreshBooks, it may be useful to go through their help pages, or watch one of their webinars.
The dashboard gives you a quick overview of your outstanding invoices, expenses, profit, and unbilled time. The outstanding revenue and total year-to-date profit is helpful to get a quick sense of where you are with your business.
I am not tracking expenses with FreshBooks, so the total profit graph really just reflects the amount billed. If you are tracking expenses, you will get a more accurate picture.
Another useful area of the dashboard is the chart indicating the amount of unbilled time. This groups your time by project and gives you a sense of what you are able to bill.
I do wish the dashboard were customizable. Each chart is displayed in a row on the page. These could be made smaller and organized into a grid to make better use of the space available. The horizontal layout of each item pushes information off-screen. For example, the unbilled time chart is at the bottom of the page. I’d like to customize the page and move it up near the top.
The clients section of FreshBooks is where you manage and add clients that you will bill for the work that you are doing. You can add contact information as well as secondary contacts. This can be helpful if you need to send invoices to different people in the same company.
The clients area is useful when you go to the details page for an individual client. From there, you have a quick link to outstanding hours and invoices, past invoices, and other reports. You can run reports for that client such as payments collected and revenue by client.
You can also manually add a credit card for a client and set them up for online payment and recurring billing. It’s easy enough for them to do this on their own, but this will be helpful if they want you to do it for them.
As you might expect, the invoices section is where you manage your invoices to clients. From here, you have an overview of any outstanding invoices, draft invoices, as well as overdue invoices.
Within the section, there is a link to set up online payments. I originally set this up through Stripe, and FreshBooks now has its own system that you can use as well called FreshBooks Payments. The Stripe and FreshBooks Payment fees are comparable.
With the new FreshBooks, you can set up a retainer system where you track time against a project retainer. Invoices go out automatically, and any hours over your retainer amount can be billed separately. This can be a great way to bill for ongoing support, and ensure you account for all time on a project.
FreshBooks automatically keeps track of fees charged by Stripe or your payment processor. You can also connect your bank and credit card to import expenses. I have not used this feature yet, but if you don’t mind connecting your bank to FreshBooks, this could be useful for tax preparation.
Estimates and Proposals
FreshBooks updated their estimates section and added proposals. In addition to creating simple estimates and quotes, you can write more thorough proposals. With proposals, you can provide additional project detail and add an online signature. I tried this, but I prefer Quotient for sending proposals. Still, it’s nice to have this feature within FreshBooks. It’s much better than sending a PDF proposal.
The time tracking functionality in FreshBooks is straightforward. You can record your time either by day, or in bulk with a weekly view. For whatever reason, I was faster adding time with FreshBooks Classic. I also miss the full monthly calendar view in FreshBooks Classic. But the time tracking works well enough. It’s miles ahead of any internal corporate system I’ve used in the past.
The review area of time tracking is useful and lets you view time spent on each project. By paging through previous months, you can get a sense of how much time you are dedicating to each project. Underneath that chart is a searchable list of all time entries.
I should note that you can review time per team member as well. As a company of one, I don’t need this feature. But this would be helpful in a small business environment with multiple team members recording time for projects.
If you prefer to use a dedicated app for recording time, you can try Toggl and connect it to FreshBooks with Zapier. Or, use the mobile version of FreshBooks for both Android and iOS.
Along with invoicing and time tracking, the projects section within FreshBooks is the area that I use the most. From here, you can manage your projects for each client as well as see the outstanding unbilled hours for each project.
One helpful feature with the new FreshBooks is that a dollar value is assigned to your unbilled hours. This is true for an hourly project, and assumes you have assigned a rate for the project. It definitely gives you an incentive to keep your time tracking up-to-date.
With FreshBooks, you have the option of creating either a flat-rate project, or an hourly billing project. Side note regarding flat-rate projects–if you bill in phases, such as thirds, or 50% upfront, you may want to create different projects for each phase of billing. It’s currently an all or nothing approach to flat-rate billing in FreshBooks.
Keeping track of your time on a per project basis is the only way to understand how much effort goes into your projects. If you’ve never done this before, it will be enlightening. Once you have some project history, the amount of time that you’ve spent on past projects will inform your estimates for future projects. You’ll be much more accurate in your estimating.
Reports and Accounting
FreshBooks offers some standard reporting such as revenue by client, expense reports, profit and loss, and invoice details. FreshBooks also has some accounting features such as double-entry accounting, the chart of accounts, bank reconciliation, and general ledger report. If you have an accountant, you can invite your account from within FreshBooks and give them access to all that they need.
In short, yes. FreshBooks has evolved over the years and now includes many features that were previously only on QuickBooks. In addition to time tracking and then invoicing, you get reporting, expense tracking, and tools for your accountant. Larger businesses may already be using QuickBooks, or may have a specific need that requires QuickBooks. If you are considering QuickBooks, you might want to take a look at FreshBooks as well. There should be some cost savings with the monthly software price.
The company is located in Toronto. They have a friendly and responsive support staff you can reach by phone or email. I suppose if you were in the neighborhood, they wouldn’t mind a visit either. Here is their contact information.
1655 Dupont St.
Toll Free (North America): 1.866.303.6061
Toll Free (Australia): 1.800.218.731
Freephone (UK): 0808.101.3408
Freephone (Ireland): 1.800.949.046
Monday – Friday: 8am – 8pm EDT
Visit their website to contact FreshBooks for support via email.
If you are using FreshBooks Classic, there is a data export tool built in. And you can export your data in various formats. With the new FreshBooks, there is no global export tool, but there are ways of getting around it. You can integrate FreshBooks with third-party APIs such as a Zapier. Using Zapier, you are able to integrate FreshBooks with Quickbooks and other applications. However, it may be more difficult to export or import legacy data.
Yes, FreshBooks is safe. Any information between your browser and FreshBooks is transmitted with 256-bit SSL encryption. The FreshBooks application itself is regularly scanned for vulnerabilities by their security provider. FreshBooks data centers are protected with physical security including biometric access controls, surveillance, redundant power generators, and more. FreshBooks handles cardholder data in accordance with the PCI Data Security Standard requirements. The application is reliable, uses the Google Cloud platform, and is backed up to prevent data loss.
With plans starting at $15 a month, FreshBooks is a good value. Aside from the invoicing and time tracking, you can use it to send estimates and proposals. And you can have your clients electronically sign those proposals. There are other software products out there that make their business from that feature alone. The pricing is comparable or less than QuickBooks, and similar to other time tracking and invoicing software out there. I believe it’s a good value for the money.
FreshBooks doesn’t advertise itself as HIPAA compliant, though they do take security very seriously. See the above note about whether FreshBooks is safe or not.
FreshBooks is very well suited to sole proprietors and small businesses. If you manage multiple projects and clients, FreshBooks will make your life easier. If you run a small business with a team of employees or contractors, FreshBooks will give you a solution for tracking time, invoicing, and accounting. Overall, it’s an excellent product well worth your consideration if you are shopping for an accounting system. I’ve relied on it for over 10 years.