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Online Invoicing and Billing

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In trying to be “Greener” in my consulting business, I am shifting away from paper billing and into online invoicing. This would allow my clients to choose if the wanted to receive regular invoices in the mail, or electronic copies in their email. I could also complete invoices in the field (or on my iPhone).

Over the past several months I must have tried nearly 10 different services, from companies both big and small. All of which seem to be set apart from the other with one great feature that the other didn’t have. But as a whole, none of them meet all, or even most of, my requirements for online billing. Only one seemed to fit the bill (pun intended).

That company is Freshbooks, out of Canada. FreshBooks isn’t a new company, they started back in 2004 as “2ndsite”, and while not a bad name, it really didn’t let people know what they are all about. So in May of 2006 founders Mike McDerment and Joe Sawada decided to change the name to FreshBooks. In fact this wasn’t just a name change, it was a “Fresh Start” as their press release touted.

That fresh start, as I have come to find out, was the beginning of an ever evolving service. One of the key complaints I had about most of the other services, was they were stagnant. A lot of them hadn’t changed a thing since they first went online. Reading hundreds and hundreds of forum posts on their respective sites quickly demonstrated that these other services were just not listening to their clients. I am sure that most of you realize that the vast majority of posts on a company site are to complain about a problem or issue that the customer has had with their product. Very rarely do we post about the good experiences.

But something stood out in the FreshBooks support forums, they were listening. In fact, listening wasn’t the only thing they were doing. The team at FreshBooks were resolving issues, adding features and actually taking the time to understand their clients.

Being a Macintosh consultant, I have been spoiled by Apple’s customer service. While every company, including Apple, is going to have the occasional stumble in customer service, for the most part, we have come to expect a higher standard of the companies we deal with. This being said, I tend to rate most other companies poorly in the efforts. But FreshBooks, in my opinion, lives up to that higher standard.

My key criteria for choosing on online invoice system were as follows.

  1. Quick setup
  2. Ability to customize my invoices to look like my printed versions
  3. Option to have a hard copy mailed if the client chooses
  4. Easy payment options for my clients
  5. Good customer service
  6. A clean, and easy to use site, both for my self and my clients
  7. Branded with my company id
  8. Fair pricing

FreshBooks was the only company that meet all of the above, and then some. As far as pricing goes, for most people it is under $15/per month, if not free. It is all based on the number of clients you will be billing on a regular basis. If I remember correctly, I think I got to trying FreshBooks about 2 am one morning after a long day of consulting. I finished the setup in just a couple minutes (you can try FreshBooks for free, you don’t even need to enter any credit card information) and had several test clients with invoices in a few minutes more. It was very easy and straight forward.

I did notice one very odd thing, these days anyway, on the top of their site. A phone number, and when called, a real person answered the phone. Which brings me to another thing I really admire about the company, its employees (or team members as they refer to themselves). From reading their responses in the forums or talking to them on the phone, you get the impression that they are in the business of helping your business. In fact they actually travel around and invite their clients to dinner to discuss just about anything. “We do these dinners whenever we travel because we love to say thank you to the people who use FreshBooks and because I don’t like to eat alone and find that eating with a group of twenty or so people is always more interesting.” said Saul Colt, Head of Magic at FreshBooks about a recent dinner in Los Angeles.

So as you see, I have found my invoicing solution and a company that I feel comfortable doing business with. In this modern world where everything is on a server somewhere, it is nice to work with a company that has real live humans as well. By the way, they have over 500,000 users in more that a hundred countries, so if you choose to give them a try, you won’t be alone.



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