Background: FreshBooks is another in a long line of cloud-based accounting systems that are aimed at replacing traditional bookkeeping methods. Its convenience and power make it an extremely attractive proposition for modern businesses that want to reduce overhead and staff count with automation.
FreshBooks is a very cleanly designed yet feature-packed cloud accounting tool. Despite it being meant for accounting, its simplified user interface and clear categorizations make it easily usable by almost anyone.
I can easily say that this is usable by a wide audience of users and that it can fit businesses of small to medium size easily. If you’re interested, they can even create custom plans for larger companies on demand.
As a small business owner myself, I feel that tools like FreshBooks offer a much-needed lifeline to many people. While it may be arguable that basic accounting and invoicing can be done on your own, at the price FreshBooks starts with – why bother to do it manually?
When you first sign up with FreshBooks, the first thing you will notice is how seamless the experience is. When you provide your email to them, you’ll need to verify it and from there you are immediately brought into their onboarding process.
Answering a series of questions will help you get your account set up and ready to use. This helps FreshBooks to establish some basics, such as the currency you transact in, what portions of the system you’ll be using (invoicing, accounting, etc), or even the basic layout of your forms.
The experience is refreshing and you don’t feel as if you’re being asked a bunch of questions with no end objective in sight. This is definitely the flow you want a new user to go through.
If you are anything at all like me and shudder when the term ‘accounting’ is mentioned, then this is another positive point in FreshBook's favor. The entire interface is of course very simple and straightforward.
Best of all, it’s designed to put people at ease. Instead of an austere, bland look that most accounting software is known for, FreshBooks takes on a, well, fresh design. Its pastel colours and easily legible font types and size is so user-friendly.
3. End-to-end Accounts Solution
To many new business owners, accounting can be a challenge even if you’ve had some brief experience in it. Thankfully, it can be broken down into separate areas which are related in some way.
What FreshBooks does is to help users see distinctly the areas that they need to work on, then it will do the back-end integration automatically. This helps keep things simple for users while at the same time, providing a comprehensive accounting package.
Thanks to it being a service-oriented system, FreshBooks helps a lot more with automation than you might think. For example, consider using one of its invoicing forms. This lets you bill clients and all you’ll need to do is fill in the line items.
FreshBooks will total up everything, help you send the invoice, keep count of the accounts receivables, and so on. On the expenditure side, it’s basically the same thing. Fill in line items and upload the necessary documentation like receipts. Everything else is automatically kept track of for you.
At the end of the day, to get a snapshot of what’s going on with your company finances, all you need to do is head over to the Reports section and choose what you want to view.
5. FreshBooks is a Highly Compliant System
In business finances, one of the most dreaded words is compliance. Thanks to the intricacies of business and government, a large part of both ends is dedicated to making sure that everything is legitimate – which means compliance.
You will be happy to know that FreshBooks is built to be compliant with many regulations including Making Tax Digital (MTD), PCI, PSD2, GDPR, and more. This means that no matter what country you reside in, you will be fine using FreshBooks to handle your accounts.
6. Extensive Number of Add-ons
If you’ve ever used any web-based services, you will realize that many of them offer a ‘core service’ along with integration capabilities that help extend functionality. FreshBooks does this as well and you can add on tons of extra features.
As an idea of how this works, you can add on the capability to accept credit card payments, set up and schedule meetings, and much more. All you need to do is find the right add on out of the 100 or so that FreshBooks offers.
It's easy and can prove to be quite helpful in fitting your business needs.
7. Live Customer Support
Since FreshBooks is a cloud-based service, they have central control over a lot of things. This lets them offer very efficient customer service much like other cloud-based products. For example, you can start off reading their knowledge base for help.
If that doesn’t work, click on the chat icon right from inside your FreshBooks account and you can bring up a live chat menu. Ask for help and you shall receive! While it's true that it may take some time depending on their customer load at that moment, you will eventually get to speak to someone who can help you directly.
Cons: What I Disliked About FreshBooks
1. Can Get Expensive Quickly
With such a great list of features and things I love about it, it isn’t surprising that FreshBooks comes at a cost. I’ve compared them with a few other cloud-based accounting applications and they seem to be a bit on the high end.
This gets exponentially worse as your business grows since their pricing is based on your number of billable clients. I feel that isn’t quite a fair way of handling things since not all businesses work the same way.
For instance, you might run a business that needs a continual flow of new clients, by this measure, you will blow past their Lite plan at light speed since it only allows for 5 billable clients.
On the other hand, some businesses thrive on repeat customers and these are the ones who will gain maximum benefit. In fact, some might even be able to coast by on the Lite plan for ages without having to upgrade.
2. The Way Invoices are Sent
For some reason, sending an invoice in FreshBooks doesn’t really send the invoice. This means that an email is sent out from FreshBooks to your client – telling them that they have an invoice ready for viewing.
Although not the worst way of doing things, I can see some clients being leery of clicking on links that come in an email. Cybersecurity is a real pain these days and you don’t want to have to call your clients up one by one to assure them that it’s ok to click that link!
3. Team Members Cost Extra
Most online accounting plans will have an allowance for the main user plus at least one accountant. This at least lets the business owner and the person in charge of managing the finances access the system.
Yes, you can do that in FreshBooks as well, but be prepared to pay extra. The price you pay on sign up is for you alone. Anyone else you want to give access to your accounts is a Team member – and costs an additional $10 per month.
4. The (New) Seamless Payments System is Broken
One of the biggest advantages of Freshbooks is its smooth payment system that allows clients to seamlessly pay directly from an invoice. Yet the system of late seems extraordinarily buggy and the service simply doesn't work.
While that’s bad enough, imagine you have a ton of confused customers that are trying to make use of this feature. When it doesn't work you’ll need to handle them individually and explain why and what went wrong, plus how to work around the issue. Instead of saving time, you end up with more problems.
Incidentally, the problem isn’t unique to me but there have been a ton of complaints about this broken feature resounding across the vast expanse of the world wide web
FreshBooks Plans and Pricing
The pricing structure in FreshBooks is very clear. Almost all the important core features are included with all plans, with a few extra benefits that come along with the more expensive plans. Lite starts from as little as $6 per month and that stretches all the way to Premium at $20 per month. There is also an option to create a custom plan.
Automated Bank Import
Double Entry Account Reports
Automated Late Payment Reminders
If you are planning on using FreshBooks for a long stretch, opting to pay annually will give you a bit of a discount. This amounts to around 10% off what would have been your original pricing – all paid up front, of course.
The most important thing to understand about FreshBooks pricing is that each plan sets the number of billable clients you can manage with the system. This means that even if you’re charging 20 customers a pittance each, you’ll need to upgrade from the Lite to Plus plan. This is something to consider seriously, since how much you pay will depend heavily on how your business works.
Also – note that the 70% signup discount does not apply to your renewal price – meaning your Freshworks plan will goes back to normal price when you renew in future.
Verdict: Is FreshBooks for Me?
It’s time for brutal honesty. FreshBooks is by far one of the best cloud-based accounting tools I’ve come across in a long while. It is designed for and works extremely well for a small work-from-home business like mine.
Unfortunately, it is a tough call to make since their pricing is relatively high as well. I also feel the way they charge based on billable clients is a little bit of a difficult pill to swallow, especially with the Lite plan only allowing 5 customers. As an alternative – Bonsai allows unlimited clients and projects in their standard “Workflow” plan (see details here).
So, while FreshBooks might not be for me, I can easily see small to medium businesses benefitting from this system immensely. This is especially true given their wide range of bank compatibility as well as a high degree of compliance.
Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.