You haven’t heard of humble beginnings until you’ve heard of FreshBooks. One normal, innocuous day in 2004, CEO Mike McDerment was going about his business when he accidentally saved over an invoice and lost all of his work. Frustrated with juggling Word and Excel documents, McDerment decided there must be a better invoicing solution. Together with co-founder Joe Sawada, McDerment created FreshBooks–an invoicing and billing software solution.
For three years, FreshBooks operated out of McDerment’s parents’ basement. For the first 24-month stretch, the company only had 10 customers buying into the software at $9.99/mo for a grand total profit of $99.99/mo for a team of four. But despite the difficult financial situation, McDerment and his team believed in their product.
Today, FreshBooks has over 500,000 users, 200 employees, and operates in 120 countries. The company maintains a professional, yet very fun vibe. It has been featured in Forbes magazine and is the second most used accounting software company in the US (Quickbooks is the first). FreshBooks has also won countless awards for its customer service. This staff lives the words, “We’re more than just a program that they use, we’re people who really care.”
Excellent customer service and a robust feature set, including invoicing, expenses, time tracking, contact management, client portals, expenses, and light inventory, help FreshBooks to stand out from the competition. Extras like snail mail invoicing options, client credit, and over 35 integrations are just icing on the cake. The five scalable plans fit nearly any size business. However, there is one huge drawback about FreshBooks–it’s not actually accounting software.
FreshBooks does not use double-entry accounting (a big no-no), offers limited reports, and has a very poor banking reconciliation capabilities. For companies looking for strong accounting features, FreshBooks might not be the best choice. That said, if you’re looking for strong invoicing and billing features, unique time tracking and client management tools, and some light bookkeeping/accounting functions, FreshBooks is definitely worth considering. The customer service alone makes this software worthwhile.
To decide if FreshBooks is a good fit for you and your business, continue on to read our full article and watch this quick video.
FreshBooks offers a free 30-day trial, no credit card or banking information required. There are five pricing options that fit nearly any business size. Payments are made monthly, and with no contract necessary, you can cancel the service at any time.
- Sprout: $12.95/mo – All plans include unlimited invoices, expenses, and time tracking. Allows you to bill up to 5 clients.
- Seedling: $19.95/mo – Allows you to bill up to 20 clients.
- Evergreen: $29.95/mo ($26.96/mo with a yearly contract) – Allows you to bill up to 200 clients.
- Mighty Oak: $39.95/mo ($35.96/mo with a yearly contract) – Allows you to bill an unlimited amount of clients. Adds one additional staff member and team timesheets.
- Redwood: Call for Pricing – The Redwood plan is for bigger businesses and enterprises that send a large amount of invoices, work in teams, and bring in about $10k in online payments every month. Look here for more information about what this plan includes.
FreshBooks’ referral program gives users one free month of service (up to $39.95) if the friend they recommend upgrades to a paid plan.
Note: The Sprout, Seedling, and Evergreen plans only support one user. Additional users cost an extra $10/mo each. There are user permission options for these additional users; however, each user must sign in with the same login (a feature that could stand to be improved).
Web-Hosted or Locally Installed:
Web-Hosted. No downloads or installation required.
Hardware or Software Requirements:
As a cloud-based software, FreshBooks can be accessed anywhere at any time (so long as you have internet access). FreshBooks also has an app for iPhones/iPads (iOS 8+) and Androids (4.2+).
Specific Size of Business:
FreshBooks is one of the most scalable software providers I have seen. With five different pricing options, FreshBooks is a good fit for any business from freelancers and micro businesses to large enterprises. If you want a software that grows with you, FreshBooks is a great choice. The only thing to keep in mind is that the cost of additional users can add up quickly.
Both accrual and cash basis accounting.
Ease of Use:
Overall, FreshBooks is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. The UI is visually appealing and customizable. You can add your own logo in place of the FreshBooks’ one, and you can customize the colors to your taste as well.
- Setup – Setting up your FreshBooks account is easy and doesn’t take too long either. Each account receives a unique login URL. Once you’ve opened your account, there are a lot of preferences to fill in, but they’re all pretty self-explanatory. You begin by adding your company’s information and setting up payment gateways. (If you are unsure which payment gateway you want to use, read this article.) You can then add clients manually or by importing a client list from a .csv file. One of the coolest preferences is found under emails. Here you can customize templates with specific messages for different types of emails including payment reminders, recurring invoices, welcoming new clients or staff members, and more. I recommend signing up for the free webinar, which completely walks you through the setup process. The webinar takes about an hour, and I found it worth the time. It shows you some preferences and tips you might not find on your own. However, by spending some time in settings you can easily hop in right away and set up everything yourself.
- Organization – For the most part, FreshBooks is well-organized with tabs marking Home, People, Invoices, Estimates, Expenses, Time Tracking, Reports, and More. Almost everything is where you would expect it to be, though occasionally I had to search for a certain preference or feature.
- Instructions and Guidance – If you can’t find something you need or can’t figure out how a feature works, have no fear, FreshBooks is here. The first time you open a tab (like Invoicing, for example) FreshBooks provides a quick video explaining the feature in detail. In addition to the free webinar mentioned above, there is a getting started video you can access at any time. FreshBooks also offers incredible support, so you can just give their customer service team a call and you’ll go right through to a kind and helpful representative.
- Problems – There is very little to complain about in terms of the interface design, other than a few minor annoyances. However, there are a few key features missing for a cloud-based accounting software.
- Lacking Features –FreshBooks claims to be an accounting software, but does not offer typical accounting capabilities like accounts payable. It also does not use double-entry accounting, which could be a big drawback for some businesses looking for true accounting.
- Invoice Designs Limited – While the invoicing feature is well developed and offers some incredibly unique features, I was disappointed by the lack of customizability. You can customize much of the written content on an invoice, but there are only two invoice designs. Furthermore, the only design choice you can control is the option to add a personalized logo.
- Could Be Streamlined – Though generally intuitive, there are times when a feature wasn’t where I expected it to be. For example, when creating an estimate or invoice, you can’t add a new sales tax from that window. Instead of having an “add new” option on the invoicing window, you have to go all the way into settings to create a new sales tax.
FreshBooks covers most basic invoicing and billing features, but takes these basic features to a new level by adding unique features like customer reviews and snail mail invoice options. There are so many personalized touches that set FreshBooks apart I could never cover them all, so for a full list of FreshBooks’ features go here.
- Dashboard – The home screen displays well-organized, and appealing charts and gives you a quick view of your business’s activity and financial health. These charts include: invoices and expenses, outstanding invoices, active projects, recent activities, and reports. As I mentioned earlier in the review, at the top of the screen there are multiple tabs (Home, People, Invoices, Estimates, Expenses, Time Tracking, Reports, and More) for quick navigation of the interface. Each tab has secondary tabs below when clicked on. There are also settings and help buttons on top for quick access to the FreshBooks Help Center.
(The Getting Started box disappears after the 30-day trial is up.)
- Invoicing – FreshBooks offers two invoicing templates. Each invoice can be customized with notes to clients, discounts, taxes, etc. You can set recurring invoices and a default Terms and Conditions message. FreshBooks tracks when invoices are received and read. Invoices can be sent by email or snail mail—though the mail delivery time is the farthest thing from snail-like. When you choose the snail mail option, your invoice is sent to a FreshBooks facility that takes care of absolutely everything – and I mean everything – for you. Printing, packaging, mailing, done. Each invoice is delivered first class within one business day and includes a return envelope. All you have to do is pay for the stamps (see stamp pricing here).
- Estimates – Estimates are easy to create and turn into invoices. You can customize estimates with a separate Terms and Conditions default. There is no snail mail option for estimates.
- Client Portal – FreshBooks has one of the best client portals I’ve seen. It’s simple and appealing. Clients can view their current invoices, estimates, and projects, as well as their past history. They can request changes and make payments directly from the Client Portal. There is also an auto-billing feature they can enable.
- Customer Review – One of the most unique features in FreshBooks is the option to request reviews from your customers after completing business with them.
- Contacts Management – You can manage a detailed client list from FreshBooks. This features basic client information and internal, personal notes that the client can’t see. You can also add multiple contact names per business, which seems so valuable and natural I wonder why more software companies don’t offer this function.
- Time Tracking – This is where FreshBooks shines. FreshBooks is ahead of most of its competitors in terms of time tracking. Time tracking is available on every plan (unlike with most software companies, which make you pay extra for this feature). You and your employees can enter time manually or with the built-in timer and apply them to any task or project. You also have the option to allow your clients to view the hours you’ve logged on a project. Timesheets can be generated into invoices easily.
- Payments – FreshBooks tracks online payments, but you can also add cash payments manually. FreshBooks offers the unique option of adding a credit to a client; just select a client name, add a new item called “Pre-Payment,” and apply the item to a future invoice when ready.
- Expenses – FreshBooks allows you to use live bank feeds, import bank files via .csv, or enter expenses manually. The latter option is a little annoying because the price shown does not include the taxes you pay, which can be very misleading. You can look at the tax summary report to see your total taxes, but this seems like a lot of time wasted. You can also use mobile apps to take pictures of your expense receipts for quick importing on the go, and any of these expenses may be assigned to specific clients.
- Reports – FreshBooks offers 24 reports total, including your typical profit and loss statement, balance sheet (you’ll have to manually enter many of the fields), and tax summary, though some businesses may want more year-end tax reports and traditional accounting reports like accounts payable. Some of FreshBooks’ most notable reports include timesheets, customer reviews, and a quarterly report card. All reports can be exported to a .cvs or .xls file or shared with an accountant. In addition, you can choose to receive a weekly overview report via email.
- Inventory – FreshBooks offers a light inventory option located under Invoices > Items > Add New. Just check the track inventory option when you are adding the item’s information and it will keep track of your inventory. This feature is pretty limited compared to most cloud-based accounting competitors as there is no way to track inventory value or set low inventory alerts, but it’s better than nothing.
- Sales Tax – FreshBooks allows for extensive default tax settings. You can add as many sales tax options as you need and can apply different sales taxes within the same invoice if necessary.
- Multi-Currency – FreshBooks supports multiple currencies and multiple languages. If you change the language for a client, your own screen will remain in English. Only their side will be affected by the change.
- Open API – FreshBooks has open API for developers.
- Other Resources – The actual Freshbooks website features a free Business Name Generator tool, a free invoice creator, and a free customizable and downloadable invoice template.
Customer Service and Support:
There’s a reason FreshBooks has been cited many times for award winning customer service. One person said: “No matter the issue, big or small, the FreshBooks Support Team is your own tiny army of helpful humans just waiting to make your day easier”—and it’s true.
FreshBooks support is by far the best I have seen. All of my test calls went straight through to a real person and I was never put on hold (if we’re being honest, I called their support more times than necessary just because I was so pleased by it). Emails receive quick, informative responses. And since FreshBooks is such a large company, it offers many other resources to its customers. These resources include:
- Phone – FreshBooks phone support operates Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm EDT. US and Canadian users can call toll free at 1-866-303-6061. For worldwide support call +1-416-481-6946.
- Email – Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. When you sign up, you also receive an email from a personalized customer coach with whom you can set up a free orientation.
- Contact Form – FreshBooks has an online contact form here.
- Webinar – My favorite support option is the free introductory webinar FreshBooks offers. Sign up here to learn about the software—and if you’re lucky, you just might hear some awesome Batman jokes.
- Help Center – The Help Center features lots of how-to articles when you need them. The sheer amount of articles can be a bit overwhelming, but the articles are categorized and there’s a search bar to make your life a little easier. Although, when I had questions I turned to the phone support and YouTube video demonstrations first.
- Blog – Much like the help center, the FreshBooks’ blog has a bunch of articles, which offer business advice and introducing product updates.
- YouTube – Freshbooks’ YouTube channel features how-to videos, set-up demonstrations, advice for small businesses, and customer testimonials. I found the how-to videos particularly helpful.
- Social Media – FreshBooks keeps an active Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Their Facebook and Twitter accounts mostly point to new blog posts and updates. Instagram features motivation quotes, customer stories, and contests, while Pinterest has interesting boards on how to save on taxes, set up a productive workspace, and host cool company parties.
- In-Software Support – There is a help tab accessible from inside the software itself.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
For the most part, FreshBooks receives positive reviews across the board, although there are a few complaints that stand out:
- Not Accounting Software – Despite the name, FreshBooks simply is not “cloud accounting” software. One customer said, “the ‘books’ part of the name ‘FreshBooks’ led me to believe it would work on my entire book. That’s weird to me that it doesn’t.” FreshBooks does not use double-entry accounting, managing your bills is limited, and bank reconciliation is below par compared to other software (you can only import expenses and while there are live feeds, these “live feeds” only get updated once a day and deposits are not recognized). FreshBooks also does not have important accounting reports like accounts payable, general ledger, or balance sheet (there is a balance sheet report in FreshBooks but you have to fill in the majority of the fields yourself). For some smaller companies this may not be an issue, but for customers looking for true accounting software, this could be a huge drawback–especially because without double-entry accounting and the ability to reconcile income as well as expenses, there is no way to get a real look at your total financial state. A few customers just want FreshBooks to be called what is truly is, an invoicing or billing software.
- No Integration With Quickbooks Online – A few customers complained about the lack of integration with Quickbooks online.
- Lack of Feature Updates – Some customers feel that FreshBooks has stalled on updates lately and that their suggestions are not being listened to. Some of these suggestions include: a better inventory feature, a mileage tracker, more accounting reports, more invoicing templates, separate shipping and billing addresses, and the option to send estimates via snail mail.
- No Forever Free Plan – A few customers complained about the pricing of FreshBooks, particularly that their forever free plan apparently wasn’t forever as it is no longer offered. However, FreshBooks pricing has dropped lately. The Mighty Oak plan is $40 cheaper a month than the last time we reviewed this software.
- Limited Users – Some customers would like to see more users supported per account (without the extra $10/mo charge per extra user). They also want to be able to set stronger user permissions.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Overall, customers seem to really love the FreshBooks product. FreshBooks has an A+ rating on BBB and receives 4.7/5 stars on GetApp. In addition, the mobile apps are highly functioning with the iPhone app awarded 4.5/5 stars and the Android app 4.2/5 stars. Customer testimonials can be found on the FreshBooks site or on their YouTube channel, in addition to review sites on the web.
Some of the features customers love most are:
- Saves Time – This is one of the most common praises. Users like that FreshBooks is simple to use and saves them time on expenses tracking, invoicing, and billing.
- Intuitive Interface – Many users find FreshBooks easy to learn, and they enjoy the effective and appealing organization of the software.
- Amazing Customer Service – FreshBooks customer service is highly praised by users, who appreciate that they can talk to the friendly phone support staff after only one or two rings.
- Strong Mobile App – Despite a few reported glitches, most users find the mobile apps convenient and well-designed. While not capable of all desktop functions, FreshBooks seems to have one of the most developed mobile apps in the cloud accounting world.
- Advanced Time Tracking Feature – The time tracking featured is well-loved and much used by FreshBooks subscribers. Users particularly comment on the built-in timer feature.
- Company’s Values – One customer encouraged others to research more about FreshBooks because they are such a cool company with an amazing story–and I agree. How many companies do you know who partner with a nonprofit like Girls Learning Code and turn their whole office space into a camp for a week? Or whose CEO’s office is made of clear walls so his work and his cute dog are always visible? Watch this video to learn more about girls learning code, or read this article to hear about Freshbooks’ values and office vibes.
Here’s what a few customers are saying:
“FreshBooks is hands down the simplest and easiest to use billing software for freelancers and small businesses of any size. The part I like the most is their outstanding customer support.” – Gabe Arnold, Software Developer
“The biggest benefit to me about FreshBooks is the transparency it offers my clients. My clients can see when I’ve logged into FreshBooks and I’ve done work for them. I do believe that FreshBooks has helped my business grow in the simple fact that it gives us a more professional look to our business versus me just typing out an invoice and mailing that to my client. I could not imagine doing what we do today without FreshBooks.” – Nnena, Venture Gain Legal
“I don’t spend hours doing accounting stuff when I’m not an accountant. I can give my clients what they need and work with them on their projects instead of stressing over expenses and invoicing.” – Marina, Web Designer
Integrations and Add-Ons:
- Stripe – Process and accept credit card payments. Read our full review here.
- Gusto – Full payroll software with US tax and benefit capabilities.
- Capsule – CRM software. Read our full review here.
- HubSpot – Marketing platform for increasing web visitors and customer leads.
- Shopify – E-commerce platform for online stores. Read our full review here.
- Zapier – Connects FreshBooks to over 500 other apps and add-ons.
FreshBooks security using 256-bit SSL encryption as well as Cisco-powered firewalls. Data is backed up on two servers in two separate (undisclosed) locations, and is also backed up nightly onto a physical tape. FreshBooks has intrusion detection and vulnerability test programs that run frequently.
In addition to cloud-based security measures, FreshBooks servers are housed in Rackspace’s data centers. To learn more about FreshBooks’ security and their partnership with Rackspace, go here.
FreshBooks has an impressive number of features, and I am particularly intrigued by how each feature offers something unique, especially in a software environment where every company can start to look the same. FreshBooks has highly customizable email settings, snail mail capabilities, strong time tracking features, customer review requests, a powerful mobile app and a client portal.
These features can fit the needs of nearly any sized business. The plans are incredibly scalable and since dropping their prices and adding more integrations, FreshBooks has become an even more compelling invoicing and billing option.That said, I am hesitant to tout it as a viable accounting option.
Despite their logo, FreshBooks has fallen behind on the “cloud accounting” half of its title. There’s a reason I didn’t include bank reconciliation in the features section–there isn’t a bank reconciliation feature, at least not one that can compare to what you find in other software. Without a proper reconciliation feature and the ability to perform double-entry accounting, FreshBooks fails to balance the books.
While this may be a huge drawback for some companies, FreshBooks still has an impressive number of features with unique capabilities. The customer service is unbeatable and the mobile apps are far above those of the competition. To see if FreshBooks is a good choice for your company, try out their free 30-day trial and let us know what you think.