Production Business Essentials: Freshbooks

Throwing freelancer's money into the cloud.

Creative professionals create. We shoot video, we color grade, we edit clips together to tell a story, we mix and master audio to deliver a high fidelity experience, or we design motion graphics or visual effects to enhance a production. We all have a specialty that involves tools and skills honed over years of hard work. Our strengths have been forged through tough client engagements, brutal school programs, a love for what we do, and a passion for excellence.

So, what about the stuff we stink at? You know: tracking our time while we work, billing our clients, paying our subcontractors, keeping track of our receipts and monthly expenses, making it easy for our clients to pay us, etcetera, etcetera.

For that stuff we do the opposite. We drag our feet endlessly, we do a half-hearted job, we google the easiest possible solution to each of our problems, and we overpay somebody else to take the work off our plates.

Fortunately, a nice bunch of folks out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada have created a cloud accounting solution to take all of our non-fun, menial tasks and make them fun, easy and professional.

Enter FreshBooks.

“Service-based small business owners – people who get paid for their time and expertise – are the future of the economy, and are underserved,” said Mike McDerment, co-founder and CEO of FreshBooks. “Here at FreshBooks, our focus is helping customers to spend less time invoicing their clients and managing their businesses, and more time doing the work they love.

This direction guides every decision we make around new products and partnerships.”

FreshBooks was born out of necessity in 2003 when McDerment, then head of a four person design firm, realized that the limitations of manually invoicing clients with Word and a stamp were simply too great. He knew there had to be a better way to create great looking invoices and simplify the billing process entirely.

In the two weeks following his last straw - accidentally overwriting an old invoice with a new one - Mike coded what would become the foundation of what is now FreshBooks.

Fast forward a decade and change, and now over 5 million people in over 120 countries have used the cloud accounting solution. In North America alone, no other company in cloud accounting - save QuickBooks Online - has as many paying customers as Freshbooks does.

So what can FreshBooks be used for?

To start, FreshBooks is a whiz with invoicing. It’s now possible to create professional invoices with your company logo in just seconds. Recurring clients can be set up for automatic billing, estimates and quotes are simple and quick (and easy to convert to an invoice when approved), and it’s possible to accept credit cards on invoices. Social communication tools are great here as well, as it’s also possible to see when a sent invoice is viewed.

Tracking expenses is another area all of us know and love (groan). Digging through jeans for receipts is a thing of the past with FreshBooks. It’s now possible to snap a picture of a receipt and log an expense from your smartphone, import expenses automatically from bank accounts and credit cards, assign expenses to clients and add them to invoices for quick reimbursements, and track spending with expense reports.

That sounds a heck of a lot better than the shoe box full of receipts most of us store under our beds.

For many of us, hourly billing is how we roll. Start a project and track our working time until the project is complete, do some math and send an invoice. Sounds simple enough, but some of us charge different rates for different aspects of our work. Editing might be worth something different from camera work. Motion graphics might be different from color grading. We might also be working on a number of projects at once. So how do we track everything quickly and easily without investing in a scientific calculator?

FreshBooks time tracking does everything a freelancer needs and then some. It’s actually possible to tell FreshBooks which project you are working on for which client, and automatically pull unbilled project hours into an invoice. The timer can be started and stopped before and after work, meaning you won’t be shortchanging yourself anymore. Like to edit from the coffee shop? No problem. FreshBooks has a companion app for iOS and Android that includes the same hour tracking features. Working with a team? Also not a problem, as it’s possible for multiple team members to log time spent on a specific project. You can even track their progress with a handy timesheet report.

While tracking time and billing are important, many of us stink at the actual act of getting paid. We sit back until 30 days has lapsed, hoping our client will miraculously remember that their invoice is due. Maybe we can plan on making this month’s car payment, maybe we can’t.  Fortunately, FreshBooks has you covered. When a client receives an invoice from you, whether sitting at their desk or on a mobile device, they can pay it using a credit card right from the invoice. Payments are securely deposited to your bank account, can be tracked through a simple dashboard and are automatically captured and categorized for that expense tracking business we were talking about earlier. It’s also possible to set up regular, recurring credit card payments with clients and other options exist if your client is credit card averse or resides outside Canada or the US. PayPal, stripe and Authorize.Net are also supported.

So does it work? Research shows FreshBooks customers are paid on average 5 days faster.

Beyond the amazing features above, FreshBooks includes robust reporting. It’s possible to easily generate common reports such as profit & loss, payments collected, tax summary, expense reports and other reports you need to effectively run a business that - let’s face it - you don’t generate now.

With their great mobile app, award-winning support (you can call and speak to a human) and a plethora of features, FreshBooks is a tool that every small business owner should consider. 5 million people - and this writer - can’t be wrong. At the time of this writing this writer’s business has relied on FreshBooks for 6 hiccup-free years.