Freshbooks – Invoicing made (almost) painless.

Image representing Freshbooks
Image via CrunchBase

[I no longer use Freshbooks, I now use Wave Accounting.]

For years I’ve done side work relating to my profession (Information Technologies) – systems design / implementation / support and web design / development / hosting. For years I’ve gotten the work done, but not always the billing. I hate billing. I hate invoices. I hate paperwork.

When I found Freshbooks – I thought I’d found a little bit of heaven…and I still think I have.

Freshbooks is free for a very simple, base account that lets you manage up to three clients, track time invested (for a single person), and create and send/email invoices. It works great! It makes recording my time easy, creating invoices easier, and mailing them out a cinch (whether postal or email!). You really couldn’t ask for much more…

Now, I’ve usually kept a pretty small client based and also worked solo by and large…but lately I’ve been getting a lot of leads…and I can see I’m going to either have to start turning down clients or start scaling out. So what do I do?…I’d like to upgrade my Freshbooks account, but the cost is a bit steep – $20/mo. for the first tier “seedling.”

Granted, this $20/mo. gets you basically the whole kit and kaboodle. You can add slightly expanded features by moving up to “evergreen” ($30/mo.) and get it all for $40/mo. with “mighty oak” – but for 90% of folks, I think seedling is going to cover it…

But, moving from $0/mo. to $20/mo. is a pretty big jump. I’d like to suggest that Freshbooks create an intermediary level between free and seedling. Yeah, yeah, it ruins the whole naming scheme – maybe they could call it: “runt seedling”. But naming apart, here is what I’d like to see in a $10/mo. plan:

Plan: “Runt” “Seedling”
# of Clients 10 25
# of invoices you can send Unlimited Unlimited
# of contractors that can track time and invoice you 25 Unlimited
Accept Online Payments X X
Invoice in multiple currencies and languages X
Send snail mail invoices by post X X
Customer Support X
Timesheets, Document Sharing, Support Ticketing X X
Firewall protection, SSL encryption, data backups X X
Your logo on invoices X X
Data import/export X X
Automatic Scheduled Invoice Creation X
Unbranded Emails X

If I had to I’d even be willing to give up logos on invoices, to be charged per instance for data imports/exports, to not be able to send snail mail invoices, and to not be able to accept online payments. When it comes down to it – the number of clients and the number of contractors are what really matters to me. I think something that stripped down might be “Sickly Seedling” (underneath runt) for $5 or $6/mo.

I wonder how many folks would convert to paying accounts at these sort of levels? It seems to me that while a select few might downgrade from the $20/mo. level, most would grab a $10/mo. account and as business expanded, continue to hop their way up the chain.

Alternatively – if FreshBooks doesn’t open up any lower tiers, does anyone have competitive solutions they’d recommend that offer free/lower prices?

BlueHost – Simple, Effective Web Hosting.

Its not uncommon for me to get asked, “What web host would you recommend for me to use when building a new website?” I figured now would be as good a time as any to post about one of the hosts I utilize. This host is great for beginners and advanced users alike. That said, I’ll also note right at the beginning that the instigator of this post was actually a server outage on Bluehost‘s part. Yesterday I was writing a review of the movie Amazing Grace (don’t worry, I’ll rewrite it soon) when the Bluehost server went down. But no host is perfect and this is one of only a few times I have experienced any performance problems from Bluehost’s service.

First, lets talk about Bluehost from a beginner’s perspective. If you are looking to create a website or start a blog there are a few easy ways to get started. One is to hire someone to assist you in doing so (you can always hire me). Another is to utilize any of a number of free services that allow you to create sites/blogs easily – for example in the blogging arena one can get free accounts from blogger and wordpress. The third option, and the one I personally prefer, is utilizing a shared host. This scenario gives you the most flexibility. When determining what sort of host you should utilize ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I enjoy technology? (If no, hire someone).
  2. Do I want to learn more about web-based technologies? (If yes, utilize a shared host).
  3. Do I have time to expend on learning new technologies? (If no, hire someone or utilize a free account).
  4. Do I want a professional presence? (If yes, either hire someone or use a shared host and expect to spend a significant amount of time learning and experimenting).

Should you decide to go with a shared host you face one additional large question: Do I want a Windows or a Linux environment? If you are new to technology generally, I recommend Linux. In fact, unless you already utilize web-based technologies that are Windows specific I recommend Linux. Why? Because its built around a nice word – free. There is one exception. If you want to do custom product development rather than just building a straight-up site, you may want to consider using Windows for your development environment. Microsoft’s Visual Studio is pretty kick-butt. I really enjoy ASP.NET and think it is great for developing applications in.

Okay…So we’ve decided to go with a Linux host. In that case, open an account with Bluehost. Here’s the main factors I consider killer about Bluehost:

  • $6.95/mo. What? Yes. $6.95/mo. We eat that at McDonald’s in one lunch! That includes a free domain name (e.g. yourname.com), which is pretty huge since these usually cost around $10 in and of themselves.
  • Unlimited Hosting/File Transfer. You can store as much data as you want on their servers (okay, there are some exceptions, but generally…you’ll never run out of space) and you can also transfer as much information to and from the server as you want (again, some exceptions…but mainly apply to people who are trying to abuse the service).
  • Free MySQL Databases. MySQL Databases (or PostgreSQL) are the backbone of most modern web applications. They store data in a way that makes it extremely easy and quick to retrieve.
  • SimpleScripts. Allows you to within two minutes deploy popular web applications including WordPress (blogging), Joomla (cms), Drupal (cms), phpBB (forums), Zenphoto (photo gallery), Roundcube (webmail), and WikkaWiki (wiki) among many others. Seriously – two minutes.
  • Bluehost includes lots of other standard features like FTP, email, free advertising credits (Google, Yahoo, Miva), and automatic backups.

So what are you waiting for? There are no contracts. Even if you just want to familiarize yourself with some web-based technologies – open an account, use it for a few months, and then cancel. Its a great learning tool. No, it won’t run the next Google, but once you grow big enough and learn enough you can move to a larger host (we’ll talk about them in another post) who can handle your highest demands.