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Business

Google Apps Roulette, Round 3: Freshbooks

As many readers know, I've left my day job as technology director for my local school district to focus more on my night job as an intrepid ZDNet blogger. Man, in general, however, does not live by blogging alone.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

As many readers know, I've left my day job as technology director for my local school district to focus more on my night job as an intrepid ZDNet blogger. Man, in general, however, does not live by blogging alone. So I'll be consulting. Consulting with schools, consulting with companies that sell to schools, and, frankly, consulting with just about anyone who'll pay me. My night job has grown into a full-blown small business and that requires a good way to track my time and bill my clients. Guess what? There's an app for that.

It's called Freshbooks and it's available integrated with Google Apps. Freshbooks lacks some of the features of Quickbooks that make the SMB accounting software the gold standard. However, for small outfits, it handles billing, invoicing, time tracking, expenses, and accounts payable very well. It's free if you have 3 or fewer clients and is $19.95/month for individual accounts with unlimited clients. Teams can get an account for just $39.95 a month, allowing team members to be assigned to tasks, projects, clients, etc., and to have differentiated hourly rates.

Like most of the third-party Google Marketplace Apps, the beauty of Freshbooks lies in 2 areas. The first, of course, is anytime, anywhere access to the software and data. I was at a client's office today and they needed an invoice if I wanted to get paid next week (I do). So I hit Freshbooks through my Google Apps account on one of the PCs there, entered my time for the day, and printed an invoice for the last two weeks of work with the detailed, by-project billing they requested.

The second major strength of Freshbooks versus other competitors is the integration with Google Apps. Single sign on for you and your team (if you have the Team Edition) with only seconds to install and integrate.

Setup is also very easy with a clean, uncluttered interface.  Create your clients (which can be imported from your Google Apps contacts), create your projects, create your tasks (which you can easily assign to multiple projects), and enter time and expenses. You can even start a timer on your timesheet for a particular task to track precisely how much time you've spent on something. The timesheets are completely intuitive as well, showing breakdowns by tasks/day/week/month.

So how does Freshbooks compare directly to Quickbooks? Quickbooks offers online backups and remote access to your desktop files, but this assumes your desktop computer is turned on and you've correctly configured your router/firewall for access. Freshbooks lives in the cloud. Quickbooks Online, it's worth noting, also lives in the cloud and offers very similar features, although no Google Apps integration. For a single user, though (plus your accountant), and for only $9.95 a month, you can have unlimited clients. $35 a month gets you Quickbooks Online Plus, with access rights for 3 users (plus your accountant) and significantly expanded budgeting and CRM capabilities.  Quickbooks Desktop, on the other hand, is a one-time cost of $200; you've hit that in 10 months with Freshbooks (although Freshbooks upgrades happen automatically).

In the end, if you're using Google Apps already for your small business, Freshbooks absolutely needs to be on your short list of accounting software. In particular, if you only need to generate monthly invoices or occasional expense reports for a few clients, you can't beat free. However, either the standard or team editions could support a small business very well.

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