Start a hosting plan from $3.92/mo and get a free year on Tuts+ (normally $180)
Keeping the books for your business should be a relatively simple process: with the right tools you can automate at least part of the work and let software handle the tricky parts. Freshbooks is a particularly simple accounting tool to get up and running with.
Depending on your business, you can get your account set up in quick order. In this tutorial, discover the useful features of working with Freshbooks: get set up, import your client data, learn to work with invoices, time tracking, expense logging, and more.
It's time to get your business in order.
To complete the tutorial you will need the following assets:
- A Freshbooks account: You can get by with just the free account for the purposes of this tutorial, but if you have more than three clients, you’ll want to consider a paid plan. Paid plans start at $19.95 (USD).
1. Managing Your Invoices in Freshbooks
Before you can create invoices in Freshbooks, you need to add in your clients. The web application requires an email address for each client, along with an organization name. All other information is optional, although it’s worth adding at least whatever information you need to be able to send an invoice to that clients, as well as to follow up on any situation where just sending an invoice isn’t enough.
You’ll need to click the People tab on the Freshbooks dashboard, followed by the New Client button to add clients individually.
Considering that many businesses prefer to receive invoices by mail or by fax, including such information usually makes sense. You can also import clients through a variety of different formats. There’s a link to start the import process on the People page.
Create a new invoice in Freshbooks by choosing the Invoices tab on the dashboard and then clicking the New Invoice button. Within your new invoice, you can add either time entries or items, depending on how you charge your clients. You can tweak each detail of your invoice right there, no matter your universal settings:
- PO numbers
- payment terms
- online payment options (based on your PayPal integration)
Invoices are attached to clients and you can send your invoice, either by email or by snail mail, directly from the individual invoice page. You also have the option to save invoices as drafts, for those situations in which you may not want to send a copy of an invoice to a client but that you want to have it on record (perhaps the client already paid).
For those invoices that are recurring and don’t change, you can automate the whole process. When you’re inside the invoice dashboard, click on Recurring and then on New Recurring Profile. The process is identical to creating a regular invoice, expect that you need to set a schedule on which to send your invoices. Freshbooks can manage such invoices without any further steps on your part. Freshbooks also offers the option to create estimates, get them approved, and turn them into invoices.
2. Tracking Your Time in Freshbooks
The timesheet is Freshbook’s main method of tracking time. You can find it by clicking the Time Tracking tab on the main dashboard. Within a timesheet, you can log hours you’ve already worked on a specific project, as well as run a timer while you work. Both methods require setting up a project to associate your work with, which in turn can be assigned to either clients or to internal work.
Within a project, you can control assigned tasks as well as team members, making it clear how much a given project costs in terms of your team’s hours.
Generate invoices from each of your projects, so that you can easily bill clients for the time they’ve needed. When you’re creating a new invoice, you can just add all unbilled hours and expenses directly to the invoice. You also have the option of adding selected billable hours or expenses, including by date range.
Depending on your preferences and how detailed an approach you take to tracking time, you can add hours to an invoice with a detailed explanation for each block of time you’ve tracked. You can also minimize details for clients who really just want the overall numbers.
Manage your team timesheets through Freshbooks. If you have several team members, it makes sense to have all of them log their time in the web application. You’ll be able to look at how they’re spending their time in several different reports, as well as through standard timesheets.
Your options include:
- a break down of hours by team members
- a project task summary
- a detailed timesheet view
You’ll be able to put that information to work improving your internal work processes, especially if you can get your team members in the habit of tracking their work, no matter what they’re working on—even if it’s all internal and not at all billable.
3. Logging Expenses in Freshbooks
Freshbooks puts an emphasis on having you import all of your expenses automatically; there’s a certain mindset that you shouldn’t even have to touch the process, beyond making sure that the correct expenses are connected to the correct clients. It makes sense, especially for busy business owners: how often will you really sit down and enter all of your expenses?
Setting up automatic import for your expenses requires clicking through the Expenses tab for the first time; the site will pop-up a dialog box where you can select your bank or financial institution and then enter your login credentials. You can also add credit cards and some payment processors (including PayPal).
For those expenses that you can’t automatically import (such as those paid for with cash) from your financial institution, you can enter individual expenses by hand. The process is as simple as filling out a short form, including the amount, date, vendor and category. You can go deeper to assign an expense to a client, to attach an image of the receipt and to otherwise process the information.
Freshbooks does actually have a way to automate these expenses, too, though: through the web application’s integration with Shoeboxed. With Shoeboxed it’s possible to mail off your receipts, have them scanned and the resulting data added to your Freshbooks account. All you have to do is get the receipts into an envelope. It's as simple as that.
Go through your reports. While Freshbooks can generate a variety of reports, your expense reports and your tax summaries are likely to be particularly useful. Come tax season, you can run off a copy and be ready to start calculating your return. Freshbooks can also export tax data in a CSV or Excel format, which is useful if your accountant isn’t yet ready to embrace online bookkeeping.
4. Integrating Your Freshbooks Account with Other Tools
Make a list of the other web-based applications you use. You may be surprised at how many different applications can tie into Freshbooks. Your project management tools, in particular, are useful to connect with Freshbooks: there are many features, like time tracking and CRM, that can take advantage of sharing information between two different applications.
You can check your list against the Freshbooks add-on list. There are a wide variety of integrations available, mostly built by those web apps that want to be able to connect to Freshbooks.
Download the mobile app for Freshbooks. The app is available for iPhone, iPad and Android. With the mobile app, you can track time, record expenses and send invoices without opening up your laptop. This feature is particularly useful if you work away from the office or away from your computer; recording a consulting session, for instance, is a matter of making a note on your phone.
Push for new integrations or add-ons, if a tool you rely on is missing from Freshbooks’ list. The company even maintains a form for such requests. If you’re technically savvy, Freshbooks also offers an API which will let you build your own tools on top of the Freshbooks platform.
Freshbooks has the potential to become a main hub of your company’s data, making it easier for you to automate the routine parts of your business’ finances. If you speak up about the tools you need, Freshbook may very well add some of them.
Keep on Track of Your Company’s Finances
Once you have your company set up on Freshbooks, make a point of keeping your records up to date. The onboarding process can be a little work, depending on where you’re bringing your financial data from, but Freshbook’s tools make it possible to keep your records up to date with almost no effort.
When tax time rolls around, you’ll be ready to print off your reports and prepare your taxes, without having to go back through that shoebox full of receipts that may have previously plagued your life.