Wow! When I think of the hours that I used to waste trawling through spreadsheets.
I used to put together a spreadsheet of all my expenses, and at the end of the tax year would dread going through all my statements and receipts and pulling it all together. It was a cloud which hung over me for most of the year, and I hated crunch time when I had to spend evenings and weeks trawling through it all.
I hate numbers – they’re just a part of life as a small business owners, that I have to accept and try to snuggle up to, but the reality is that when I used to look at those spreadsheets, I used to feel repelled.
The aha moment came several years ago when my accountant suggested that I should take a look at a few packages out there, such a Xero, Kashflow, Quickbooks and FreeAgent. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t looked into it sooner. I researched these packages and several others, but in the end, FreeAgent won out for me, and I can honestly say that it has changed my life.
I actually now enjoy my bookkeeping and where I used to have files of invoices and receipts on my shelves, I am now totally paperless.
The release from that prison of paperwork was phenomenal.
This was the first monthly investment that I made in my business. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.
Not only that, many years on, I recognise the power of numbers and how understanding my cashflow and projections has provided me with stability and release from the rollercoaster of income that many small businesses experience.
There are plenty to choose from, but I chose FreeAgent mainly because of the following features:
- Time tracking. This used to be really important to me when I was working on maintenance projects for clients. I was able to set up a project, and literally press a timer to start the time sheet. I could add tasks and notes to each timesheet and then run reports on how much time I’d spent on each project. I could also mark the time as billable or un-billable. It meant that as well as being able to be more accurate with my time invoicing, I also had a better understanding of how much time a project took me. I used to price a lot of my projects at a set price, so clients would know what they were paying from the outset, and not end up with any nasty surprises, but was good for me to have an idea of how much time a project took, even if I wasn’t not charging it out by the hour.
- Recurring invoices. I used to spend a lot of time invoicing for services which I offer, but don’t make any margin on, such as domain name registration and hosting. It made sense for me to do this, as clients weren’t always comfortable doing it themselves, and without a domain name and hosting, they can’t have a website. But when you’re managing the renewal and invoicing of several hundred domain names, inevitably some of the admin slips through the net. So often I would find that I was paying for these services out of my own pocket simply because I was forgetting to invoice the client for them. When I was able to set them up as recurring invoices, I could forget about them and they’d go out automatically. (EDIT: I don’t offer this as a service anymore – the platforms are more intuitive now, so I encourage clients to register their own domain names and hosting so they’re always in control)
- Invoice reminders. When an invoice goes unpaid, FreeAgent will automatically send out a reminder to the client with a copy of the invoice. You can set it to any length of time you like. My reminders go out every 10 days.
- Reconciling with your bank account. Once an invoice is paid, FreeAgent sees the payment, I can mark it as received against an invoice, and a thank you email is automatically sent to the client. It’s means cross-referencing statement items is a thing of the past.
- Paperless expenses. I simply log all my expenses within FreeAgent and attach an invoice, or a photo of my receipt (taken on my phone), and I haven’t filed a single invoice or receipt in an A4 folder for about 5 years now. I’m thrilled, and have saved a fortune on printer ink!
- Support. I tried calling the support team from the outset – I like to be sure that there’s someone on the other end of the phone for moments when I have a real issue to talk through. FreeAgent’s support is second to none, and friendly too, and I’ve been surprised to receive email support, even over the weekend when their offices are closed.
- Free trial. Of course, I wanted to give it a whirl first, ad it’s fair to say that I was pretty invested in terms of time once I had set up the trial and my first transactions. But even if I hadn’t been, I would have gone for it anyway.
- Online tax submissions. If you don’t use an accountant yet, or even if you do, you can submit your returns directly through FreeAgent. It’s like waving a magic wand.
FreeAgent is a little more expensive than some of the packages that I looked at, but it has a referral scheme whereby each person who signs up using your FreeAgent referral code will receive 10% off for the lifetime of their subscription, and as the referrer, so will you. So in theory, it becomes possible to end up paying nothing for your subscription, and if you refer enough people, FreeAgent will pay you! Here’s my referral code which gives you a lifetime discount:
What are you waiting for?*! This is literally a game changer.
And even if you don’t choose FreeAgent, be sure that you use some platform that is going to help you get on top of your numbers. And if you can afford to get someone to support you through the process, it will become even more valuable to show you how to organise your numbers from the outset.