It all started at the beginning of 2011. My friend Randy had started his landscaping business the previous summer and was doing really well
(he knows things about flowers that most guys would rather not).


Quick Note: If You're Just Interested in the Comparison Table, Click Here.

Although he was seeing lots of success in landscaping and had managed to hire a couple of 20 year olds to help him do more business, he was starting to get overwhlemed with the management side of doing business.  He was suddenly approaching the 30 clients mark, and was diversifying into offering snow removal in addition to his landscaping business (to even out his winter months).

I had been a web designer for about 10 years, and was known as the "internet expert" in our circle of friends.  So one day when Randy and I were shooting pool at the local bar he asked me for help.

"I NEED online invoicing!"

The Criteria

Now, at the time I didn't know anything about online invoicing, business billing and invoice management.  If you're like me, you started your business keeping track of your hours manually and billing people using a word processor.  Maybe you were a little more advanced and used Quickbooks.

But to be honest, after just a little research I found out there's a whole other world.  An efficient world.  I'm still not an expert on invoicing by any means, but I can tell you that what I found changed my business and Randy's for the better.  By a lot.

When Randy and I had that first conversation, I thought it would be easy.  How complicated is invoicing, right?  I soon found out that there was a lot to it, and much of it depends on your business.

Randy and I sat down and mapped out everything a good invoicing system ought to do.  Here are the criteria we came up with:

  • Professional Look
  • Automatic Monthly Recurring Invoices
  • Email Invoices
  • Snail Mail Invoices (some of Randy's clients like to get real mail)
  • Expense Tracking
  • Automatic Expense Billing to Clients
  • Discounting Ability (Randy offered 10% off for people with coupons)
  • Generate Estimates
  • Customized Look and Feel (for branding: logo, contact info, layout)
  • Easy Time Tracking (that one was mostly for me, but Randy also sometimes worked hourly)
  • Mobile app (To take care of expense and time tracking while on the go.)

The First Cut

The first thing I did was just to collect as many different companies as I could find.  I did bunch of different searches, looked at hundred of web pages, and tried to throw out any software that didn't look like it was going to work for Randy.  It was surprising how many solutions weren't completely online.

After a couple of hours, I had a short list:

  • Freshbooks
  • Harvest
  • Billing Orchard
  • Zoho Invoice

The Table

I'm an Excel fanatic, so the first thing I did when I got into the office the next day was put all of our criteria into a spreadsheet on one column, and each of the companies across the top.  Then Randy and I set about doing research: visiting each website looking at features, and calling the software providers to see how their customer service was.

Below is what we ended up with. 

The Table: Comparing Online Billing Software
Companies Freshbooks Billing Orchard Zoho Invoice Harvest
Total Points





Professional Look
          Automatic Monthly Recurring Invoices
                  Email Invoices
                          Snail Mail Invoices (some of Randy's clients like to get real mail)
                              Expense Tracking
                                      Automatic Expense Billing to Clients
                                              Discounting Ability (Randy offered 10% of for people with coupons)
                                                    Generate Estimates
                                                            Customized Look and Feel
                                                                  Easy Time Tracking
                                                                          Total Points





                                                                          Companies Freshbooks Billing Orchard Zoho Invoice Harvest
                                                                          Startup Cost
                                                                          Free Trial
                                                                          Free Trial
                                                                          Coupon Code       50% Off
                                                                          First Month!

                                                                          Final Analysis

                                                                          So my final recommendation to Randy (and to you, since you're probably looking for something similar) is to use FreshBooks or Harvest.  Who should use which?  Here's some more in-depth info to help you decide:


                                                                          These guys have absolutely exploded in the last year or so.  They are integrating with everybody under the sun.  They can do PayPal, Google Checkout, Custom Merchant Accounts... anything.  The best part is, they are so painless to setup it actually seems like fun, not work. 

                                                                          One of my favorite parts is the user-interface.  It is so easy to use, and it even encourages you to work.  For example, when you log time for a client the 'Submit' button changes to a motivational saying like 'Way to go!' or 'Nice work!'  It's a nice touch for those of us who freelance or run small businesses.

                                                                          They also get points for having some very strong iPhone applications.  Definitely consider them if you own an iPhone (I do!).


                                                                          Harvest has some real strong points.  First of all, for almost the same price as FreshBooks' basic plan, you get UNLIMITED clients.  This is so helpful for small businesses that serve lots of people, like web designers, consultants, or lawn care.

                                                                          Harvest also offers automated recurring billing, and has just launched a handy iPhone app that can track expenses and time on the go. Pretty slick. The is a great billing tool that can save you time and money. Who doesn't like that?

                                                                          Also, for a limited time, use this special Harvest coupon code:
                                                                          ave 50% off your first month: ONLREVIEW11

                                                                          One Final Note

                                                                          Although Randy and I run pretty different businesses and have tried our best to thoroughly research and evaluate each invoicing software package, no one but you can say what's right for your business.  Our recommendations are based on how we run our businesses, but I'm not you and I don't run your business!

                                                                          So which software did we choose?  Actually both.  I went with Freshbooks because I'm a sucker for great interface design and iPhone applications.  Randy liked the solid feel of Harvest. He liked the timesheet approval process and easy budget tracking. If you are working on a team, Harvest also offers some nice built-in management tools. They also have a new iPhone app.

                                                                          I hope you find my research as valuable as Randy and I have.  Now get your invoicing and billing online so you can do what you really want to!