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Tools for businesses to bill, collect what's owed

Trying to find the right resource to bill and collect payments can be difficult for a small company. That's why we've compiled a list of tools that will help it do just that.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
5 min read

If you're running a small business, you're probably looking for tools that will make it easier for you to bill invoices, track payments, and collect your accounts receivable.

You can always use offline standbys like Peachtree or Intuit QuickBooks, but you might be happy to know that there are some nice online tools that perform basic functions. Let's take a look.

Get some cash flow

Blinksale Unlike some of the better services in this roundup, Blinksale doesn't provide a free option for those with small companies who don't need all the bells and whistles. That's unfortunate, but the service is still worth checking out.

Perhaps Blinksale's best feature is its design. The service makes moving around the different modules quick and easy. It creates an intuitive environment in which to work. And when you get to work, you should be happy with what you find. The site features invoice creation tools, invoice tracking, the ability to follow up with clients from within the app, and more. It's a full-featured product that should appeal to the small-business owner who wants to do a little more than send invoices.

Although there aren't any free options, Blinksale is one of the more affordable services in this roundup. Prices range from $6 per month up to $24 per month. There's just one catch: some services charge based on the number of clients, but Blinksale charges based on the number of invoices you send. Its cheapest plan allows you to send six invoices per month.

Blinksale lets you quickly edit your invoices. Blinksale

Chargify Chargify is a recurring billing system that should help you manage your invoices and collections without much trouble.

Chargify does things a little differently than many of the services in this roundup. Instead of simply allowing you to create invoices and track them until payment, Chargify lets you input all the products or services your company sells, then dynamically change prices as you offer free trial periods, promotions, or refunds. The service can also be integrated into a retail site, providing you with information on the number of sign-ups or cancellations your company is experienced.

Unlike so many of the services in this roundup, Chargify won't cost you any money, if you're not generating revenue. The service is even free up to your first 50 customers. Beyond that, you'll pay anywhere between $49 per month for 500 customers, up to $2,499 per month for an unlimited number of customers. One word of caution: Chargify is ideally suited for online businesses.

Chargify helps you chart your success. Chargify

FastDue.com FastDue is a unique service in this roundup. Instead of requiring you to go through the lengthy process of registering for the site and inputting your information, FastDue lets you create invoices under its "free forms" option.

When you do so, you'll be brought to its invoice creation page, where you can input your company's information, as well as client data. From there, simply pick a date and a quantity, choose a description, and decide how much you want to charge. The site also lets you pick payment terms. You can even modify your invoices with your desired payment type. The process is quick and easy. I really liked it.

Although the site's invoice creation tool is great, as is, you can also upgrade to FastDue Plus to manage recurring billing, create invoice templates, and draft agreements. I should note that the site also makes important documents such as nondisclosure agreements, promissory notes, and consulting agreements freely available.

FastDue lets you create invoices on the site without signing up. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

FreeAgent FreeAgent provides several nice features that make it more capable than some of the other services in this roundup. But that also makes it more complicated than it might need to be.

First off, FreeAgent is designed extremely well. I was impressed by how well the menus moved me through the process of setting up my company and adding clients. But where it broke down for me was in the invoice creation tool, which requires sifting through a bevy of pages.

Unlike many of the other tools in this roundup, you can't stay on the invoice creation page and input information where necessary. Whenever you click on a respective box, you'll be brought to its respective page. When complete, you'll go back to your invoice with that information now populated in the form. This navigation feels cumbersome.

One great feature FreeAgent offers is a bank-tracking service that analyzes money that goes in and out of your company's account. It even calculates your taxes. FreeAgent provides a 30-day free trial. After that, you'll need to pay $20 per month or $200 per year for access to the service.

You can add your bank account to FreeAgent. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

FreshBooks FreshBooks is an online-billing and payment-tracking service that should appeal to any company looking for a simple, efficient tool for managing clients.

I was really impressed by FreshBooks. After signing up (which took about 30 seconds), I immediately had the option to create an invoice. It's as simple as clicking on the many different boxes in the app, adding relevant information, and inputting totals. FreshBooks also lets you establish terms for your invoices. You can even input notes that are visible to the client, if you want to provide more detail than what you can fit into the invoice.

When you're all set, FreshBooks gives you the option of e-mailing the invoice from the app or sending it via snail mail. From there, the site tracks your invoices, allowing you to input when you get paid. It remembers your clients, team members (and their rates), tracks your expenses, and even lets you input your time to make it easier to bill clients on hourly work you've performed.

I could go on, but I think that you get the point: FreshBooks is a fantastic service. If you need to manage only up to three clients, FreshBooks is free. Prices go up to $149 per month, with up to 5,000 clients.

FreshBooks creates nice invoices for you. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Harvest Harvest is yet another well-designed service makes it quick and easy to create invoices and track your payments.

When you first start using Harvest, I think that you'll be impressed by what you find. After inputing all your relevant company information, creating an invoice takes just seconds. Choose a client, add its contact information, and then input all the tasks you've performed. Harvest tallies up the total for you.

If you're looking for more than just invoicing, Harvest also tracks your invoices. Thanks to a built-in timer, it will track your time as you work. You can also monitor expenses to see just how well your company is performing. If you go on the road, you'll be happy to find that Harvest has an accompanying iPhone app. Depending on the size of your business, you should expect to pay anywhere between $12 per month and $90 per month for the service.

Harvest has a nice invoice-building tool. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

My top 3

1. Harvest: Harvest provides such a great slate of features, it's ideal for anyone who owns a small business.

2. FreshBooks: With so many great tracking features, FreshBooks is a must-see.

3. Chargify: Chargify boasts the best payment plan of any service in this roundup. If you run an online company, try it out.