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FreshBooks, a refreshingly straightforward invoicing service

FreshBooks, a refreshingly straightforward invoicing service

FreshBooks is another online invoicing service for small businesses. Like Blinksale and Simplybill, which also prepare invoices online, it's a somewhat spare utility that does just one business function.

But this one's feature set is not quite as spare as those of the other utilities. There are more options for managing clients, projects, and contacts. The product will generate recurring invoices and autobill customers. There are several useful reports you can run. There's a rudimentary time-logging function (useful for billing services; see also Tick). There's even a support ticket module, although I'm not sure this belongs in an invoicing utility--but I guess if a support issue is causing a customer to not pay you, you might want to track it here.

The product also links to other related applications. For starters, it will import from and export to QuickBooks, Simply Accounting, and CSV files. FreshBooks will directly integrate with 13 payment-processing systems (including PayPal) and will collect income automatically if you have set up recurring invoices. And recently sales-tracking service Pipeline announced a partnership with FreshBooks, so users can take contacts and deals from their early stages all the way through invoicing.

These little Web 2.0 applications still need a bit more connective tissue. A universal login between them would be a big start. And the user interface differences between the vendors' applications will give users headaches.

Compared to the other invoicing services that I've covered--which I like quite a lot--FreshBooks strikes me as a bit more intelligent and more mature. Its user interface is not quite as bubbly as those of many other Web 2.0 services. It is, though, extremely clear and fast, despite offering users a lot of control and options.

The service is free to use indefinitely, but limits you to three client accounts. Paid versions start at $14 a month and allow you to bill more clients and have more users at your business working on the system. If you're looking at online invoicing systems, definitely try this product.