Lets start with how things used to be this time last month. For each project, we'd write down or fill in a spreadsheet the time spent on each task so we could monitor if we're going over budget. If we did extra work or bought additional items like Stock Photography or commercial CMS modules, these would also get logged in another place to be billed at the end.
Every time an invoice got made (in Word), it got exported to PDF, an entry was then made in an Invoices spreadsheet with the name, due date, amounts etc. I then had to use this to keep track of which invoices were overdue. As invoices got paid I'd check in the bank account then mark them off with the date and amount in the Invoices. Then I'd be transferring a set % to the tax savings account, and a bit more to other funds like a holiday fund... which meant more transactions into the bank account spreadsheets to record money saved for end of year tax. Then when I move money around between accounts for personal accounts... more spreadsheets... and all knowing that come end of the year I'll be revisiting those spreadsheets to make more for the accountant in a way that can be turned into a tax return.
Unsurprisingly, I had grown to hate all those spreadsheets.
So this brings us to just a couple of weeks ago. I'd been asking other folks in the Expression Engine circles what they use for managing accounts and so and there was a resounding “FreeAgent!” going on. So I get my 10% discount referral code and dived straight in.
Immediately impressive was the banking section – I could go to our online banking, download a file with all the transactions from each of our accounts and upload it into Free Agent. As this comes in, it asks you to categorise each transaction – exactly what I was trying to do with the spreadsheets, only now, you categorise one item and all other similar transactions from that statement (and any in future uploads) are also categorised. Add all your accounts into Free Agent, and you can clearly see the money moving around from account to account. Perfect for when you need to work out what you're spending on insurance, hosting, software licenses, personal living costs etc. Even better I imagine when we go VAT registered later this year and it separates out those expenses that are VATable and Zero-VAT payments.
Next to impress was the option to create invoices within there and send them out from Free Agent with an online record of each of these. No more manually exporting created Word files as .pdf files, and then emailing them out to clients and adding spreadsheet records to keep track of what's been sent out. Then I came across custom invoice templates and whipped one up with our own branding - even better! And on top of that, I can see at a glance what invoices I have outstanding, which are overdue, which have been paid. And the icing on the cake – I can set Free Agent up to automatically email the client to thank them for the paid invoice, or remind them if they haven't paid in the set terms.
Then there's Bills. Whether regular ones like bank accounts subs, the monthly insurance, hosting, Free Agent itself, or less frequent ones like a subcontractor doing work for a particular project (which can be automatically billed later on if needed), they're covered here. Much like the opposite of invoices, these can then be set up to be tracked in the banking, so as the invoice you sent out last week gets paid by the client, Free Agent will recognise these, automatically linking it to the invoice or bill and add the appropriate explanation to that bank transaction. Not only that, but it will then mark that invoice as being paid, which will show up in the at-a-glance summaries for outstanding and paid invoices.
Then we have Contact section. You can set up a record for each client, supplier, subcontractor etc in here with contact details, email address and so on. Each Contact can then be assigned a new Project. Each project can then be broken down into Tasks... which is where Time Tracking comes in. As you do work, you add timeslips stating which user, which project and which task you did it for. These timeslips can then be bought into an invoice where you can bill for the time spent on a project, setting an hourly or daily rate. The amount of unbilled hours can be seen. The amount of work you have done on a project can also be pulled into reports – perfect to see if you're working to budget or not.
Expenses bought out of pocket than be logged in Free Agent – ideal for when you bought something out of you personal bank account that you want to claim back on the business. The Accounting section allows you to see by any particular month or year what your ingoings and outgoings are, what your profit & loss is, balance sheets, capital assets and so on.
And all this comes together in the Tax Returns section. Taking your turnover for the year, (based on the invoices paid in that tax year), less total expense (pulled from all your expenses and bills paid out over the year) as well as any bad debts, costs for mobile phones and other costs for running your home as an office, adding back any dissallowable expenses, it figures out your taxable profit for you including any incomes from other employment, dividends and so on. It then puts that through the various tax bands and figures out your income tax and NI contributions owed, less any already paid to give a figure for tax due.
In the two weeks we've been using it, it's completely changed how we manage our business. We can create, manage and automatically send out invoices for one off and recurring projects. We can monitor our monthly outgoings. We can track how long we've been spending on the various projects, as well as any additional expenses that we may wish to invoice for at the end of the project that goes beyond the original project spec and quoted price. It provides us the impetus to be checking our business accounts on a regular basis so we're more aware of how much money we have, what we owe and are owed. And it allows us to get our years accounts ready for the accountant to put into a tax return. And all this is kept securely online able to be accessed and updated anywhere we need.
If the initial scenario of Spreadsheet hell sounds like your monthly work flow, I'd strongly urge you to give Free Agent a go. They operate a very nice referral scheme so that both the referrer and the new user get a cumulative 10% discount off each of their monthly subs (£15-£25 depending on if you're a sole trader, partnership or Ltd company) for as long as the other is still paying for Free Agent, and for each person they refer. And if you're still not convinced, they give you the first month free to try it out – it didn't take long to get my head round it and realise that I would want to be using it beyond the initial month, and with no tie ins or contracts, if you decide in a few months that it's not working out for you it's no problem to just stop. The customer service also deserves a very special mention. The maintain lively discussion forums with the full time staff that developed and manage the product regularly inputting and helping people with stuff that comes up, ironing out bugs, talking through future plans etc. They also have an extensive Knowledge Base with video tutorials for all the main sections.
In terms of the value of time saved by keeping everything in one place with a service dedicated to organising and keeping on top of a vast amount of a self employed person business alive, the monthly subs must pay for themselves several times over. If you do wish to give it a go, and get the 10% discount, follow this link - http://fre.ag/35gihpsj and make sure the referral code 35gihpsj shows in the sign up form.
(never thought I'd say that about admin and accounting, but it really is that good)