Invoicing is something every freelancer has to do. After all, earning money is what distinguishes us from the “writing just for fun” writers — but to earn that money, we have to invoice our clients.
While you might start by creating a simple invoice in Microsoft Word, eventually you’ll likely want to transition to an invoicing system or website that automates some of the work.
But what’s the best invoicing website for freelancers? The many choices available can be a bit intimidating, especially if you’re a newbie.
So I went on a mission. I signed up for trial accounts with 10 popular online invoicing companies. For each one, I set a time limit of 30 minutes to explore and create mock invoices.
With each site, I took note of any immediately positive features (pros) as well as anything that stuck out as challenging or frustrating (cons). I also checked out their cheapest and most expensive payment plans.
Here are the results of my experiment:
1. Pay Panther
Pay Panther is not currently accepting new users, but you can sign up to be notified via email when it is.
Pros: Pay Panther’s dashboard was one of my favorites. It was uncluttered and focused on the essentials — Paid, Due and Billable — with a calendar page and a “Feeds” box to communicate with your team (if you have one). Nice and simple!
Pay Panther was also very flexible with how you could bill your clients, with options for flat rates, item rates, user rates or per-project rates.
You can sync your Pay Panther account with your Google account (handy if you use Google Calendar!), Outlook, iPhone/iPad or Mac Calendar.
Pay Panther offers an option to pay a 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee, no matter the size of your invoice, rather than applying the standard PayPal fees to payments received. PayPal only offers this option to U.S.-based users.
Cons: As a new user, I found Pay Panther’s WalkMe walkthrough to be very aggravating — it slowed down my exploring and I couldn’t turn it off. That’s a minor quibble, though.
My larger problem with Pay Panther was that before you can create an invoice, you have to create a “Client” and a “Project.” Those felt like unnecessary extra steps when so many other invoicing sites allow you to write your clients and projects directly into the invoice as you create it.
Free Plan: Yes. You get one user and three clients.
Paid Plans: $15 per month for two users and 500 clients; $199 per month for unlimited users and clients.
Pros: Quaderno was specifically made and marketed toward freelancers, and my initial impression was that they “got” me.
Quaderno was simple and easy to use.
Its reports (“Numbers”) section was colorful and easy to read. It has a nice importer tool, offers several color choices and invoice templates, and even has an affiliate program for groups of freelancers.
Cons: The main drawback to Quaderno is it doesn’t have a free plan. I couldn’t find anything else that really stuck out as terrible. However, the “pros” that I found weren’t all that remarkable either.
Free Plan: None. You get a seven-day free trial and then you have to get a paid plan if you wish to continue.
Paid Plans: $29 per month for unlimited teammates and up to 250 transactions; $79 per month for up to 1,000 transactions; $149 per month for up to 2,500 transactions.
Pros: To be honest, there weren’t many. Ronin was probably my least favorite of all the sites I took for a test drive.
The only really impressive feature I found was the number of payment integration options it offered; however, payment integration is only an option for the pricier subscription plans (a definite negative!).
Cons: Before you can create an invoice, you must create a client and a project. If you’re selling products or services, you must add those into the system before they’ll show up on your invoice.
Rather than writing in each project/product/service on the invoice itself, you select items from a drop-down box. It added an extra level of tediousness and inflexibility to the process.
In addition, you have to pay to see your reports! Sure, the “free” plan is pretty much useless (most of us have more than two clients!), but we should be able to see our records for how much those two clients have paid us.
Free Plan: Yes. You get one user and two clients.
Paid Plans: $15 per month for one user and 30 clients; $29 per month for three users and unlimited clients; $49 per month for five users and unlimited clients.
Pros: Simplybill is exactly what you’d expect it to be: Simple. There were about four tabs to choose from and within each page, everything was written out in large letters and chunked into easy-to-understand sections.
Simplybill was a no-brainer when it came to creating invoices — I didn’t even need my full half hour!
I was also amused that a site that embraced simplicity so thoroughly had a total of 37 different template designs to choose from (hidden way in the “Settings”). Fancying up my invoice was optional, but discovering the option was a fun surprise.
Cons: Simplybill doesn’t do anything but invoice clients. If you’re looking for other functions, like time tracking, this isn’t the invoicing site for you.
Simplybill also doesn’t have options for additional users or teams. Unless you’re a solo business, look elsewhere.
Free Plan: None.
Paid Plans: $5 per month for one user and unlimited clients (but you can only send out 25 invoices per month!); $15 per month for up to 100 invoices; $25 per month unlimited invoices.
5. The Invoice Machine
Pros: The Invoice Machine is another invoicing company that was made for freelancers and small businesses.
Again, I found that comforting — if you’ve ever had to explain freelancing to a non-freelancer, you can imagine how edgy you’d feel if the company handling your billing didn’t understand your profession.
True to its name, The Invoice Machine ran like an efficient, well-oiled machine. It was exceptionally easy to create and send invoices using the clean, simple interface.
I also loved that I could export my invoices, estimates, templates, clients and other information as XML or CSV files.
Cons: The Invoice Machine only invoices. If you want additional features, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Reports were also a bit too simple. Other than “Paid” and “Unpaid,” I didn’t see any records or stats. If there were any, they were too hidden for me to find.
Free Plan: Yes. You get one user and unlimited clients; however, you can only send three invoices per month. Free invoices will also come with Invoice Machine branding.
Paid Plans: $12 per month for two users and unlimited clients and 30 invoices; $24 per month for 10 users and 300 invoices; $48 per month for unlimited users, clients and invoices. You can use your own logo and remove Invoice Machine branding for paid accounts.
Pros: There were two things that really stood out to me about Zoho. The first was that it’s the only invoicing site I tested, other than Freshbooks, that offered a snail mail service.
Second, Zoho had an extensive reports page with 25 different categories. It wasn’t just organized, it was micro-organized!
For someone like me — the tightly-wound physical embodiment of organization — the extra effort put into recordkeeping is a welcome feature.
Zoho also offers the 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee option.
Cons: Perhaps this is just my experience, but in terms of its design and overall aesthetic, Zoho feels like it’s trying to be Freshbooks and can’t quite pull it off. It’s a bit like Elvis and an Elvis impersonator – you’ll get a good show either way, but the latter just isn’t as impressive.
Zoho also sent out far too many emails, even after I’d closed my account.
Free Plan: Yes. You get one user and 25 clients.
Paid Plans: $7 per month for one user and 50 clients; $15 per month for three users and 500 clients; $30 per month for unlimited users and clients.
Paymo’s new website and services are far superior to what it used to be. It has a multitude of great features, including a time tracker I love.
Free Plan: Yes. You can start with a free 15-day trial to test it out, but after that the free plan allows one user, three projects and one invoice per month.
Paid Plans: $8.95 per user, per month for unlimited clients, projects and reports, but no invoicing — great if you’re just looking for a project management system. If you want to send invoices, you’ll need to pay an extra $9.95 per month.
Pros: I was immediately blown away by Freshbooks — it’s an invoicing website that truly does everything. Not only could I create online (paperless) invoices, but I had the option to create and send traditional (paper) invoices as well.
Plus it had a built-in time-tracker, a team management system and even a way to connect your accountant to your Freshbooks account to make tax time easier!
From the moment I signed up, I felt like Freshbooks understood what we, as freelance writers, need: “Content marketer” and “copywriter” (among other writing-related career choices) were company options when you sign up!
It also have an excellent referral/affiliate program.
Freshbooks offers the 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee option.
Cons: Since I was basing this article on how “intuitive” the site was for new users with limited time on their hands, I honestly found Freshbooks a bit overwhelming. It does so much! And, as a single freelancer, its emphasis on teams and team management made Freshbooks feel a bit too big for my needs.
Also, the free payment plan is a bit useless for busy freelancers, making paid subscriptions a must if you choose this service.
Free Plan: Yes, but you can only invoice one client per month.
Paid Plans: $15 per month for five clients; $25 per month for 50 clients; $50 per month for 500 clients.
Pros: The thing I liked best about Harvest was the finished invoice: It was easy to read and the total amount due was written both at the top in large numbers and in normal-size print within the invoice itself.
Even if you have one of those clients who hates to read (we’ve all had them), there’s no way they could “accidentally” skip over the amount they owe you!
I also liked that the reports section was uncomplicated and easy to use. It has a search function similar to PayPal’s and it was simple to find exactly what I was looking for.
Harvest offers the 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee option.
Cons: Although I enjoyed the inspirational quotes on its timesheet/calendar pages, I found Harvest’s time-tracker tool a bit too tucked away on the website. I prefer time-tracking tools to be easily accessed and even easier to use.
Free Plan: Yes. You can have one user (yourself) and send invoices to four clients.
Paid Plans: $12 per month for one user and unlimited clients; $49 per month for five users and unlimited clients; $99 per month for 10 users and unlimited clients.
Pros: In over four years of writing professionally, I’ve only had two clients not pay through PayPal. It makes sense to use PayPal for invoicing if all (or most) of your clients will be paying via PayPal anyway!
PayPal was also easy to use, had a great search function for invoice records, and didn’t charge any additional fees to send invoices to clients.
Cons: The “Create Invoice” section of PayPal can be difficult to find for new users. It’s tucked away under the “Request Money” tab.
PayPal also featured no additional functions (like time-tracking), and, although clients can pay you via credit card, that’s not immediately obvious to users (and clients) who are unfamiliar with PayPal.
Free Plan: Yes, in a sense. PayPal doesn’t charge any extra fees for sending out invoices; however, once your client pays, the usual PayPal fee comes out of your earnings.
Paid Plans: None.
Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free ebooks and one-on-one mentoring.
This post was originally published on The Write Life, a website and community to help writers create, connect and earn.