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Wyoming Business Tips for April 24-April 30


April 18, 2011 — A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (WSBDC), part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.

By Cindy Unger, WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz business adviser

"I own a small, but profitable, engineering company. I make far more money doing engineering than doing books, and have a bookkeeper who takes care of my taxes. I need a simple application that will help track my time and invoicing. Do you have any ideas?" Eric, Casper

A number of online tools are available that track time and help with invoicing -- many are free if the business has a low volume of clients. FreshBooks has an interesting option that does time tracking and invoicing. The service is free for up to three clients, but charges $19.95 per month for up to 25 clients.

FreshBooks can be used to track time and expenses, generate invoices in any currency, send invoices either through email or regular mail, track online collections and automatically send late payment reminders to clients. A small business owner even can set up recurring bills to automatically charge a client's credit card on a regular basis. Clients can pay online through a number of different payment gateways and view their own accounts. 

Owners can directly email invoices from the system or for clients who prefer a physical invoice, print them and send through regular mail. For an extra fee, FreshBooks will take care of the mailing chores, sending invoices directly to clients in a window envelope, complete with a return envelope and return voucher. If an owner has a client set up with a recurring charge and are having FreshBooks mail invoices, the entire process will happen automatically -- just deposit the checks.

This application is great for companies that bill time and use subcontractors. A small business owner can set up a project to include different tasks and team members to be billed at different rates. Even outside contractors/subcontractors that can record their time on a project remotely from a smart phone can also be added. A business owner can also track personal time remotely.

The system creates cost estimates that can later be converted into invoices. FreshBooks also can generate a number of bookkeeping reports. Of course, for these reports to be accurate, the owner needs to enter general business expenses into the system in addition to project expenses.

FreshBooks allows a small operation to look like a mega-business to clients. Just upload the business logo, pick a color and the result is a professional-looking invoice. FreshBooks has been highly rated by PC Magazine and others because the program has several features and connects too many other applications, including Salesforce, Basecamp, Outright, Typepad, Constant Contact and Peachtree. The program imports client data from any source that can export in CSV format.

FreshBooks is not a full-blown accounting program, such as QuickBooks or Peachtree. Personally, I would not want to be without the check writing and posting abilities of that software. A one-time purchase of an accounting program also is probably less expensive in the long run than paying a monthly fee. But if simplicity and convenience are the most important parameters, and the only accounting functions required are invoicing and time tracking, this application fits the bill.

If the time tracking component is not needed, other programs such as Zoho, Citrus and Invoices Made Easy are more affordable.  Each product offers a free tour and trial -- experiment to see what application best meets the company's needs.  To find additional online business applications, check the directory on the Wyoming Small Business Development Center website.

A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at http://www.wyomingentrepreneur.typepad.com/blog/.

The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, e-mail wsbdc@uwyo.edu or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY, 82071-3922.

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