Accounting Tools for Freelancers

There’s an old saying that “time is money,” a notion most of us can appreciate. But when you’re a freelancer, you’re actually living and breathing that truth every day!

Whether your freelance business consists of a few clients or side jobs, or is a burgeoning boutique e-learning shop, getting a grip on your finances is the only way to make informed decisions about your business. And when time is money, what’s the point of being in business for yourself if you’re not streamlining your administrative work and continuously reevaluating your goals to optimize both time AND money? That’s where accounting tools come in.

In a previous article, I dove into the world of time management tools—which are helpful to everyone. In this article I’d like to expand the focus to include tools that are especially helpful to freelancers: accounting tools. So let’s jump in and run through some apps and tools you might want to check out.

Billing

When you’re freelancing, getting paid (especially on time) is everything. Without the predictability of a paycheck, staying on top of your billings and monitoring your cash flow become essential to your survival.

Here are a few tools that can help make the cash flow and invoicing part of your freelance life a little easier to manage.

  • If you’re a solo shop or just picking up a few projects here and there on the side, you may not need robust invoicing software when PayPal’s invoicing feature will do the trick. PayPal invoices are easy to create and send from a desktop or mobile device, and you only pay a small fee when you’re paid. It’s also a great way to give clients the flexibility to pay you by credit card online, rather than waiting for a check to show up in the mail.
  • Paydirt, an app I mentioned in my rundown of time management tools, also offers invoicing, as well as features that scale well from individuals to small teams, like online quoting and estimating, integration with PayPal and Stripe for credit card processing of invoices, and simple reporting that allows you to see uncollected invoices or keep tabs on your productivity.
  • Due is an app focused on invoicing and on making payments easier for you and your clients. A notable characteristic is Due’s credit card processing for international transactions,  which makes a lot of sense if you do business with companies in other countries. Due also integrates with apps like Wave (for accounting) and Basecamp (for project management).
  • Harvest turns up on nearly every “tools for freelancers” list, and for good reason: it’s easy to use, scales well from individuals to teams, and is feature-rich. Harvest includes time tracking, expense logging, resource forecasting (via an optional add-on called Forecast), and invoicing. But perhaps its most appealing feature is how well it integrates with other popular apps for freelancers and small teams, like Basecamp and Stripe.
  • Although scalable from individual to small business, Freshbooks leans a little more toward small business in its product features. Overall, the features are comparable to Harvest—time tracking, expense logging, and invoicing. Freshbook’s prebuilt reports give you a quick way to save time when you’re crunching the numbers or prepping for tax time (more about that below). And it integrates with Bidsketch, Capsule CRM, Acuity Scheduling, and other small business apps.

Taxes

Freelancing is a great way to build your portfolio doing work that you love with more autonomy. But when it comes to tax time, every freelancer I’ve ever known expresses a bit of longing for the good ol’ days when the HR department took care of all that pesky paperwork. But tax time doesn’t have to be a headache when you’ve got tools to do the heavy lifting.

Many of the tools I’ve already highlighted, both here and in the time management article, offer reporting capabilities to make tax time a bit less … um … taxing. But here are a few others you might want to add to your list.

  • No list of accounting tools is complete without including Intuit’s Quickbooks. And Quickbooks’ new “Quickbooks Self-Employed” is pretty ideal for freelancers. Not only is the tool easy to use, but it’s popular, which means it integrates with most banks, allowing you to easily import your income and expenses. Quickbooks can even separate work and personal expenses automatically. Springing for the Quickbooks “Tax Bundle” gets you the added convenience of quarterly online tax filing and payments through TurboTax.
  • Wave is a feature-rich solution for freelancers and small businesses. It offers invoicing and payments, as well as a host of other features. When I’ve heard from folks who use Wave, it’s almost always to praise its accounting feature. Wave prides itself on being easy and intuitive, so if you’re someone who doesn’t use an accountant, this might be a good fit.
  • Xero is another online accounting app for small businesses. It offers features such as bank account integration for monitoring cash flow and reconciling accounts and the ability to invite a bookkeeper or accountant to collaborate. Speaking of collaboration, I like that Xero also has a partner program for accountants and bookkeepers who specialize in helping clients who use Xero. This is good if you’re cool doing some basic record-keeping but want the help of a pro from time to time.

This was just a quick overview of some standout accounting tools for freelancers, but there’s an ever-growing assortment of apps and innovations for supporting workers in the new gig economy. The ones I’ve highlighted here are just the tip of the tool iceberg, so I hope you’ll do your own research and share your recommendations with us here, on E-Learning Heroes. Leave your ideas in a comment below, share lessons learned with a new discussion in the Building Better courses forum—or follow us on Twitter, where we post the latest and greatest news about everything e-learning.

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12 Comments
Eric Schaffer

Very interesting, having been in my own business for close to 20 years I look at some of this a little different. All these app's are great to help you do a lot of the book work and accounting. But some things to think about are; you have got a project to do, you agreed on a rate of flat fee. You finished the project and presented the invoice. How do you really get paid. Two people you should get to be friends with. 1. a good attorney that has a background in this type of work. They can help you wite a good contract that gets signed by both parties so there are no missunderstandings on how and when payments will be made. Remember this project may take longer than a week. Can you live without a pay check for a month or two. Some companies want 30 to 90 day terms on payment. Some want a di... Expand

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