FreeAgent: Online accounting software for translators
Before I recently signed up for FreeAgent, a popular option for online accounting software, I must admit to being a bit bewildered by the solutions on offer. These were among the hundred and one questions flying about in my head:
•What about Translation Office 3000? It’s a popular (if slightly cumbersome) option for a lot of translators, and works as a project management programme, client database and invoicing system rolled into one.
•I’ve heard good things about Kashflow, but can it handle different currencies?
•Shall I give 4Visions Manager a try? It’s the new kid on the block, but has had good reviews from colleagues.
•Are the features of FreshBooks more relevant if you’re based in the US?
I know of a few translators, who have blogged about their accounting software choices, such as Céline Graciet (via a guest post on Catherine Translates) and Luke Spear, but I wanted to get the perspective of someone I know a bit better – enter Julia Graham, a Glasgow-based freelance translator, working from French and German to English. In fact, this blog post was born out of me asking Julia a raft of questions, which I thought others might want answered too. Read on for the lowdown on FreeAgent.
Before finally deciding on – or, as I like to call it, falling in love with – FreeAgent, I tried several other online accounting platforms. There are, of course, other cloud systems such as Kashflow, but as far as I am aware, this does not allow you to work with bank accounts in more than one currency.
The main reasons for choosing FreeAgent over FreshBooks and 4Visions Manager were ease of use and the professional-looking invoices it generated.
Looking back now over the FreshBooks homepage, this cloud system seems to offer almost identical services to FreeAgent as well as some extras (such as a timer). However, I did not find their interface as intuitive, so I was not able to find all of the promised features. I am sure I would have been able to work out how to customise my invoices if I had read through all of the instructions, but I wanted something quick and easy. FreeAgent provides an extensive Knowledge Base full of FAQs and how-to guides if you get really stuck, but with this system you can just jump straight in and find your way about by clicking on the tabs.
I am sad to say that I found 4Visions Manager needlessly complicated. While their system is admittedly more tailored to the translation market (particularly the billing options on your invoices), I felt that more general cloud systems far outstripped it in terms of accounting capabilities. In particular, I was disappointed that they did not have a portfolio of invoice templates to choose from as in FreeAgent.
So what does FreeAgent let you do?
Here are some of the features I find most useful:
- reconciling money in and out by linking FreeAgent up to your bank account
- keeping track of accounts with an invoice chart, which provides a countdown to each invoice’s due date
- converting estimates into invoices with the click of a button. (What a timesaver!)
What about value for money?
I was initially sceptical about the monthly outlay for cloud accounting software (£15 plus VAT), but if you use a referral code, it is only £16.50 per month including VAT. Admittedly, the cost factor and inbuilt word count tools are where Translation Office 3000 has a significant advantage over online options. However, as self-confessed Apple and cloud addict, I was put off by TO3000’s Windows-style design and the fact that I could not access my project and accounting details from any machine.
As a rule of thumb, if you are not particularly IT savvy and if attempting to produce an invoice that does not resemble an eight-year-old’s school project is just too time-consuming and stressful, I think that FreeAgent is a worthwhile investment and a necessary expense for you. There is always the option to road-test the system with a 30-day free trial and, unlike 4Visions Manager, you are not required to input any credit card details. You can also choose between a yearly or monthly package, so you do not feel tied into a contract. For me, value for money can be measured by the amount of admin time I have saved.
Does FreeAgent provide reliable customer support?
Perhaps I am slightly biased because FreeAgent is Edinburgh-based, but I can honestly say that I have never had any complaints about the email customer service. Whenever I have had an issue, they have responded and resolved the problem within the hour – even outside of their official office hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.
Is there anything you would change?
It is slightly annoying that you cannot delete an invoice once it has been marked as sent [Ed. I came up against this hurdle myself, and discovered that marking the invoice (or quote) as a draft allows you to delete it]. There are ways of working around accidentally duplicating jobs, but I think it could still be simplified.
Where did you hear about FreeAgent?
Cloud systems were just one of the subjects that Marta Stelmaszak of Want Words mentioned in her Business School for Translators. Highlights of the course included lessons on approaching direct clients, tips on how to clinch the deal and an individual Skype feedback session with Marta. The next course starts on 12 September 2013 at eCPD Webinars. http://www.ecpdwebinars.co.uk/events_112669.html.
Julia Graham is a translator, editor and proofreader from German and French to English. When she is not working on technical and medical texts, she will most likely be on her yoga mat or out exploring the Scottish mountains. You can find her at about.me/juliagraham and on Twitter as @JMBTranslations.