Crunching the numbers: a guest post on FreeAgent

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.

Calculator - accounting software for translators

Online accounting takes the stress out of admin. Read on for Julia’s take 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.

Why FreeAgent?

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.

 

About Julia:

Julia Graham, freelance translator, German and French to English

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.

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    This article was written by: Megan Onions

    1. 8 Comments

      • Valerij Tomarenko (@En_De_Ru) says:

        There must be a typo (numbers): “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. “

        • Hi Valerij,

          Thanks for reading and commenting and apologies for the late response. The first price that Julia mentioned was exclusive of VAT (currently 20%), whereas the second included it, which is where the confusion may stem from. I hope that clears things up.

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      • Marga Burke says:

        Thank you both for such an informative review!

        I’ve just started free trials of FreeAgent and 4Visions. I suspect 4Visions is going to get much better as they iron out the kinks and add more features, but for now, FreeAgent seems to tick a lot more boxes for me. Could I pick your brains about a couple of things, though?

        1. How do you personally use the quotes and projects features? It looks as though quotes are going to be more useful for me to keep track of what I’m working on, if I add deadlines to the free text field (and regardless of whether I actually need to issue my client with a quote), while projects will only really be useful if I’m billing by the hour or otherwise want to keep track of hours worked – would you agree?

        2. What units do you enter in quotes and invoices if you’re charging per word or per project? FreeAgent seems very much geared towards charging for your time, which I only do for certain types of jobs, so I’m wondering what the least clunky way of working it is.

        3. Assuming you’ve started using FreeAgent in the middle of the tax year, are you going to add your figures from FreeAgent to those from your previous system, or are you planning to enter data retrospectively? FreeAgent suggested I put 6 April this year as the date I started using it, but that would mean recreating an awful lot of invoices…

        Sorry for all the questions, and thanks very much in advance!

        I’ve also just had a quick look at KashFlow, and the features list (especially reporting) looks very impressive, so I’d love to hear from anyone who’s using it.

        Marga

        • Marga Burke says:

          I should have added, I believe the multiple currencies issue with KashFlow only applies if you have bank accounts in more than one currency (which I don’t).

        • Hi Marga,

          Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I hope my reply is not too late to be of use to you!

          I’m still relatively new to FreeAgent, but I’ll answer your questions as best I can:

          1. Most of my work at the moment is coming from direct clients, so I use the quotes feature a lot. When working for agencies, or others not needing a quote, I make one anyway and use it much as you suggested (although I hadn’t thought of using the free text field to enter the deadline – thanks!). I haven’t really used the projects option yet, to be honest, but I might try it out on my next per-hour project.

          2. For jobs, which I charge per project, I select “Service” from the drop-down list of options, then describe the project, e.g. “Translation of ‘filesfortranslation_de.zip from German to English (UK).” For per-word projects, I choose “no unit”, which then just lists the number of units, the unit price and the subtotal. The fact that the numbers refer to the number of words in the file and your per-word charge should be clear, but you can explain this in the description if necessary.

          3. I use FreeAgent as a limited company, so I have a separate bank account for all of my business transactions. When I started using FreeAgent, I just exported the data from my bank statements from my online account and imported it into FreeAgent. It was all very painless, and may be an option for you too. I just had to ‘explain’ my transactions (expenses, invoices, wages, etc.) and I was good to go.

          I hope this was helpful!

          Megan

          • Marga Burke says:

            Thanks, Megan, that’s very helpful!

            I knew I could export data from my online bank account to enter my expenses, but it hadn’t occurred to me I could use that as a basis for entering invoices too. I’ll have to play around with it and see how it works – I’m a sole trader but hopefully it will be similar.

      • Julia Graham says:

        Hi Valerij,

        Sorry for the confusion. It seemed clear when I was writing it, but I can see now that I could have formulated it a lot better. Thanks for keeping me right :-).

        Hi Marga,

        It seems that Megan has already provided a very comprehensive answer (thanks!) You probably don’t need my twopence worth, but if it helps at all:

        1. As I explained in the post, I am not the most IT-savvy person in the world, so what I am about to explain is just my way of using FreeAgent. The great thing about this system is that, by and large, you can use the features in a way that suits you. I always begin by creating a project and from there I can add other features (such as quotes and invoices). I find it keeps my account more organised and I can keep on top of my work a lot more easily. I also use the project section as a time tracker and keep a note each day of how long I have spent on each project. Even if the time is not billable, it is useful to know.

        I personally like using quotes for direct clients. In the extra information section at the bottom, I like to add the delivery date and the remit. The latter could involve listing what is included in proofreading or it could mean copying the client’s requirements from their email. I have even used quotes for some agencies so that they can send me a PO by return email.

        2. Yes, I agree. This is where 4VisionsManager has a clear advantage over FreeAgent. Like Megan, I tend to select ‘-no unit-’ and then type ‘words for xxx project’ in the details box.

        3. Although I am using FreeAgent as a sole trader, I also linked my business bank account up to FreeAgent so that I could just explain all the previous transactions. Once it is set up, it makes life so much easier! I still have to check with my accountant if this is sufficient so once I find out, I’ll let you know.

        I hope this helps. If you have any more questions or if any of that was not clear, please feel free to ask me. I will remember to check the comments section this time ;-).

        Best wishes,

        Julia :)

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