Invoicing is something every freelance writer 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 different online invoicing companies. For each one, I set a time limit of 30 minutes to explore and create mock invoices — imagining a scenario in which a decidedly unreasonable client had demanded I create and send an invoice from a specific invoicing site within that set time limit or I wouldn’t get paid.
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
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, your iPhone/iPad or Mac Calendar.
[Editor’s note: 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 (they have great articles on their blog!), and my initial impression was that they “got” me.
Quaderno was simple and easy to use. Their Reports (“Numbers”) section was colorful and easy to read. They have a nice importer tool, offer several color choices and invoice templates, and even have an affiliate program for groups of freelancers.
Cons: The main “con” with Quaderno is that 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. So perhaps Quaderno’s biggest “con” is that they’re fairly unremarkable in either direction. That said, I have high hopes for this company: they’re fairly new, and their middle-of-the-road-ness could just be growing pains.
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: $12 per month for one user (you) and unlimited clients; $48 per month for five users and unlimited clients.
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 they offered; however, payment integration is only an option for their 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; $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 said 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. So if you’re not a solo business, look elsewhere.
Free Plan: Sort of. You get one user and unlimited clients; however, you can only send out three invoices per month.
Paid Plans: $5 per month for one user and unlimited clients (but you can only send out 25 invoices per month!); $25 per month for one user and unlimited clients (and unlimited invoices).
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 their 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.
Their Reports were also a bit too simple. Other than “Paid” and “Unpaid,” I didn’t see any records or stats. Or, if there were any, they were too hidden away for me to find (which is a problem in its own right).
Free Plan: Yes. You get one user and unlimited clients; however, you can only send out three invoices per month.
Paid Plans: $12 per month for two users and unlimited clients (30 invoices); $48 per month for unlimited users, clients and invoices.
Pros: There were two things that really stood out to me about Zoho. The first was that they’re 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 they put into their recordkeeping is a welcome feature.
[Editor’s note: Zoho offers U.S.-based users an option to pay a 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee, no matter the size of your invoice.]
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 the difference between Elvis and an Elvis impersonator – you’ll get a good show either way, but the latter just isn’t as impressive.
They also sent out far too many emails, even after I’d closed my account.
Free Plan: Yes. You get one user and five clients.
Paid Plans: $15 per month for three users and 500 clients; $30 per month for unlimited users and unlimited clients.
When I first tested Paymo, I was disappointed. While its invoices were easy-to-create and looked decent enough, its website was a good example of what not to do. Despite the multitude of great features, everything on their site felt spread out and awkward. The time tracker, in particular, was a frustrating pop-up.
However, after I closed my account, I received an email from Paymo’s CEO asking if I would like to try the beta version of their new website and services, which would be unveiled in the next couple months. I agreed — and I’m so glad I did.
Paymo’s new website and services are far superior to what they had; they’ve fully embraced the future and it’s glorious. Everything I disliked about their old site has been fixed on their new site, and Paymo went from being one of my least favorite invoicing sites to one of the ones I liked the most! (The new time-tracker is great!).
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: $4.95 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 the $9.95 per month plan.
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 they 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 they “got” what we, as freelance writers, need: There were options for “content marketer” and “copywriter” (among other writing-related career choices) as Company options on the sign-up sheet. Nice!
They also have an excellent referral/affiliate program.
[Editor’s note: Freshbooks offers U.S.-based users an option to pay a 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee, no matter the size of your invoice.]
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, their emphasis on teams and team management made it 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 to use Freshbooks.
Free Plan: Yes, but you can only invoice one client per month.
Paid Plans: $9.95 per month for one user and five clients; $39.95 per month for five users and unlimited 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 their 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.
[Editor’s note: Harvest offers U.S.-based users an option to pay a 50-cent PayPal Business Payment fee, no matter the size of your invoice.]
Cons: Although I enjoyed the inspirational quotes on their timesheet/calendar pages, I found Harvest’s time-tracker tool a bit too tucked away on their 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; $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 out 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 how PayPal works.
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 will be taken out of your earnings.
Paid Plans: None.
Do you use an invoicing site to bill your clients? Are you using one of the 10 I reviewed? How have you enjoyed your experience?