After using Quickbooks for years, I decided it was finally time to find an online invoice/billing solution. I had a wish-list of what I thought would be pretty basic criteria for choosing a paid solution. Boy was I wrong. Below is my story about the hunt for a great product and why I finally chose Harvest.
Online Billing for a Contractor/Consultant
I wanted a tool that would work well and fluidly for a contractor or service-provider. As it turns out, many of the online billing programs are designed around people who keep inventory and sell products. Not quite what I needed. Harvest makes time tracking fast and simple, just login, enter my time for the appropriate client and project, and done. Projects don't "close" just because I've sent an invoice.
Invoicing Product with Multiple Clients
Because I do web consulting, I needed an invoicing product that would allow me to have multiple customers or vendors that I could be billing to on a regular basis. Several of the online invoicing solutions out there don't give you an on-going billing option for more than one client. Harvest allows me to have an unlimited number of clients and projects, regardless of what pricing plan I choose.
Online Invoicing with Customization
Maintaining a professional branding is always important, so I wanted to choose an online invoicing/billing platform that allowed me some control over customization of the invoices I sent out. One option I reviewed always included the client's total spend with me...ever. Really? Can you imagine? "Here's your invoice Paul, in the amount of $40. Oh, by the way, you may be interested in knowing that you've currently spent $47,000 on my services." I think not.
Simple as it may seem, I also wanted to control how the due date is displayed on my invoices. For example, most of the other online billing solutions printed "Net 30" or something similar on the bottom of the invoice. Some gave a couple options, but Harvest was the only one I could find that allows me to give the actual DATE, "10/25/2011 (Net 60)."
Believe it or not, I thought I had chosen a solution, until I realized they didn't allow you to put your contact information on the invoice (or customize it). So we're supposed to invoice people without providing contact information on how or who to pay? That just sounds absurd. Again, Harvest allows me to customize as much or as little information on the invoices as I want, including a logo, if I so choose.
Online Billing Solution that is Safe and Secure
Since we're moving to this new fangled online option, it might be nice to give our clients the option of paying their invoice online. Well, that means that the online billing program needs to be PCI compliant. According to WikiPedia, "The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is an information security standard for organizations that handle cardholder information for the major debit, credit, prepaid, e-purse, ATM, and POS cards." So you can imagine this would be important if our clients will be providing information to some third-party in order to pay a bill I sent them. Harvest saves the day on this issue, too. They use SSL-encrypted connections, they are certified by TRUSTe (an independent privacy services provider), they constantly backup all of their data and all of their data is encrypted for further protection. They are PCI Compliant, so my clients can feel safe when they pay their bills and I can feel safe knowing that my business data is secure and backed up.
Customer Service for an Online Invoicing Solution
Certainly one of the most important things I look for when choosing a company to do business with is customer service and availability of help resources. Would you believe that many other online billing systems didn't even have a customer forum? And some of the ones that did were rarely, if ever, active with employee posts. Perhaps Harvest doesn't provide 24/7 support, but they are located in New York, not India. As an American speaking English, I can appreciate that. They answer the phones, they reply to emails, they listen to customer feedback and according to their forums, respond to feature requests and plea's for help. This is vital in any company you entrust with your information.
Connectivity Options and Multiple Platforms
I have to say, even though it wasn't a requirement on my wishlist, having the ability to access Harvest from my iPhone is pretty amazing. I can do everything right from my phone, on the go. Talk about options, though. You can connect all sorts of other tools with Harvest and access Harvest from practically any platform. In addition to the iPhone, Harvest is compatible with a slew of other platforms and devices. I have tried to list some them here: Andriod, CallTab, TimeTrax, there is a downloadable Desktop app, Google Apps, Co-op, Basecamp, Outright, Twitter, WordPress, Syncr, QuickBooks, Billflo, Highrise, Zendesk, Simply Invoices, Teaspiller, Redmine, activeCollab, Scythe, Beanstalk, Postal Methods, OneSaasPipeJump, inDinero, Harvested, HaPi, Python, Java, hcl, thereis a Drupal module, Opera widget, Fluid user script, and even an API for developers that want an even more custom solution.
Postal Methods for Harvest
This feature was part of my wish list, though I haven't tested it yet to see how well it works. Apparently, you can connect a third-party site called Postal Methods with Harvest. For a small fee, you can then have Harvest mail a hard-copy of the invoice to your client's address. This prevents invoices from getting lost in cyberspace or someone's SPAM filter. How cool! Click a button to "send" the invoice, and Postal Methods prints it, stuffs it in an envelope with the correct address, stamps it and sends it off for you. No more stuffing envelopes!! I'm pretty excited to try this feature out.
In the end Harvest was exactly what I was looking for, without breaking the bank. I think I'm paying around $25 a month. Absolutely worth every penny. And very user-friendly to setup. I am now using Harvest for my company: http://handmade4you.com/
For more information on Harvest, head over to their website: http://www.getharvest.com/