It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancer or if you have your own incorporated limited company, at some point you’re going to need to invoice your clients. There are many apps out there that can automate this for you, but which one should you choose? Do you go for the all-in-one solution that automates your entire business, or should you use an app that only does invoicing but does it really well?
I wrestled with that question almost a decade ago, and then I discovered Harvest. Despite its age this gem of an application stands head and shoulders above the competition, and I still use it today.
At the heart of harvest is time tracking: the ability to track the number of billable hours on a project. The app offers weekly and daily time entry forms, and these are the most user-friendly data entry forms I have ever seen. The screen layout is crips and clear, and Harvest only asks for relevant information: the date, the task worked on, and the number of hours. You can enter hours as fractions or as hours:minutes, they are automatically converted.
The daily time entry form also has a built-in stopwatch. Simply create a row for the task you’re currently working on and click the Start button to start logging time. Click the button again to stop the stopwatch and create a time entry.
The nice thing about Harvest is the attention to detail. If you forget to stop the stopwatch you will get a reminder e-mail after a couple of hours. If you try to start the stopwatch on a day in the past, Harvest will ask you to confirm if this is really what you want. These little details make the app a joy to use.
Are you off-site meeting with a client and want to log your billable hours? No problem, Harvest has mobile apps for iPhone and Android that let you log time and expenses remotely.
Harvest can also track your expenses, both billable and un-billable. Each expense has a date, description, and optional scan of a receipt, and can be assigned to a client and project.
In the screenshot on the right I’m attempting to declare an Uber trip, but Harvest points out that I am adding a billable expense to an un-billable project. I’m free to proceed, but I will never be able to invoice the expense. More great attention to detail!
When expenses are added to an invoice they lock and can no longer be changed. And if you’ve already invoiced all expenses in a given date range, Harvest won’t allow you to add new expenses inside that range. These little checks and balances help you to send invoices that will actually be accepted by your client’s AP department.
Another great feature is the Expense Report: a downloadable PDF file that contains an overview of all expenses in a given timeframe, plus scans of all corresponding receipts. Attach this to your expense invoice and you never have to worry about missing a receipt.
Harvest can create time- and expense-based invoices (or a combination of both). You simple select the project and date range, and Harvest creates the entire invoice for you. Each line item can be individually edited, moved or deleted, and you can add extra line items to customise the invoice.
You can also create a freeform invoice like I’m doing in the example on the right. All the usual features are there: PO numbers, multiple tax rates, the ability to set a discount, etc.
After you create a time- or expense-based invoice, the corresponding time and expense entries are locked. You will not be able to use them again in another invoice, or change them after the invoice has been sent. Harvest continuously reports all remaining un-invoiced billable time and expenses, so you always know where you stand.
Harvest can also create recurring invoices and retainers, and there’s support for online payments through either Stripe or Paypal.
I’ve been using Harvest for years and I’ve developed a nice workflow. My philosophy is to automate as much as I possibly can in my business, and Harvest does a great job here.
For clients that pay me by the hour I use Harvest’s time stopwatch function on my Android phone. When I’m sitting at my desk I usually have a browser tab open with the daily time view and a running stopwatch. At the end of the day I check out the time entries and correct any mistakes. This takes only minutes.
At the end of the month I create a new time invoice and tell Harvest to automatically add all un-invoiced billable time entries. It then creates the entire invoice for me, all I have to do is confirm and send it off.
For clients that pay me a flat fee per month the workflow is even simpler: I set up a monthly recurring invoice, and each month Harvest will prepare a comple invoice for me in draft mode. Again all I have to do is confirm and send it.
Expenses are easy too. Every time I pay an expense I use Harvest’s mobile app to to snap a picture of the receipt and log the entry. Come end of month I create an expense invoice and Harvest will automatically populate it with all my logged billable expenses. Then I create an Expense Report which contains my scanned receipts. I e-mail both PDF documents to my client. Again this entire process only takes minutes.
Try it out yourself
Harvest has a free plan which gets you 1 user, 2 projects, 4 clients, and unlimited invoices. I’ve used the free plan for years, it’s great if you’re freelancing and you work on a single project for the same client for a number of years. I’ve recently upgraded to their Solo plan for $12/month because I needed multiple currencies.
If you want to try out Harvest, their free plan is more than generous enough for a complete evaluation. And when you’re ready for any of the paid plans, feel free to use my invitation link by clicking the logo below. That will get you a $10 discount.
Also published on Medium.