Invoicing is a necessary evil. Yes ok it gets you paid, which is fun! But if you are just starting a business, it can be a bit of a faff to start with. I started out with 2 or 3 clients, so I used a spreadsheet template and simply entered them manually from a template. And to be honest, that can be perfectly fine to get you started. Spending time efficiently isn’t always about the fancy software that has all the bells and whistles. Sometimes using a standard template that does what you need is the best way. However, then I started to get more clients, and could see how much of a drain this could potentially be on my time every month. And I’m sure this is the case for a lot of new businesses. So I thought I’d talk about some of the ways you can save yourself some time, with or without accounting software, purely based on my experience.
Anyone who knows me knows I love spreadsheets. Tragic, but true. For this though, it really is a great way to start. You can create a simple template (or find some free basic ones online), add your details on, your logo and then use it to create your invoices. You can set it up to work out any VAT, or any discounts if you don’t want to be getting the calculator out every time you want to create an invoice. Just remember not to save over your template! I would also advise that you save your invoice spreadsheet as a PDF before sending it to a client though, to ensure that no amendments are made.
Google Sheets is Google’s answer to Microsoft Excel. You can get this software for free with a Google Mail (Gmail) account and because it’s online, you or your client can access the invoice from anywhere. You choose who you allow to see or edit the invoice. So you can have all the calculations like with Excel, but you don’t have to worry about saving it. Because it is constantly saving it so you don’t lose anything. Fantastic stuff!
QuickBooks is an online program dedicated to accounting. So on the Self-Employed package for example. you can do your receipts, mileage and invoicing using this and it also has an app for your smart phone. You have the option of linking your bank account to it, so that transactions download for you to categorise them. For further automation, you can set up rules for transactions, so for example if you have transactions for WH Smith, you can set a rule to automatically categorise any WH Smith transaction as Stationery/Office Supplies, pretty handy indeed. Also if you use the smartphone app, it can log your mileage automatically as it can track where you’re travelling, you simply have to mark whether they are business miles or not. If you’re thinking this sounds too good to be free, you’d be right. There is a subscription fee for using it. It starts from £8 per month but there are usually offers on so that you get 6 months for a reduced price (after a free trial). At the time of writing the smallest package is showing as £3 per month.
Xero is also an accounting package that is online, and is actually used by several of my clients. In my experience, I have found it to be very intuitive, and very user friendly. It also saves contact information for both customers and clients. You can also add different users and control their access, so my clients give me access to support them, without having to open up the whole account to me. The packages for this start from £10 per month, again this is after a free trial. There are additional features this such as payroll, staff expenses, inventory management, payment integration, custom reports. So if I am thinking of bells and whistles, this is the software I think of when it comes to accounting. However, if you are a brand new business, it may be a bit like buying an Apple Watch, when all you need is to know the date and time, so it might be that Xero is the software you look into at a later date, depending on your requirements. But if you are all about keeping it free I have a few tips for making your life easier, and not just with the invoicing. There are other parts of accounting that makes people want to hide under the duvet. Let’s start with mileage, I know it’s a pain but you really need to track it. Yes, you can jump on Google Maps and your diary and look it all up, but unless you’re only travelling once or twice a month, that is going to be awful. Especially if you’re not doing it every month. And let’s face it you’re bound to forget about that one trip to the supplier or that last minute meeting you drove to. So what if something could track your mileage automatically and accurately for free? Step forward MileIQ, a fantastic app that does the calculating for you. It even produces a report for you, or your accountant. OK so that’s mileage done, but what about those pesky bits of paper. Ah the dreaded receipts! They’re in your car, your purse or wallet, your laptop bag, your coat pocket, they’re everywhere. If you are organising them into monthly folders or envelopes, then that’s a step in the right direction. However, if you don’t want paper flapping around all of the time, you may want to look at using a cloud storage service such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Box or Evernote. These all have free accounts you can sign up for (but they have more storage if you pay for their premium accounts). You can set up folders to keep your receipts (or any other documents) organised. Also if you have the app on your smartphone, you can take photos of your receipts so you won’t need to scan them in. However, no matter what software or method you use for your invoicing and other accounting bits and pieces, you need to set aside the time to do them. I know! I have no magic wand for that bit – my apologies. What I will say is, putting aside time to do it regularly is a whole lot easier than wading through a pile of receipts over Christmas ready for the looming self-assessment deadline. My invoicing is done monthly, but my receipts are done every couple of weeks now, and my mileage is done automatically thanks to QuickBooks. If you have any tips that you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you.