What’s the most dreadful and, at the same time, most rewarding part of a small business owner’s day?
Unless you’re actively keeping a track record of all the services provided, your clients are less likely to go out of their way to pay you. But if done consistently, your business can do more than just survive. If you’re new to invoicing, I highly recommend reading through this invoicing guide to understand the basics like generating invoices, billing your client, and avoiding invoicing mishaps.
Luckily, invoicing software allows freelancers and small business owners to create and send invoices with much less effort, focusing on more lucrative activities than chasing client payments.
The best tools of this kind have evolved, covering a business’s full accounting spectrum: from creating estimates and expenses to tracking time and connecting to payment gateways.
This article will look at the top-rated invoicing software for small businesses and freelancers and analyze them in terms of their main features, pros and cons, and pricing structure. We’ll also look at what criteria to consider when choosing this software. After all, your whole business depends on it.
Invoicing software comparison
1. Paymo – Best invoicing software with project management features
Paymo – Invoicing software
If you want to marry invoicing software with project management, look no further than Paymo – the best invoicing software with advanced project management features.
Paymo made its debut in 2008 as a time tracker for scheduling and billing aimed at freelancers and small businesses (employers and staff), then slowly morphed into a full-featured project management app over the years. Besides projects and tasks, you can track time and pull time entries directly into an invoice. Then further customize it (in different languages), add a tax or discount, and get paid in 95 currencies.
Moreover, you can set three late payment reminders when the invoice is overdue. This year, Paymo introduced its online payment gateway, PM Payments, allowing your clients to pay you directly and securely via credit card and ACH. This feature is available for US clients. You can be paid online through other payment gateways, so take your pick.
But that’s not all. Paymo covers other invoicing aspects, such as creating estimates—from scratch or based on a project’s tasks—and expenses. There’s even the possibility of registering a deposit as a down payment to obtain the necessary resources to kickstart a project. This way, you’re better positioned to sell your services by the hour while managing projects in parallel.
Like most tools of its kind, Paymo comes with a free plan that covers the creation of unlimited clients and projects. Unfortunately, it only supports three invoices. Hence freelancers that send a dozen or more monthly invoices must rely on the paid version. Therefore, Paymo is best suited for service-based and project-based small businesses and medium teams.
- Users can create estimates, log billable hours, and register expenses, then convert all three of them into an invoice.
- Recurring invoices automate the sending of invoices based on your settings.
- Project management features, like Gantt charts and a resource scheduler.
- The free version is limited from an invoicing perspective, offering only three invoices. But there’s a workaround: you can delete one to reset the counter. Just make sure you’ve downloaded it first before deleting it! 🙂
Free for freelancers (1 user) with three clients and three invoices. The Starter plan ($4.95/user/month) also has a limit of 1 user, but you have unlimited clients and invoices.
The Small Office plan ($9.95/user/month) removes the user limit and comes with extra features like recurring tasks, active timers, live reports, file proofing, and versioning.
The Business plan ($20.79/user/month) covers the exact invoicing needs but comes with different project planning features such as Gantt charts and a resource scheduler.
2. Invoice Ninja – Best free invoicing software
Invoice Ninja – Invoicing software
Invoice Ninja is perhaps the most customizable free invoicing software out there.
Invoice Ninja does so much more than an invoicing system – lately, it focused more on PM features like Kanban boards, time tracking, etc. Its UI used to be quite rudimentary, but it was slightly updated since my first review—it’s now on v5. Still, it’s pretty intimidating and complex.
You can send unlimited invoices and quotes to up to 50 clients, create an inventory list of products, manage projects and tasks, and benefit from other general features that have to do with billing. Likewise, you can get paid via 45 different payment gateways, including Apple Pay and Alipay, to scale your business globally.
Coming back to the invoicing part, Invoice Ninja alerts you when a client has viewed or paid an invoice. It also offers a password-protected client portal where clients can view their invoices and payment history. This way, you can nurture a better relationship with them without chasing payments or breaking the bank to add them as regular users.
- Most generous free offering in terms of the number of clients covered.
- Forty-five payment gateways, including Apple Pay and Alipay.
- Password-protected client portal.
- Limited integrations.
- Not so excellent user experience
About the company: it was launched in early 2014 by a small team of three founders, Hillel, Dave, and Shalom—who claim to personally handle support—aiming to build a suite of apps for freelancers and small businesses. Invoice Ninja is based in Pardes Hanna, Hefa, Israel.
Invoice Ninja’s free plan is good enough to cover a freelancer’s needs even though it allows you to invoice only 20 clients and use four invoice templates. The Ninja Pro ($10/user) plan removes the client limit and Invoice Ninja watermark.
If you need to manage the financials with more people, the Enterprise plan depends on the number of users: $14 (1-2 users), $26 (3-5 users), $36 (6-10 users), and $44 (11-20 users).
3. Zoho Invoice – Best automated invoicing software
Zoho Invoice – Invoicing software
Zoho Invoice is the best invoicing software for small businesses that want to simultaneously automate their invoicing process and scale.
Zoho Invoice has been one of Zoho’s first products, supporting the parent company’s growth, and is well known for its plethora of SaaS tools. It has a generous offer, covering several invoice types (recurring, retainer, credit notes), estimates, and payments in different currencies that can be accepted through 10 payment gateways. Customers can sign up to the client portal when viewing/paying invoices via the link.
Due to the myriad of similarly branded products Zoho Corporation offers, finding tutorials and help articles is a bit confusing. Their websites and help pages are virtually impossible to distinguish. For example, I was looking for info on editing invoice templates in Zoho Invoice but got redirected to an article and Youtube video for Zoho Sign instead.
It offers sales inventory items, projects, and timesheets, although a bit more rudimentary when compared to Paymo. The invoice templates look better, but you can only edit them with placeholders, which can be difficult for beginners—plus, there’s no custom HTML/CSS.
What makes Zoho Invoice stand out, though, is the automation functionality. Of course, invoice and estimate templates and the ability to customize payment reminders and in-app notifications are a given. But the real value stems from the fact that you can trigger automations to activate specific discounts or late payment fees depending on how early your clients pay you. You’ll need to be literate in the Deluge language since you need to write these scripts independently.
Another common dissatisfaction among Zoho Invoice users is the inability to group multiple invoices and submit them once if you need to invoice clients in batches.
- Credit notes as a way to balance/cancel already existing invoices.
- Configurable automations for discounts and late payments.
- Extensive expenses category.
- Email templates don’t look so professional. Hence they might come off as spammy.
About the company: first known as AdventNet, Inc. (1996-2005), it was founded by Sridhar Vembu and Tony Thomas to provide network management software. Zoho CRM was released in 2005, followed by Zoho Invoicing in 2008. In 2009, the company was renamed Zoho Corporation after its online office suite.
In 2017, Zoho launched Zoho One, a comprehensive suite of over forty applications. As of October 2021, Zoho One has been expanded to 50 applications. Its headquarters are located in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
Zoho Invoice has recently rid itself of all its paid plans, being completely free—yes, you read that correctly—and posing at the same time a severe threat to Invoice Ninja.
Zoho Invoice is the best match for small businesses with complex invoicing workflows.
4. Hiveage – Best invoicing software for freelancers
Hiveage – Invoicing software
Hiveage, formerly called CurdBee, is a simple invoicing software for freelancers.
The setup is relatively straightforward. The team behind it stripped it down only to the essentials, leaving an easy-to-navigate interface that doesn’t overwhelm you. All you need to do is fill in your company details and clients (under a light CRM), then adding an invoice is a breeze.
The neat dashboard delivers the most relevant information about your cash flow for the current fiscal year: a profit & loss statement, plus a comparison between accounts receivable and accounts payable. Quite handy if you throw in the Track tab for tracking time, estimates, and mileage in a single place, making sense from a design perspective.
Yet one of Hiveage’s unique features, albeit quite hidden, is the multi-profile. Simply put, you can add different companies under the same account. Pair this up with the high number of commercial payment gateways and 30 languages available, and you’ve got a cheap invoicing tool for running multiple hustles.
If we look at the freemium plan, sending unlimited invoices to 5 clients is more than enough, making Hiveage the best invoicing software for freelancers. I didn’t find many drawbacks, given the app’s focus on simplicity and ease of use. If you’re looking for more robust accounting features, though, Hiveage is not the right choice.
Since my last review, its bookkeeping features slightly improved, now offering detailed reports with accounts aging, revenue by client, invoice details, tax summary, and output vs. input tax summary. Other than that, not much changed. Its features and UI are primarily the same—a straightforward, simple tool for freelancers.
- Simple, straightforward design.
- Multi-company profiles under the same account.
- Supports 30 languages and various payment gateways.
- Lacks robust accounting features such as bookkeeping and bank reconciliation.
About the company: founded by current CEO Lankitha Wimalarathna in 2006 as an internal invoicing tool, it eventually evolved into CurdBee in 2008, then Hiveage in 2014.
The Free plan is perfect for starting entrepreneurs, featuring unlimited invoices for five clients. The Basic plan ($19/month) is a better fit for freelancers who already have an established business with up to 50 clients.
The Pro plan ($29/month) brings in teams and financial reports for small businesses. The Plus plan ($49/month) adds support for importing data, which is a bit pricy if you ask me for software that only does simple invoicing.
5. FreshBooks – Best all-in-one invoicing and accounting software
FreshBooks – Invoicing software
Whether you’re all about the nitty-gritty of keeping accounting records, FreshBooks has got you covered as the best all-in-one invoicing software with accounting features.
Yes, I’m talking about double-entry accounting reports and the ability to invite your accountant for free to register journal entries – features that paint a clear picture of the money that enters and leaves your company. If you don’t need them, don’t worry. The Lite plan allows you to send and create unlimited invoices for up to 5 billable clients, which is why FreshBooks is suitable for teams with a low client headcount.
Invoicing-wise, FreshBooks nails the client-facing part. Aside from the regular and recurring invoices, users can generate retainers with concrete terms and payment frequency for dealing with clients on a monthly budget. Those in return can pay for their services via credit card or direct debit (via ACH), making it a win-win deal for both sides.
Freshbooks also offers other features to help you run a healthy business, such as basic time tracking, project management, vendor tracking (still in beta), and proposals for when you need to showcase your work in front of new clients. However, it doesn’t have too many customization options for invoices, and some users have experienced some glitches when connecting their bank accounts with expenses to pull in charges automatically.
- Retainer invoices with term agreements and payment frequency.
- Accounting and bank reconciliation features.
- Integrates with over 100 apps, including eCommerce (Shopify) and payroll (Gusto).
- Limited customization options for invoices.
When compared to other electronic invoicing software, FreshBooks is quite pricy. You only get one user/account, with every extra user costing $10/user/month.
Likewise, the Lite plan ($15/month) and the Plus plan ($25/month) cap the billable clients at 5, respectively 50. Companies with many clients have to look for cheaper FreshBooks alternatives unless they opt for the Premium ($50/month) plan for unlimited clients.
Each plan offers extra paid addons. There’s a 70% discount for the first three months available for all plans.
6. QuickBooks – Best invoicing software for reporting
QuickBooks – Invoicing software
Speaking of cheaper Freshbooks alternatives, QuickBooks might fit the bill for those who still want to rely on accounting and bookkeeping features—though not that affordable.
Sold under the umbrella of Intuit, QuickBooks is a popular online invoicing software best known for its robust reporting. This means you’ll get a detailed overview of your income and overall financial metrics, thanks to ready-available reports such as profit & loss statements and balance sheets. These are just the most common ones, so feel free to dive deeper and search after your desired ones by category (sales & customers, expenses & suppliers, etc.).
Otherwise, QuickBooks automatically categorizes invoice items under a specific accounting entry to keep your books clean for the tax season, leaving you the choice to accept or reject them. I also like that you can choose how much of your estimate to invoice, giving freelancers and agency owners a better way to get paid faster for a project/service as it gets completed.
Since my last review, QuickBooks’ focus has been on its desktop version, including new eCommerce features, plus pay and schedule bills within QuickBooks using a bank transfer, credit card, or debit card, instant deposits, and payment links.
With such a rich offering, where is QuickBooks missing the mark? Primarily in its pricing, which, even though it’s cheaper than FreshBooks’, it’s still offsetting for those who want to hop on it. Pricing plans also tend to jumble once a customer has paid for one. So if you stick to invoicing and have the other business aspects under control, there are other more affordable invoicing software above.
My conclusion is that this is a good solution for actual bookkeepers or companies that can afford in-house accountants.
- Robust accounting & financial reports.
- Automatic categorization of sales/invoice items.
- The ability to split an estimate into several invoices.
- High pricing compared to other quoting and invoicing software.
- Bulky and intimidating from a UI/UX perspective.
- Requires a good understanding of accounting.
The company was first introduced in 1983 by Scott Cook and Tom Proulx in Mountain View, California, USA. After the success of its Quicken product for personal financial management, the company developed similar services for small business owners. As of May 2014, QuickBooks Online had the most subscribers for an online accounting platform, with 624,000 subscribers.
Pricing: QuickBooks doesn’t have a free plan, which might pose a barrier to early adopters.
The platform still offers a Self-employed plan ($15/month) for solopreneurs, in addition to the Simple Star ($25), Essentials ($50, 3 users), Plus ($80, 5 users), and Advanced ($180/month, 25 users).
Remember that the pricing varies depending on the region where you browse their main website.
NOTE: Learn how to integrate Paymo with QuickBooks if your accountant needs it.
Criteria for choosing invoicing software
Whether you’re a freelancer or a small business, at a bare minimum, business invoicing software should allow you to create and send invoices to customers, either once or repeatedly. Yet, you still need to take into account the following criteria, depending on the needs that you want to cover for your business:
- Estimates and expenses: Can I enlist the items to be further sold (inventory or billable hours) under an estimate and register expenses to be additionally deducted at the end of the fiscal year?
- Accounting and bookkeeping: Do I need to keep double-entry accounting records to prepare the books in advance for my accountant?
- Online payment gateways: Can I accept online payments? If yes, which of those are preferred by my clients? Also, be aware that each payment processor charges its fees, so be sure to factor that in on the final invoice.
- Time tracking: Can I track time for the services provided and transform timesheets into an invoice? You should ask yourself this question only if you sell billable hours.
- Scalability: How scalable is the billing and invoicing software I’m testing? How many clients does it accommodate now and also in the future when my business grows?
- Accessibility: Can I create and send invoices with invoicing software for Mac or Windows? How about mobile invoicing?