Let Zoho Send the Bill

All businesses need to invoice their customers for products and services supplied. Invoicing is, of course, available in accounting packages that also track accounts receivable and handle many other chores such as financial statement preparation. But if you don't want the hassle of installing full-fledged accounting software and keeping your records up to date, you can use an online service that handles just the billing and collection services you require.

That's the appeal of Zoho Invoice, part of a growing suite of online business services from Zoho. Zoho Invoice lets you invoice customers by e-mail, track receivables, and collect payments online.

The flexibility of Zoho's suite design means you can share common data with other, extra-cost Zoho services, such as Zoho CRM (customer relationship management) and Zoho Projects. You may also export data to accounting apps in CSV, Excel, and other formats. But if invoicing is all you need, you can use and pay for just that.

The free edition of Zoho Invoice limits you to 5 invoices per month. Yet even the high-end plan, which offers sufficient capacity for most small businesses, costs a relatively modest $35 per month.

Despite its low cost, Zoho offers enough flexibility in invoice forms and sales reporting to suit the billing needs of almost any small business. If you don't require a complete integrated accounting program, but want to automate your sales invoicing and collections, Zoho Invoice could offer just the right mix of services for you.

Using Zoho Invoice

Signing up for Zoho Invoice, if you don't already have a Zoho account, is easy. Zoho Invoice is highly flexible--so much so that you could spend 20 to 30 minutes or so to choose the options that suit your business.

Zoho Invoice offers a selection of estimate and invoice templates designed for selling services or products, or billing for fixed price amounts (generally used for recurring bills).
I particularly liked the selection of estimate and invoice templates designed for selling services or products, or to collect fixed price amounts, which are generally used for recurring bills. You may also design your own custom template, with sales tax rates you define.

You can opt to skip most of the configuration steps until you create your first invoice. Zoho lets you select most invoicing options on the fly, as you create the bill.

Invoice lets you decide how to follow up on unpaid bills. You may select up to three e-mail reminders and determine how many days after the payment due date they should be sent. You may also change the default reminder message text.

Zoho Invoice is particularly well suited for exporters, since it supports multiple currencies.

I'm disappointed, however, that Zoho Invoice supports only PayPal for online payment of invoices. While PayPal is easy to use and not unreasonably priced for very small businesses, cheaper payment options exist for businesses that have larger monthly sales volumes--say, more than $10,000 per month.

Checking Out the Competition

FreshBooks, perhaps the best-known online invoicing service, offers both more and less than Zoho. FreshBooks supports more online payment gateways than just PayPal, and it lets you opt to have your bills printed remotely and sent via postal mail (at extra cost). Unlike Zoho, however, FreshBooks does not integrate with other online services to provide more complete accounting functionality, nor does it support multiple currencies.

FreshBooks has fewer configuration options and is best suited for a small service business. Zoho Invoice can better support a wider range of businesses, including those that sell products.

QuickBooks Online Basic accounting costs just $10 per month, but doesn't support estimates, online payments, or multicurrency operations. Online Plus, at $35 per month, adds estimating. The online payment option in Plus costs $60 for setup and $18 per month, in addition to percentage and transaction charges.

NetSuite is a Web-based business management and e-commerce service that offers far more features than Zoho Invoice. However, NetSuite is also considerably more expensive, with a base price of about $500 per month for a single user. It's a more-integrated system aimed at larger small businesses or midsized enterprises looking to manage all business finances in a single package.

Overall, Zoho Invoice will appeal to two types of users: businesses that do not use automated invoicing or use a less-capable solution, and businesses that now use full-fledged accounting software but don't require all its capabilities.

Zoho Invoice offers five plans in all, including the free plan with up to 5 invoices. The most inexpensive paid plan supports up to 25 invoices for $5 a month, and the high-end Elite plan handles 1500 invoices for $35 per month. None of the plans place limits on the number of customers.

Richard Morochove is an IT consultant and writer. Send him questions about using technology in your connected small to midsized business via e-mail . PC World may edit your query and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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