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The 10 best features of FreeAgent that have helped us to grow Identify

January 2018 marked the 4th birthday of Identify Web Design, and it’s safe to say we probably wouldn’t be where we are today without our trusty old accounting package FreeAgent. We’ve actually used FreeAgent for longer than 4 years – we also used it for a year or so before we switched to a Ltd company, back in the days when there was just me!

I think it’s important to understand the changes that FreeAgent has seen us through since 2014:

  • Growth in staff numbers from 1 to 7
  • A 300%+ increase in turnover
  • A significant increase in the number and types of projects handled
  • Registration under the Flat Rate VAT scheme
  • Registration under the normal VAT scheme

Choosing a particular accounting package is a huge decision for any business – because the task of switching over to an alternative should it not work out is something that I imagine many would dread. I’d actually never considered these possibilities back when I choose FreeAgent – but luckily it has handled these tasks, and our growth, effortlessly.

So, down to the nitty gritty – here are the 10 FreeAgent features that I honestly couldn’t imagine living without in our day to day lives as a digital agency:

1. Automated bank imports and transaction guessing

Single handedly the one feature of FreeAgent that saves us hours of time every single week. Many of our clients still pay someone to manually enter outgoings from paper receipts onto their accounting system every day – I find this absolute madness, and often when I show them how easy this process is, they want to make the switch!

How does it work? FreeAgent automatically imports all of our business bank account transactions every day. It’s actually intelligent enough to automatically guess the majority of these as well – so for example if I transfer money from one account to another, or a customer makes a payment and it matches an invoice amount – it’ll automatically explain the transaction. They explain it way better than I can here. Any that it can’t explain or isn’t sure about, it’ll flag for you to go in and sort out.

2. Automatic VAT reporting and submission

Because we use bank imports, and I know that all of our outgoings are correctly accounted for, this makes doing our VAT returns a breeze. The only thing we need to make sure we do correctly is set the correct VAT amount when explaining our transactions. Here’s an example of me explaining one of the many hosting invoices we pay using FreeAgent’s simple interface.

FreeAgent automatically adds these to your VAT return so when it’s that dreaded time to pay our friends at HMRC, all we need to do is verify that we’ve entered everything correctly and hit submit. FreeAgent automatically files the VAT return with HMRC’s online services so you don’t need to do this.

3. Project time tracking

A feature we live and die by. All of our developers track their day to day project time using FreeAgent’s handy time tracking facility. Here’s how simple it is to use:

Simply select the project, the task, and either start your timer or enter the time you’ve spent doing the work – simples.

The benefits of this are immeasurable – it helps us to ensure projects aren’t running over budget, quote more accurately for similar projects in future, track back who worked on a specific project when, and also ensure that our team are motivated and working efficiently. When you’re creating an invoice you can easily import the time from the related project and display it as 1 line item or individual items (we just have to remember to check for client unfriendly comments that our developers can leave from time to time!)

4. Recurring invoicing

A proportion of our revenue as a digital agency comes from recurring billing. As many agencies do, we have clients that we want to bill on a monthly basis for continuing services such as hosting, SEO, maintenance, retainers etc.

FreeAgent allows us to set up automatic invoices to be sent on a specific date with certain repetition rules so that all we need to worry about is delivering the work for our clients. It’ll also send out automatic reminders should our clients forget to pay their bills!

5. GoCardless, PayPal and Stripe integration

Making it easy for our clients to pay is paramount to us getting paid on time. We all know what a hassle it can be sometimes to make a payment through online banking, especially if it’s to a payee you’ve never set up before – so, where did I put that card reader?

FreeAgent integrates with a number of payment providers – we use them all – GoCardless, PayPal and Stripe. All of them present a nice link to our customers along with their invoice giving them more choice than they could ever want to part with their monies in trade for our lines of code!

But wait, it gets better… For our longer term clients who’ve set up a GoCardless Direct Debit mandate with us, it’s as easy as clicking the take payment now button – we don’t even need to wait for them to pay us now!

6. Payroll management and HMRC auto reporting

As well as getting paid, it’s important that we pay our amazing team of developers, designers and account managers on time, every month.

Don’t worry – these details aren’t real!

It’s as simple as that. FreeAgent’s payroll section allows you to generate payslips every month, make any amendments (for example to add on expense, bonus or commission payments), and then it’ll file it with HMRC ensuring that you’re up to date with your PAYE payments and the like. I didn’t start using FreeAgent’s payroll feature until a couple of years ago, and I wish I’d of started using it sooner.

7. Ability to produce estimates and quotes

There’s no easier way to lose a potential job than by producing an unprofessional quote or estimate. FreeAgent allows us to produce these with ease, here’s an example of an estimate I’ve just created for us…

The bit we really like here is that we can mark our estimates as approved or rejected – so we can also track how successful we’ve been in quoting jobs (or not!). For approved estimates it also gives you the option to then convert them into invoices…

8. Dashboard overview of our key financial information

Image courtesy of FreeAgent – sorry, there was too much information to remove from ours! I also don’t have the luxury of “breakfast meetings” either!

They say a picture speaks a thousand words – and in this case more! I look at our FreeAgent dashboard at least once a day – it allows me to see:

  • How our cashflow is looking (and I can refine this quickly to 12, 6 or 3 months).  Year on year this helps me to identify months where we can expect to be a bit tight for cash and plan more appropriately…
  • I can see how much money we’re owed at a glance
  • I can see our bank account balances (courtesy of the cool automatic import)
  • I can see when my next tax bill is due whether that be corporation tax, VAT or PAYE
  • I can’t honestly say I use the expenses feature, so maybe that’s one I need to investigate more!

It’s key for any business to know exactly where they are financially at any time, and this allows me to know just that.

9. The API

We’re just starting to explore this more – we’re in the process of developing some internal tools that will allow us to send alerts when something isn’t quite right with a project’s time tracking. We’re really excited about this – and the API allows you to do much more than just that. There’s a full set of developer docs available here if you want to know more.

If you’re not inclined to or able to develop your own add-ons there are a number of cool ones available here from 3rd parties – we particularly like some of the financial addons that are pretty cool. We’ll report back more here when we’ve made progress with our internal time tracking add-ons!

10. The fantastic support team

Okay so it’s pretty rare that we ever need them – I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve had reason to speak to the FreeAgent support team which is testament to the quality of their product, however, on the occasions that I have – I can honestly say the service has been amazing.

I once messed up a VAT return and they were more than willing to offer advice and assistance, even though I don’t technically think it was within their remit.

So keep it up guys – a rarity in today’s world to say the least!

So, there you have it…

If you run a digital agency (large or small), and you’re looking around for a reliable and feature rich cloud based accounting package, we’d highly recommend you give FreeAgent a go. Okay we’re a little bit biased, but we hope our run through of features has given you an insight as to how integral FreeAgent is to our day to day operations at Identify.