Harvest, a Beautiful Invoicing App
If you’re a freelancer or if you have your own incorporated limited company, at some point you’re going to have to send an invoice to your clients. There are many apps out there that can help you craft beautiful invoices, but which one should you choose?
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.
The challenge of good time tracking
At the heart of Harvest is time tracking: the ability to track the number of billable hours on a project. But building a UI for good time tracking is actually a lot harder than it seems.
When I ran my startups in The Netherlands, I was adamant that all my employees track their time weekly. This was a pure necessity, because we would bill our clients by the hour. We also measured how accurate our devs estimated tasks, by comparing their planning to their actual logged time.
Of course, this only works if the time tracking software has a slick and minimalistic user interface, adding as little friction as possible to the task of logging hours.
In my 20+ year career, I have seen many software applications that utterly fail at this task. Tell me if you’ve seen any of the following in your organization:
- Time entry using Excel spreadsheets
- Weekly time sheets that ask for super-detailed info for each task: start and end time, duration, project name, task type, employee name, etc.
- Hard-coded task lists that never quite describe what you have been doing, and no option to add your own descriptions.
- Mandatory fractional input, forcing you to type 4.25 instead of 4:15
The sad truth is that 90% of all time tracking software have terrible UIs, and as a result your employees are either going to boycott time entry, or if you force them, they’re just going to make up random numbers.
Harvest to the rescue
Fortunately there is a solution. Harvest has one of the best time tracking user interfaces I have ever seen, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it for both time-based invoicing and expense tracking.
Harvest offers weekly and daily time entry forms. The screen layout is crisp and clear, and Harvest only asks for relevant information: the date, the task worked on, and the duration. You can enter hours as fractions, or as hours:minutes which 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. You can start and stop as many times as you like, all the intervals are automatically merged together.
The stopwatch is great for when you’re on the road. With Harvest’s companion iOS or Android app, you can easily start and stop task-based timers, for example when you’re about go to into an off-site meeting.
The nice thing about Harvest is the great attention to detail. If you forget to stop the stopwatch, you will get a reminder email after a couple of hours. If you try to restart the stopwatch on a task in the past, Harvest will ask you to confirm if this is really what you want. These little details make Harvest a joy to use.
Harvest can also track your expenses, both billable and unbillable. Each expense has a date, description, optional scan of a receipt, and can be assigned to a client and project.
In the screenshot above, I’m attempting to log an Uber trip expense but Harvest points out that I am adding a billable expense to an unbillable project. I’m free to continue, but I will never be able to invoice this expense. More great attention to detail!
Once you add expenses 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 ensure that you create clean and accurate invoices.
Another great feature is the Expense Report: a PDF report that contains a list of all expenses in a given timeframe, plus scans of all corresponding receipts. Attach an Expense Report to your invoice, and your clients will never give you trouble about missing a receipt.
Harvest can create time- and expense-based invoices (or a combination of both). 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 customize the invoice.
You can also create a freeform invoice like in the above screenshot. All the usual features are there: PO numbers, multiple tax rates, the ability to set a discount, and so on.
After you have created a time- or expense-based invoice, all 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 uninvoiced 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.
My experience with Harvest
I’ve been using Harvest for years. 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 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 uninvoiced billable time entries. Harvest creates the entire invoice for me, this takes only seconds. All I have to do is confirm and send off the invoice by email.
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 the complete invoice for me in draft mode. Again all I have to do is confirm and send it off.
Expenses are very easy too. Every time I pay an expense, I use the Android 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 the Expense Report which lists all my scanned receipts. I e-mail both PDF documents to my client. This entire process only takes a couple of minutes.
About a year ago, I made the mistake of not logging my expenses with the Android app. At the end of the month I had an entire shopping bag full of receipts, and it took me almost 6 hours to scan everything, create the expense invoice by hand, and email everything off to my client.
I won’t be making that mistake again. With Harvest the same process takes only a couple of minutes. A massive time saver.
Want to try it out yourself?
Harvest has a free plan which gives you one user, two projects, four 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 at a time. I’ve recently upgraded to their Solo plan for $12/month because I needed support for 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 http://try.hrv.st/6-44957 to get a $10 discount.