Shopping for invoicing software.
Now that I have your full and rabid attention, here’s why you should not trust free software by default.
The Quick Story
After 6 months of ignoring my invoicing system, and working with a duct-taped system of PayPal and Google Docs templates – I was tired of looking a bit unprofessional and feeling disorganized.
So I went shopping online for an invoicing system – that wouldn’t cost more than the invoices themselves, and wouldn’t sit like a hulking mess on my desktop (here’s to you… QuickBooks).
I started in the Chrome web store, diving through all the shiny apps and the companies that run them.
Invoicera and FreshBooks were very, very similar. Similar pricing, features, etc.
FreshBooks was slightly pricier, but had better reviews, much better copywriting…and just happened to have sponsored The Greatest Podcast In The World.
So FreshBooks had the narrowest of mental leads.
But then there was Toast. Similar features, similar reviews, similar everything.
And Toast was FREE!!!!
Free invoicing software. Interesting.
Free is normally the siren song of the Internet. Chris Anderson of Wired wrote a book about the concept.
Everyone wants free.
I mean it’s free. Why pay FreshBooks $20/month when you can get it for…nothing???
Free doesn’t mean that there’s no costs or that there is no value.
Instead, it just has to be transferred in a different manner than cash.
And that is why you should be very suspicious of free – especially on the Internet where it sometimes seems like stuff should be free just because it’s the Internet.
If something is free – then you are either the Product or the Producer…not the customer.
All the big Web companies (Google, Facebook, etc) that have free products turn you into a Product to sell to companies.
To Google, my value is in the information I produce, keywords I generate, and behavior that gets analyzed.
To Facebook, my value is in the explicit marketing demographics and relationships I define.
To Mint, my value is in being a very niche target market for advertising (ie, financial products).
If something is free and open-source – it’s assumed that everyone who uses it will produce to keep the project going. It’s more transparent, but also more work and more fickle without a large community.
The Point – If something is free online, there’s a catch. But the catch should be totally transparent. Google makes it’s ads and data mining very explicit. Facebook is a bit shadier.
Be suspicious if you aren’t paying money for value.
What That Has To Do With Toast
So, in this case with free invoicing software, it’s not open-source – it’s for profit – so…I reasoned that…
- It has real costs – similar to FreshBooks and Invoicera.
- They might have targeted advertising, which I don’t want on my invoices or anything secure, really.
- They might be data-mining my invoicing, which I don’t want.
- They are going to try to make money later…so I might get stuck with #2, #3, or a new, paid price that’s higher than they other companies. Not good.
- They are going to go out of business – leaving me to go through this process again. Not good.
I never tried Toast – they have great reviews – but lost my business specifically because they were free.
Here’s the best deal in business. You provide a service – you get money. Nothing complicated.
For some reason that’s not how businesses or customers think online (37 Signals excluded).
The Other Point – Whenever installing free software – be very suspicious and assume you’re paying in some other way rather than money.
[edit 8/27/2012] Toast Invoice is now charging (see below in the comments)! They have a really great set of features, and a great story behind the business. If you are looking for something a bit more affordable and more streamlined than FreshBooks – be sure to check out Toast Invoice!