Many sole proprietors and small businesses are too busy fretting about their cash flow to actually do anything constructive about it. That’s not surprising really, since most accounting ‘solutions’ are still drowning in double-entries or tangled up in trial balances, leaving small businesses with little choice but to soldier on with Word and Excel.
A warm welcome, then, for Free Agent, a subscription-based web service which offers the kind of functionality that such businesses require, yet presents it via an interface that will attract rather than repel.
The service is available in four flavours: £15.00 a month for sole traders, £20.00 for a limited liability partnership (LLP) or partnership, £25.00 a month for a limited company and $20.00 a month for the so-called universal services, suitable for small businesses worldwide.
The basic subscription gets you support for unlimited clients and projects, lets you track time, expenses and mileage, create invoices, work with statements downloaded from your bank, generate sales tax reports, real-time Profit and Loss analysis and balance sheets, Self Assessment Income Tax calculations and has support for UK VAT.
More expensive subs add features like profit share calculation, dividend vouchers, basic payroll, PAYE and NI calculation and Corporation Tax. In terms of looking after your data, Free Agent provides a secure connection, encrypts key fields of each account (company name, bank account details and so on) and backs everything up every 15 minutes.
Setting up is pretty straightforward: fill in a few basic business details, tell Free Agent when the business started, about your accounting year, whether you’re VAT registered, your opening bank balance and so on, then you can start adding contacts from GMail, Outlook, your e-mail address book or by hand.
Free Agent knows about bank accounts and, although it’s not best practice, lets you import personal as well as business accounts. It’s easy to create an invoice based on your list of contacts and, although Free Agent likes businesses that bill by the hour or day, it’s also happy to handle projects where costs are bundled together.
Invoices can be set to use letterheaded paper or e-mailed automatically on the issue date and there’s a simple feature that lets you add your own header graphic to invoices. Expenses and bills are elegantly handled and you can prepare estimates, track long term projects, pay bills and handle both Income tax and VAT.
In use, you’ll spend most time with the Overview screen which gives you a snapshot of your business. You can choose exactly what information you want to see and then arrange it by dragging and dropping items around the screen (think NetVibes) and enter information directly into any displayed item without having to ‘open’ it.
Online VAT submission should be available before the end of the year but there’s no timescale for completing full tax returns online and currently you’ll need to export your accounts as an XLS file.
The help’s a bit of a mish-mash of FAQs, knowledgebase and forums, and a well-signposted, friendly ‘getting started’ guide would be invaluable for beginners and help them make the most of the 30-day trial. More invoice themes would be nice as well (or a way of producing your own that didn’t involve HTML and CSS).
Still, Free Agent understands that the trick to making you want to use an accounts service is threefold – it has to be easy, it has to look good and it has to make you look good by helping you keep on top of your business – and this succeeds on all counts.
Company: FreeAgent Central
Contact: 0131 208 0281