Multilingual billing… what are your options?

I work and build websites in Quebec where I’m required to provide invoices in French as the default. This is perfect for my French-speaking clients.  But many of my English-speaking clients prefer English invoices. This means that I need a multilingual billing system.

Many billing systems claim to be multilingual, when they are really unilingual in a language other than English. Unfortunately that type of system won’t work if you need to invoice some clients in one language and some in another.

Having two billing accounts isn’t practical either, mainly because it means maintaining two separate sets of accounting, but also because occasionally, due to personnel changes for example, clients change their minds about what language they prefer.

I’ve compiled a list of hosted services, self-hosted tools and desktop applications that I’ve found can do the job. I haven’t tested them all, so feel free to weigh in with your experiences with these tools.

Because I’m in Canada, I’m also looking for a tool that can handle the complex Canadian tax system. I need to calculate compound taxes and and display each tax on a single line. The following tools will do this, unless otherwise indicated.

freshbooks

Freshbooks

Commercial, hosted, $30+/month.

Freshbooks is one of the leading online invoicing services and it’s used by a huge number of freelancers. For $30 per month, you can send unlimited invoices. The service also provides time tracking and mobile billing and integrates with a number of payment gateways. The Canadian company originally did not support compound taxes, but they now do. You can customize your logo, but are restricted to the invoice layouts that are provided, however these are quite nice. Your clients are tagged with a language choice and this can be changed later on. However, although the invoices can be in a language other than English, the interface that clients are sent to and the automated emails they receive are only in English. This would be an excellent option if this weren’t the case.

Invoicera

Invoicera

Commercial, hosted or self-hosted, $20+/month hosted or $3000+ self-hosted. 

Invoicera is a commercial, online invoicing tool. Invoice language can be customized on a per client basis, and modified later on as well. Invoicera offers a number of interesting features including auto-biling, multiple currencies, and multiple payment gateways. You can customize some aspects of the invoices it creates, but you are limited to the few layouts that are provided. The hosted service costs $20 per month for unlimited invoices. There are cheaper plans, but the limits on those plans make them impractical. The self-hosted version, at $3000, is out of the range of most freelancers.

FreeAgent

Commercial, hosted, $20/month.

FreeAgent is a third online invoicing service that appears to allow both multilingual billing and compound taxes. The service costs $20 per month and includes some accounting and tax preparation tools.

bamboo invoice

Bamboo Invoice

Opensource, self-hosted, free.

Bamboo Invoice is an opensource product built on the Codeignitor framework by Derek Allard of ExpressionEngine fame. It’s fairly easy to install, but you will need to know your way around an FTP application, and phpMyAdmin (or similar tools). One it’s installed, it will invoice in multiple languages, but you’ll need to apply a small hack in order for it to calculate compound taxes. There is a support forum, but no real documentation at this time. Bamboo Invoice is still in early but stable development.

activcollab

activeCollab

Commercial, self-hosted, $500 + $200/year.

activeCollab began as an opensource project, which was then converted to a commercial product. It’s a project management and collaboration tool, similar to Basecamp, but the corporate version also includes built-in invoicing. As a project management tool, it’s very full-featured, but as an invoicing tool it’s more limited. It is perfectly multilingual, including the interface, or a per-user basis. However, at $500 it isn’t cheap, and you’ll pay an additional $200 per year for upgrades and support.

billings

Billings 3

Commercial, desktop application, $40.

Billings 3 by MarketCircle is a desktop application for Apple computers (there is no PC version). The biggest plus is that it allows you to create custom-designed invoice templates, or use one of the attractive templates they provide. You can use this to create language-based templates and then choose the language you want on a per-invoice-basis. The major downside is that customizing templates is complicated and time-consuming and the documentation for template design is poor. It functions as a full bookeeping tool. It’s time tracking feature is excellent. Compound taxes, item templates, and cashflow reports are nice features, though of course as a desktop application, it doesn’t allow you to accept payments through an online interface. There is a mobile app for iOS devices ($15), that is very easy to use but it won’t allow you to use custom templates. This is what I currently use. Read a review of Billings 3. Note that this is not the same as the online invoicing service Billings, which is not multilingual.

billings pro

Billings Pro

Commercial, hosted or self-hosted, $20/month or $200/user.

Billings Pro is a multi-user, online version of Billings 3. It adds a web interface, multi-user time tracking and recurring invoicing to the feature set. It also has it’s own dedicated mobile app and a desktop component. This solution would probably be overkill for freelancers but might be an interesting solution for agencies.

Not in the running

The following popular products do not provide multilingual functionality: Harvest, Zoho Invoice, Blinksale.

So have you tried any of these? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Multilingual billing… what are your options?

  1. I’ve used Studiometry since 2004 as a time-tracking and billing system. It handles complex taxes and you can have as many invoice templates as you want in whatever languages you like. It also has timesheet features for larger agencies with multiple employees working on the same projects, along with tons of other features.
    Commercial, desktop, Mac/PC/iOS, $200/user
    http://www.oranged.net/studiometry/

  2. I use Freshbooks and highly recommend it. My 2 favorite features (beyond multiple currency and compound taxes) are being able to send an email invoice *and* a snail mail version with the click of a button (no trips to the Post Office) and knowing when a client has looked at an invoice (tracking). I use the Time Tracking software too and really like it. It’s *almost* as good as Harvest (Harvest does more nuanced reports). Tech support is über-friendly and helpful. Plus, the interface uses happy colors which one needs when dealing with billing.

    Freshbooks is an add-on for (i.e. plays well with) Xero.com, which I use for online accounting. Xero is multicurrency but I don’t think it’s multilingual.

  3. I use Harvest, which isn’t on your list, but suits my purposes because Ontario moved to the HST, so I don’t have a need for the multiple taxes (I guess that’s one plus of that ridiculous tax), and 98% of my clients are in the US or international anyway.

    I tried Bamboo Invoice and it was good (not that I had a doubt, since Derek was my first web design instructor), but at the time I wanted something more idiot proof. ;)

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