More as an experiment than anything else, I ran a comparison between Blinksale and Freshbooks. What spurred me was the recent announcement of the integration between Freshbooks and Basecamp‘s lightweight project management.
For this test, I first set up an account in Basecamp and entered a few project details, including an account, tasks and messages. I then set up a Freshbooks account and completed the Basecamp account details for integration. At first the integration failed because I had not set up the Basecamp API to accept calls from Freshbooks. On checking back at Basecamp, it was not clear that this is something I should do. Similarly, while the instructions on Freshbooks were simple and clear, they are contained in a lightly coloured box to the right hand side and did not immediately catch my eye. Also, be warned – once the API is set up, there is no obvious way to disable it. This could be important in the future should you decide to drop Basecamp add-on services.
Once that was completed, importing Basecamp information was easy. There are two ways to proceed. Per the Freshbooks blog:
Use Case 1 – Basecamp customers need to generate an invoice for Basecamp projects based on their time entries and/or their To-Do lists.
[Watch a Screencast of Use Case 1]
Use Case 2 – Basecamp customers want to import projects into FreshBooks where they can use them to track time. In this scenario your Basecamp project becomes a FreshBooks project and when you create To-Dos in Basecamp, your To-Dos will appear in FreshBooks as tasks. Then, whenever you want, you can invoice for your project like a normal FreshBooks project.
[Watch a Screencast of Option 2]
All straightforward. But this is the point where life can get confusing. If you are on the $49 a month Basecamp plan then you can use time tracking which can be pulled through into Freshbooks. Time recording is also available in Freshbooks but there is no automatic pull through from timesheets. Therefore, if you have projects with numbers of staff engaged, then Basecamp is the way to go with automated pull through into Freshbooks.
The Blinksale process is similar except there is no time and project integration. since I had already set up the Basecamp API, all I needed to do was decide which clients to pull through and from there billing becomes routine.
Which do I prefer? Hard to tell. I love Blinksale’s billing simplicity. But I also like the prospect of project tracking and time recording. I know this runs counter to what I’ve said in the past about timesheets but if you’re engaged on a project requiring time recording then automating it back to the billing process removes more pain.
However, neither system is hassle free and there is the potential for confusion. I was working with the free versions of Freshbooks/Basecamp. While I can have as many staff as I like working in Basecamp, (it is priced per project) I have to upgrade my Freshbooks account for more than a single staff person. The Blinksale import from Basecamp produced an error, although the account details were correctly pulled through. In Freshbooks, I can share documents – ideal when for those small consulting jobs. There is no such facility in Blinksale. I can share documents in Basecamp but only when I create messages.
More important, the Freshbooks/Basecamp combination brings with it a cost issue. I’d really like to automate time updates for billing but then I’m going to be committing to $76 per month. That’s a problem because while I could game both systems by upgrading for a single month where I know I need additional features, it’s still a hefty sum. At the very least, I’m either going to be paying $51 per month. If I go for the Blinksale option then the cost drops to $36 per month. More on this in my next piece.