Whether you’re a one-person freelance business, or a massive organization, one of the toughest things to keep track of is time. For many companies, that report and bill to various clients, being able to report how much time has been spent, what’s being accomplished, and what’s being worked on is a terrific feature.
Harvest is an app for just such a company, offering tools that help employees track time, invoice clients, and keep tabs on all the projects running at a given time. It’s an impressive application, and with a 30-day free trial (without even a credit card required), it’s worth a look for companies and organizations of any size.
One of the best things about Harvest is how simple its setup is. All that’s initially required from you is the name and basic information about your company (like how big it is – Harvest will look different if you’re a freelancer than it would in a company of 100 people), and the URL you want for your app.
It takes about a minute to get set up, and then you can immediately get to work.
Once the 30-day trial ends, Harvest has a few options. There’s the Business Plan, with 10 users, which is $90/month plus $5 more per user. There’s the Basic Plan, for 5 users and $40/month plus $10/month per extra user. The Solo plan is for freelancers or one-man bands, at $12/month plus $10/month for other users. There is an always free option, but it’s limited – fewer projects and clients allowed.
During sign-up, one of the things you’re asked to do is import people and projects from the popular Basecamp application from 37signals. The integration between Harvest and Basecamp is a great thing, and works well – allowing you to track your projects, employees and tasks across the two applications.
Once you’re up and running, it’s time to poke around Harvest. The app is essentially broken into three pieces: Tracking, Reporting, and Invoicing.
The first thing you’ll want to do in Harvest is set up the work you’re going to be doing. Under “Manage,” you can create projects, list clients, and set up tasks. Tasks and projects can both be assigned to clients, and be set as billable or non-billable.
One of the great things about Harvest — across the whole application — is how flexible it is. Want to bill one client at one price, and another at different one? No problem. What if you charge more for a particular task, within the same client? You can do that as well.
Whatever the problem, Harvest can probably handle it. This comes at some cost of usability – not everything’s as easy to find as it could be – but it’s built to handle changing and flexible work.
Once you’ve got your work set up (again, much of this can be imported from Basecamp if you’re a user), it’s time to start tracking time spent. Next to every task in Harvest, there’s a little clock: click it, and you’ll start being timed working on that task. Or, if you’ve just done 3 hours of work for a client, you can enter it in manually.
Time-management doesn’t work unless it’s easy to track your time, and Harvest gets that. You can track time via the Web app, a Windows or Mac desktop app, an iPhone-optimized mobile interface, or even via SMS through Twitter. Tracking time is as easy as letting Harvest know when you’ve started working, and then when you’ve stopped.
Expenses (like mileage, food, and the like) can also be tracked through Harvest, which moves it that much closer to your one-stop billing service.
The best thing about Harvest is how good it is at reporting where your time is going, and making that information instantly, simply, and attractively available. When you’ve got a few employees working with or for you, this becomes even more useful.
By going to the “Reports” tab, and then clicking “Overview,” you can get a quick look at the summary of how you’re spending your time. You’ll see how much you’ve worked today, this week, and this month. The Overview page also has an invoice summary, letting you know how much money is still outstanding, and how much came in last month and year.
The “Time” section of the Reports tab drills down your time even further, letting you see your time by person, task, or even billable vs. non-billable.It’s a great way to figure out what the whole company or organization is up to, rather than just tracking your own time.
Harvest comes with different types of accounts, which means you can allow some people to see everyone’s timesheets, some to see only ones for relevant projects, and some to see only their own.
Under the “Project Status” section, you’ll see a list of all the things you’re working on, how much time has been spent on each, as well as how many hours have been spent, billed, and paid for. You can compare that against the budget you can choose to set for any project, to get a quick sense of where the project stands.
For more detailed reports and status checks, there’s the “Detailed Time” piece. Harvest’s reports are endlessly customizable – by employee, client, project, and even the type of hours. It makes reporting back to clients, and giving checks and updates about progress and billing efficient and painless.
The last part of all this is actually getting paid for your work – Harvest has that covered too. For the beginning of your project, there’s the “Estimates” tab, where you can create an estimate or quote to send to a client, and keep track of it in Harvest.
After you’ve done some work, there comes invoicing. Clients have to pay for work, expenses, and products, a process that Harvest wants you to control totally from within the app.
The first thing you’ll want to do is set up your invoices like they’re supposed to look – you can include a company logo and address, some default figures (like tax percentage), and an easy way to use Harvest with PayPal to make collecting payments even easier.
Next comes actually sending out invoices. You get two options – a mostly auto-populated invoice based on hours and expenses for a given client, or a more open, free-form invoice.
From there, you can invoice only what you want to – hours from the last month, all un-invoiced billable hours, expenses alone, or some combination thereof. Given what you bill per hour, how many hours you’re billing, and the cost of your expenses, Harvest automatically populates the numbers for you.
You can send the invoice via email, right from Harvest, or do any of a number of other things. A PDF can be created for your invoice, or a link can be generated so that the client can see the invoice online.
Once you’ve sent out the invoice, you’ve got to get paid. Harvest notes and holds the balance for every invoice, and lets you know which haven’t been paid yet. When you get paid for an invoice, click the “Receive Payment” button to keep Harvest updated.
All this information, in a smart move by Harvest, can easily be exported to Quickbooks or Excel at a moment’s notice. Though your data is always available online, and is securely backed up by Harvest, having a universally-known way to back up and share the Harvest data is a nice touch.
For companies of almost any size, Harvest might be worth a look. It’s smartly fluid, with a ton of different ways to track and look at data about how your company works.
There is a fairly steep learning curve within the app, though: a few things are hard to find (a tip: about 80% of what you’ll need to do can be found on the “Overview” page), and not everything works like it seems it ought to at first. Once you get the hang of the app, however, and learn the terminology (the difference between “task” and “project,” and that everything starts with a client, then a project, then a task) it works relatively simply.
The group that would get the most out of Harvest, it seems to me, is small organizations with people not necessarily in an office. If there are lots of remote workers, or employees who travel all the time, having such a simple way to see how their time is being spent, and view status both by project and employee is a useful thing to have, and to be able to share with clients.