Invoicing for the Future: TradeShift

Efficient accounting is the backbone of any successful business – only when money is flowing in and out of the system smoothly can you rest assured that your hard work is actually paying off. A large part of this is invoicing, which typically refers to sending estimates and quotes, billing clients and customers and keeping track of their approval/payment status. Whether you’re a freelancer, small business owner or CFO of a large enterprise, you need your company’s billing and book-keeping mechanisms to work well and that’s why it’s important to choose an invoicing system carefully.

There are a number of invoicing apps available online, with different feature sets and price points. TradeShift takes a different approach and aims to bring together your business network and invoicing all in one place, while offering options for customization and expansion of features. It’s also completely free. Sound like something you’d be interested in? Let’s sign up and find out.

Overview

TradeShift feels like a mashup of an invoicing app, LinkedIn and Google Apps. Apart from the app, there’s a strong business network built into the service wherein you can add your clients and vendors and exchange invoices easily. Plus there’s an open API for developers to create apps for users, like FTP upload and Paypal payment support. It’s a little overwhelming at first, especially if you’ve used other invoicing apps, because there are a number of new features that aren’t present elsewhere.

TradeShift's simple sign-up form

TradeShift's simple sign-up form

Getting started

Signing up is a breeze on the short registration form. There’s only one pricing plan – free. Once you’ve logged in, you can start filling in additional details to complete your company profile which will show up on the TradeShift network, including your location, contact info and logo.

You can then add connections which are your business contacts – you can do this by searching for them on the TradeShift network or by adding them manually, filling in all the details you have of them. From here on, invoicing is relatively simple and straightforward; select a connection, add in your billing details and send it across in a snap.

Connections (business contacts) on TradeShift

Connections (business contacts) on TradeShift

Creating invoices

The process of creating invoices is fairly similar to that of most invoicing apps. Enter item details (item description, code, quantity and price per unit), invoice issue date, delivery date and payment date, person reference, payment method and additional notes. Once you’re done, preview the invoice (which will add your company name and information as well as your connection’s details) and share it with your connection on TradeShift or email it via the app. After you’ve sent the invoice, you can view it in the Documents section on the app and note or change its status when it’s paid, and you can also download a PDF of it for offline reference.

It’s worth noting that you can’t download the PDF until you either send or archive the invoice, which is a bother if you need to have the PDF to send as a hard copy or from a different email address. The companion app for Android currently allows you to view and add connections and create invoices using a simplified interface adopted from the web app, which is great for billing clients on the move.

A sample invoice

A sample invoice

Social invoicing and apps

When you enter your company’s details, you can also choose to make it visible on TradeShift’s network of businesses that use the app – similar to LinkedIn or Highrise. The business network aspect doesn’t seem terribly important at this point in time as there are just a few features that it brings along – finding connections (useful only if your clients/vendors are already using TradeShift), sending invoices via the app (and bypassing email) and messaging along with invoices. Messaging is well-integrated: if you email an invoice via TradeShift, the client can reply to the email and you’ll see that message in TradeShift (similar to Basecamp). Still, it feels like it’s going to be a while before companies and their accounting teams worldwide are going to be comfortable getting social with their invoices, even with the layer of privacy TradeShift offers.

TradeShift is great for businesses great and small, and freelancers too. There are additional apps that users can plug in to TradeShift that will add functionality to suit their needs. Freelancers and small businesses can add Paypal support, a quote/estimate creator (which features the same interface as the invoice creator) and credit notes. Enterprises can add apps like API access to their own accounts, branch management, ERP system integration via Babelway, digital signing and more.

Apps for TradeShift

Apps for TradeShift

Something’s missing…

Presently I’ve a couple of issues with this app. Firstly, TradeShift’s concept of offering apps to customize the feature set sounds good on paper but may not rub everyone the right way. For example, you can’t create estimates without installing the Quotes app. I could also use a more flexible invoice template that allows me to add images (like product pictures), custom text fields and simple text formatting (italics, bold, etc.). Similarly, exporting invoices should be easier and offer more options, such as exporting all invoices intended for a particular client or within a date range. However, as with all web apps, it won’t be surprising to see TradeShift fleshed out further with these features in the future.

Is TradeShift right for your business?

While there a lot of great things about TradeShift (including the single great price of free), it could use more work before it becomes the invoicing app of choice for businesses worldwide. For freelancers there are a number of options available which offer better-tailored experiences and no hassles. Large companies with forward-thinking accounting departments could view this as a great option with the useful apps on offer within TradeShift. In the end, it’s a good app that will only improve over time, so sign up, send out an invoice or two and get paid!


Summary

TradeShift is a free invoicing service that also packs in a network for businesses and offers apps for added functionality.

7