FreshBooks, www.freshbooks.com, is an online cloud-based solution that can create one-time and recurring invoices and accept payments in return. The service, which is cloud-based, is designed for small service-based companies that invoice their customers for time and material, or time plus materials projects.

Navigating straightforward, on-screen fill-in forms, users can set up new customers, track time and material costs, keep track of simple inventory, track business related expenses, send an estimate or invoice as an e-mail or by snail mail, and keep track of taxes, and then, using integration partners such as PayPal and Google Checkout, accept payment online. The program will also account for payment by check or cash. If desired, the user can also arrange online for a paper invoice via traditional mail.

Every interaction is conducted "in the cloud" from anywhere, anytime, as long as the user has access to the Internet on a computer, tablet or other computing device. A user can even issue an estimate that a customer could see on a smart phone and then respond to. If accepted, the estimate can be automatically turned into an invoice. 

The first three clients a month are free for any company. After that, a sliding scale kicks in:  $19.95 for up to 25 customers or $29 for unlimited customers a month. The solution can be set up for multiple users so various crews can use it.

For contractors who sub out the labor to different crews, the subcontractors can bill the contractor using FreshBooks, allowing the contractor to invoice the client (customer) at the contractor's choice of rates or price. 

The program offers (under all plans) five types of bookkeeping reports, nine invoice reports and five types of timesheets.

In addition, new subscribers and even those trying the solution out for free are offered the services of a personal coach to help set up and brand company invoices, design and customize workflows, and learn industry best practices for receiving payments online.

ServiceCEO, www.insightdirect.com, is a service management software solution designed to enable small- and mid-sized contractors to manage a service business, from estimates and job orders to invoices and payment.

A turnkey solution that uses icons and menus for navigation, it addresses sales and estimating, scheduling and dispatching, customer management, billing and collection, employee and vendor payments, inventory management and business analysis. Optional mobile apps for iPad, iPhone and other smart phones extend a lot of relevant functionality to the field. 

With ServiceCEO, users in the back office and in the field access all customer information from one screen, including estimates, jobs, billing history, personal notes, equipment tracking, service contracts, multiple job locations and more.

Sales and estimating capabilities allow users to instantly turn a (customizable) estimate into a booked job with a single click.

Users can easily schedule and dispatch all jobs from a single screen using drag and drop functionality, automatically optimizing routes and generating driving directions. Jobs can be viewed by day, week or month. Users can also instantly turn a completed work order into a professional, customizable invoice and check on existing invoices to see which have not been paid and/or how much money is still outstanding. 

The program, which integrates with QuickBooks, also addresses employee and vendor payments and will calculate commissions for sales staff. Users can view and edit payroll information and quickly print payroll reports and also pull up a tabbed screen for all vendor contacts, catalogue items available with pricing, and open and closed purchase order history linked directly to QuickBooks vendor records.

The inventory module allows an importing capability for sell and cost figures.

The software is configurable to meet HVAC and other service business needs and scalable to accommodate individual company needs. Users can turn features on and off as needed, allowing room for growth.

ServiceCEO Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android devices allows instant access to job and estimate information remotely. Users can check customer contact information, get directions, update a job status, read and edit notes, collect payments, capture photos and signatures, and e-mail PDF work order receipts with embedded job photos and customer signatures. The app saves all activity information if the Internet connection is weak or non-existent and then syncs with ServiceCEO Office as soon as connectivity is restored.

The ServiceBridge v2 app gives iPhone or iPad users, including management and field service personnel, mobile access to ServiceCEO in the back office, presenting information in a format optimized for the iPhone, iPad or smart phone screen. In addition to access to job details, tasks, inventory and customer data, users equipped with the capabilities can capture customer data, photos, signatures, and payments and can manage work orders, time cards, forms and reports and schedules. Work order receipts and other forms can be customized in the field. Custom forms allow conversion of paper forms to electronic format.

Bill and Patti Feldman write articles and web content for trade magazines and manufacturers of building products. They can be reached at productpad@yahoo.com