As I said in my Bidsketch review, one downside to using this pair of tools was that I was left with double entry for all my contacts. I’d enter a prospect into Bidsketch then when I won the project, I’d have to re-enter the contact in FreeAgent.
In reality, I faced triple entry because I also put these people in my Mac contacts because I don’t pick up calls that aren’t in caller ID.
All of that duplication is, simply put, stupid.
One other complaint I had was that I could have an estimate accepted but still have to re-enter cost information on the project into FreeAgent. More duplication.
So for 2015 I was looking for a solution that combined estimates and invoices, which would mean single entry for both client contact information and project costs.
I first heard about 17hats sometime in the middle of 2014, but since I don’t switch tools in the middle of the year I just passed the information off to Evernote for later use.
Start by taking a look at the video below to get an idea of what 17hats can provide for your business.
The Good Parts
For me, the biggest selling feature of 17hats was no more multiple entry on contacts, projects and estimates. There is simply no need for me or anyone on my team to waste time re-entering information on a regular basis.
Let’s take a look at the components of the workflow that I actually use.
Update: After I wrote this and just before it was going to publish 17hats added workflows. They look super interesting but I haven’t had a chance to try them out yet. I’m planning on trying to integrate them with project start (for getting FTP, WP login..) and exit (sending clients a questionnaire, asking for testimonials…).
Estimates -> Invoice Workflow
This, for me, is the bread and butter of 17hats. Having the client creation, estimate creation, estimate options, contract signing, and invoicing all in one smooth workflow is a huge time saver for me.
Let’s say you have had a call with a prospect and you want to move forward with an estimate. Your first stop is to create a contact in 17hats. Once you go to the ‘Contacts’ section of the app, just click the little ‘+’ at the top right of the page and you’ll get the contact add pop-up.
From there you’re prompted to create a new project for the client. In 17hats everything is centered around a project which is fine, but not great, as I’ll talk about later.
Once you’ve created a project, you have a bunch of options for next actions for that project. Maybe you need to log some information from a client call (and you store notes in 17hats, not Evernote, like me), well that’s an option.
Maybe you’re storing client files, or need to send the client a questionnaire. Or, like we’re going to look at, send them an estimate.
One of my favourite features in 17hats estimates is the variety in pricing options you get on your estimates. One option is to send a ‘standard’ quote, you know something like “$3000 to build a theme” and that’s it. They can take the estimate or leave it.
I hope you don’t just do that though, but that you provide options for the pricing of your services. With 17hats you have 2 pricing options.
You can either put a ‘Choose One’ option on the estimate — which means the prospect has to choose one of the options when they accept the estimate — or you can use a ‘Choose Any’ option, which means the prospect can pick and choose between the items available on the estimate.
I use both of these depending on the initial project discussions with the client. Lately I’ve had most success with the ‘Choose One’ option in that clients tend to pick higher-priced packages, which usually translate to more profit for me and higher value for the client.
Once you have your estimate all set you can then choose to include the contract (which I do) and convert directly to invoice (which I do).
Converting directly to an invoice means that you don’t have to take any other action once the client has accepted the estimate. You just get an email notification that they accepted and paid.
When creating a contract to go with an estimate you have a number of options related to the signature. I always set it up to sign right away since ‘counter-signing’ means the client drops out of the automated workflow through to payment.
Once you’ve got your full estimate and contract created you can also set a term for how long an estimate is valid (I choose 10 days), and if there are any payment terms.
If you choose payment terms you can easily automate up to 4 payment milestones, without having to worry about the invoices being sent again.
After estimate creation it’s really a simple process of sending the estimate to the client and them accepting it and paying for the work to start.
I’ve received a number of compliments from the prospects I provided estimates to during December while I was trialing 17hats.
Another of my favourite 17hats features is the templates. I can put in my stock contract and then just use the contract template without needing to change it up for each client.
I also have templates for invoice emails, which means my assistant can send an invoice and the email content looks like it came from me. With a few simple clicks, she can set it up using my preferred process and language.
I template any text that I send more than a few times. At the very least, templates give you the foundation you need and can be refined to suit a particular project if you need to.
Nothing really special here in terms of support for payment providers. 17hats supports Stripe, Paypal and Authorize.net.
I use Stripe 99% of the time. In fact I don’t even connect PayPal unless a client requests it who has no other means of payment.
PayPal is just a pain in the ass and Stripe isn’t, so…
I’ve never used Authorize.net for my business billing.
The parts I don’t like
In spite of all the things I love about 17hats, I hate that everything is a project. I dislike that you have to create a full contact for every single person.
Here’s an example of why I don’t like this feature. When I receive an initial contact from a prospect, you know I send them my initial email template. I don’t even put their contact information or do any tracking to follow up until I have the initial questions answered.
If you want to use the questionnaire feature in 17hats, you not only have to add the person as a contact, you also have to create a project for them. This is a lot of work for someone that may not even become your client.
I know that 70% of the initial contacts I get don’t go past the first phone call. If I used the 17hats questionnaires feature, then I’d have data entry for 70% of people that I’m never going to work with.
Put tasks in 17hats??
The CRM features of 17hats allows you to put tasks in for follow-up on a client. I guess you could use it for a project management system if you wanted but since it doesn’t allow other users you can’t share anything with your clients or your team.
Outside of the total lack of collaborative features, adding tasks to 17hats means you have added an extra ‘inbox’ to check on with your weekly review. That increases friction and provides no benefit at all.
Of course this doesn’t scale fully for a sales team since they wouldn’t get the link to the Postbox email in my account, but the Todoist tasks would support a team.
I’m currently the only sales person within my company, so I don’t need a team solution.
I’ve already mentioned above that there is no ‘team’ with 17hats so you can’t really use it as a project management system, but more than that, the lack of teams is a pain.
I have a bookkeeper/assistant and she issues all recurring invoices for me. Since there is no ‘team’ in 17hats that means that she needs my log-in to access 17hats and generate the invoices.
Since I’ve given her access to my bank accounts, I obviously trust her, but I’d much rather be able to create a 17hats log-in specifically for her, which I could turn off if I needed to.
It’s currently feasible that she could change the password and reply email (for password resets), completely locking me out of the account until I bugged 17hats support.
That’s assuming that I could recover the account by talking to support.
Adding a log-in with limited access would go a long way in improving the functionality of 17hats, so let’s hope they make this update soon.
17Hats can also ‘sync’ your email in to your dashboard. So 17hats can see what emails you’ve got and then can tell if you have heard from a client or not. Maybe you have a client email to reply to even, it will show up in 17hats.
If you’re using it as a hub for CRM stuff then great, but it doesn’t show up in your ‘sent’ folder in Google apps so it was just scary for me to send stuff and then not know if it sent.
Apps like Contactually (which I’m just starting to demo) actually copy the email to your sent folder and do way more than what 17hats does.
So the email sync is a feature but a half baked on at best.
I’m indifferent about the things below, but when I mentioned 17hats on Twitter people brought them up, so I’ll cover them here for the sake of clarity — just for you, dear reader.
The most recently launched feature of 17hats is time tracking. We all know that hourly billing is stupid so I doubt any of you will be using this feature anyway, and I don’t use it at all. But it’s there if you want it.
To add time simply click their “1-click timer” and start tracking time.
You can have rates for each client if you want and assign the time to a project right from the little time tracking window.
Really it’s all the features you’d expect from a time-tracking feature in an invoicing application.
I actually don’t have any issue with the interface of 17hats.
Sure, it’s a bit over-designed and ‘heavy’ compared to today’s popular design trends, but it works, so who really cares?
No, it’s not mobile responsive in any way. But I can’t think of a single time I ever invoiced a client from a mobile device.
I can’t think of a single time in the last 2 years where I tracked time via a mobile device, and before that I just remember vaguely tracking time in Billings, which I haven’t used in forever.
So I’m really just letting you know that it does not have a mobile application, in case you do use a mobile device to invoice and estimate.
There are still 2 things haven’t mentioned at all with 17hats:
- Bookkeeping (never found this stuff more useful than what my bookkeeper gives me so I don’t bother)
- Calendar (meh, just another place to see stuff I see in the Mac calendar, and I don’t use 17hats tasks so…)
I obviously think that 17hats is good enough for me, so yes, I think it’s good enough for you.
If you’ve been using an estimate app (which you should be doing because it saves you so much time) and something separate for invoicing, then 17hats pulls all of this into one location for you and cuts your mindless data entry time.
On top of cutting the data entry, it’s going to cut your bill for 2 SAAS apps down to 1, and I don’t know about you, but my bank account isn’t full so the money can stay there.