Recently, I saw an ad for an online accounting software package called “Flare”. The enticement was a graphic of a financial dashboard and simple looking interface. The other draw was what the ad said “Grow Business Profit with Flare”. Who doesn’t want to increase profits? I visited the Flare website: http://www.flareapps.com and watched a video of the accounting software in action.
Currently, I use cloud invoicing software, which will track income and does have paid and unpaid invoice reports, but I can’t track expenses or export financial reports for my accountant at year end. Now, at the end of every year, I have to prepare a multi-sheet spreadsheet, copy in and reformat the invoice report from my invoicing software, and go through the painful process of hunting down expenses and entering them line by line in the spreadsheet. I manually insert transaction categories (that my bookkeeper provided to me) and manually add sales taxes. Each year, when tax time comes along, I dread the work ahead of me. So, I was curious about this all-in-one accounting product that looked like it does all of this and has some other features that might help me stay organized, save time, and improve my business.
Sign Up. Free During Public Beta then a 1-Month Free Trial
Signing up for Flare was pretty quick and doesn’t require a credit card. Signup is a two-step process. First, you enter your name, email and choose a password. Then, you verify your account. When you first log in, you are asked to create a company, entering basic company information. These steps don’t take long – just a minute or so.
Completing Your Setup
Once you’ve activated your account, Flare will send you an email with links to its help guide which includes videos that show you how to complete your setup. Really, completing your setup is nothing more than uploading your company logo (if you want to), and selecting a fiscal year end. It’s also pretty easy to complete other settings, like adding customers and vendors, creating sales taxes. Vendors, customers and taxes can be added in Flare’s settings or when you are creating invoices and bills.
The financial dashboard displays a summary of finances, including your Flare bank account balances, the amount due from customers, the amount owed to vendors, revenue, expense and profit. If you’ve created a budget, actual revenue, expenses, and profit are compared to the budgeted amounts.
A budget vs. actual graph lets you compare budgeted revenue and expenses with actual revenue and expenses. You can compare year-to-date totals or month by month.
Accounts receivables and payables are also displayed as a graph and you can click totals to the invoice or bill level to view all receivables and payables transactions.
Overall, the dashboard is well thought out. It doesn’t provide too much information, just what you need to keep an eye on your business’s finances. The dashboard is the “landing page” when you log in to Flare, and no matter where you are in the system, it’s only one click away. At the top of the interface, regardless of where you are in Flare, cash, receivables, payables, profit, and budget totals are displayed.
The budgeting feature is pretty simple. You can only create one budget (not budgets by department) but as a freelancer, this suits me just fine. Any revenue and expense categories that are activated in Flare’s chart of accounts are available in the budget. The budget interface is a table of month columns at the top and revenue and expense accounts down the left. You just enter budgeted amounts for each month (or whatever period you want to compare to actuals) and you’re done. Couldn’t be simpler. Once you’ve set up your budget, the budget summary graph on the dashboard displays comparisons of budgeted income and expenses and actual. A more detailed Budget vs. Actual comparison is displayed in the budgeting feature. You can export the budget as PDF, CSV or Excel.
Creating a budget in Flare.
Viewing a budget in Flare.
Invoices & Estimates
Creating invoices is intuitive. You can create taxes and customers while you’re creating the invoice or choose from customers and taxes you’ve previously created. You can also change the invoice numbers. The first invoice number is “000001” but you can create a starting invoice number that is higher if you like. Invoices can be exported as PDF or mailed to the customer from within Flare. If you’ve set up online payments (Flare currently only has PayPal) your customer can pay online through a customer payment page (where they can view all invoices, estimates and a statement).
Estimates work much the same way as invoices and when approved by a customer can be converted to an invoice.
Creating an invoice in Flare.
Customer Income Tracking
This nifty little feature is missing from my current invoicing software. In my current software I have to run a report to see customer revenue over the year. In Flare, I can view the revenue earned from each customer in a month-to-month bar graph. I can also compare the current year’s monthly customer revenue with the previous year. This is a great way to identify income slow downs or opportunities you may have lost.
Flare’s customer revenue tracking.
Vendor Expense Tracking
Flare handles bill recording with a similarly simple and easy-to-use template. Just like with invoicing, vendors and taxes can be created while recording a bill, and, similar to customer income tracking, you can visually track vendor expenses. You select a vendor and view a bar graph that lets you compare this year’s month by month vendor expenses with last year.
Viewing month to month vendor expenses.
Recording Deposits and Withdrawals
When you pay a bill or deposit a check, you can manually record the entry in your Flare bank account or you can take advantage of Flare’s bank feeds and bank reconciliation feature. The bank feed feature will connect to your bank account and download a bank transactions statements. To set up a bank feed, you enter your online banking credentials. Then Flare downloads transactions. You can then add these bank statement transactions to your Flare bank accounts using Flare’s bank reconciliation feature.
Flare scales down well to fit laptops and tablets. It works on smartphone though the width of tables will result in side scrolling. I’d likely never use the application on smartphone anyway (I finger type too slowly).
You can invite someone to use Flare. They have to create a free Flare account and accept the invitation then they can view your company in Flare. This feature will be useful if you need to get some help from your accountant or bookkeeper, a colleague or employee.
Flare has all the financial reports you need. They look like they’d really help me keep an eye on finances but for me, it’s using them at year end that will be a huge relief. It will take me minutes to export yearly expenses, income and tax reports and send them to my bookkeeper. I look forward to scrapping my spreadsheets. It’ll be great being organized and I’ll no longer procrastinate, dreading the work ahead of me as I’ve done in past years.
Flare has a searchable online help and support site (http://support.flareapps.com) with articles and videos organized by topic. Videos are screen recorded demos that walk you through main tasks step by step. The support website and email support are free.
The Flare website lists only one price plan, called “Business Pro” which costs $18/month paid yearly or $22/month paid monthly. Considering it’s just a few dollars more per month than my invoicing software, it’s a good deal because you get so much more.
The Flare website says that the software is “free during public beta” then will have a 1-month free trial. No credit card is required for signup.
What Flare Has is Good
I like Flare and I found it pretty easy to use. The first thing I did was upload my logo for invoices, activate a few expense accounts in the chart of accounts, create a bank account, create an invoice and record a bill. I did all of these things without reading the help guide. It’s worth noting that if you are logged into Flare, you don’t have to visit the support website to get help. You can search Flare’s help articles directly in the app and if you open the help window, Flare suggests articles related to where you are in the system. This contextual help is a nice touch.
For about the price of my invoicing software I get a full on bookkeeping system that doesn’t require me to understand accounting to use. While I’ll mainly use Flare for creating invoices and bills and tracking client income and expenses, I really like the budgeting feature. I’ve never been much of a financial planner but the budget makes it easy to set targets to aim for. It’s also nice to see all important numbers in one place without having to run reports or hunt around for information I need.
What Flare Doesn’t Have Is Not a Deal Breaker
When writing this review, I tempered my words with the knowledge that Flare is a public beta online accounting package. It has a lot of features already considering it’s not yet in full release. The things Flare doesn’t have, that would be useful for me are: time tracking, a few more online payment options, and receipt uploading. A couple of other payment plans might be nice to other users, too, though you get a LOT in the one price plan.
I can only guess that these things will come as Flare responds to the market and the needs of its users. None of these absent features prevent me from using Flare and benefiting from all that it does right now.