After posting a recent roundup of Mac applications for freelancers, I’ve decided to take a more in depth look at one tool in particular. Billings competes with many other similar apps for tracking the time you spend on a project, managing clients, and sending statements/invoices.
This review will focus on the main features of Billings, investigate how it enables easy time tracking, and outline how it simplifies communication with clients. I’ll also touch upon competing applications and web based software to help with similar tasks.
Clients, Projects & Slips
The main ‘Projects’ area of Billings is broken down in three ways. Firstly, clients are the people you do business with – Billings provides a central way to keep track of all their details and contact information. Each client can have several projects (such as ‘Web Design’ or ‘Poster Design’), and each project can contain a slip for a particular piece of work or time slot.
This is how clients, projects and slips are organized in the Billings interface:
If you start to use Billings on a regular basis, you’ll find that some sort of organization of clients is needed. This is achieved through grouping people in the left hand pane into different categories. A notable feature of projects is the ability to attach files, emails and URLs as ‘links’, to ensure you have all the information at hand to complete the task.
Two types of slips can be created – those for an estimate, and ‘working’ slips. You can either add all the details from scratch or start with a pre-defined ‘blueprint’ which can be reused across several different clients and projects.
As well as client projects, you may often find yourself needing to allocate time for your own work. The ‘Personal Projects’ area works great for these types of tasks, which are often unbilled and don’t require the same invoicing or rigor as client work.
Tracking Time and Expenses
If you bill clients at a flat rate, Billings is perfectly capable of handing your requirements. However, charging by the hour is often more complicated – the app takes a sleek approach to running working timers and integrates very well with OS X.
A small timer is placed in your menu bar, which allows you to quickly add a new slip, or start a timer for any of your existing slips and projects (see below). There’s no need to open Billings itself and after a while it feels natural to start and stop timers as you work throughout the day. Usefully, Billings knows when you are idle and not operating your Mac – when you return, you’ll find a window offering to automatically remove the time you weren’t present from the current slip.
If a project you’re working on covers expenses, you can assign a new slip to act as an expense, set the value and attach a link to the receipt for later reference.
So far we’ve dealt with the ‘Projects’ area of Billings – managing your work and clients. Clicking ‘Account’ in the top left takes you away from your work, to deal with the intricacies of your finances…
Sending Invoices & Statements
Sending your client an invoice is really simple, and it’s possible to send one for a specific project or send a consolidated invoice for all completed work. If you find that someone has an overdue payment, you can send a reminder in the form of a statement. Billings also supports recurring invoices, which can be very useful for certain tasks. The app will automatically remind you that the invoice needs to be sent out, and can do so with one click of a button.
Invoice design is taken fairly seriously (which is nice to see), following what Marketcircle call the “anatomy of a professional invoice“. A number of different invoice styles and formats are included, or you can create your own business template with the appropriate branding and logo. Some of the pre-built templates look great, whilst others do leave a little to be desired:
Invoices can be automatically entered into an email, printed, or exported as a PDF.
The great thing about having all your information (clients, timers, finances etc) in one application is the ease of creating reports and financial summaries. A range of in-built options are available for areas such as client balance, unpaid invoices, monthly income billed and collected, mileage and expenses, and activity/time spent on a particular project. It’s a great way to ensure you aren’t missing any invoice payments and analyse the time you are actually spending on different tasks.
Limitations & Future Features
There are a few downsides to Billings which mean that it isn’t perfect in my eyes. Notably there isn’t support for more than one user – it would be great if the app allowed for several users or team collaboration. As it stands, it’s targeted solely at individuals. I’d also like to see better support for viewing projects and deadlines/timelines in a calendar format.
According to the site, you’ll be able to purchase a companion iPhone app in early 2009. This will allow you to track time and expenses, wirelessly syncing with Billings at home or at the office. This would be a great addition, and add a new dimension to how you can use the software.
Billings is a great app, but there are a number of other solutions available which may suit your needs in a more exact way. Similar Mac applications include:
You don’t need to be confined to your desktop, however. Online web applications can help provide much of this functionality and are, in many cases, even more popular than desktop counterparts. A few popular invoicing and client management apps are:
We’ll be giving away a copy of Billings within the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned to twitter or our RSS feed to ensure you don’t miss out!
Billings is an excellent tool for managing clients, projects and the time you spend on particular pieces of work. The interface looks good and it integrates well with OS X menu bar. It might take a little while to pick up and understand fully, but can definitely assist with invoicing and tracking client payments.
It’s up to you to decide whether you’d happily pay $39.99 as a one off payment, or whether you’d rather pay a small monthly subscription for a web based service. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
What tools do you use (if any!) for invoicing and time tracking? Do you think Billings provides an attractive solution?