Dear freelancer, listen up – this is important: You need to track your time and expenses. Nowhere is the axiom “time is money” more obviously true than in the life of a freelancer. If you don’t pay enough attention, you will find money dribbling away – in unbilled hours you spend on projects, and in the extras that you could be claiming (travel and other expenses). That’s where time-tracking software becomes useful.
I freelanced for a very long time before I ever used such an application, and my experience is that having one makes life a whole lot easier: I know where I’m spending my time; I’ve calculated hourly rates that work for me, so I know which projects are worth continuing with, and which I should set aside; and I’m easily able to generate good looking, professional invoices.
There are many different applications available for Mac users, as well as some great online options. I tried a few, before settling on Marketcircle’s Billings 3, which has been my time tracking app of choice for most of the past two years. Stunt Software released On The Job 3.0 a little over a year ago, and although it’s been mentioned a few times on Mac.AppStorm, we’ve never given it a proper review. So, with no further ado, join me after the jump, and I’ll tell you why I’m switching.
Subtle, Simple Interface
On The Job’s main window is elegantly designed, its colours well-considered and easy on the eye. It’s basically a two-pane layout, with a list of your clients down the left hand side, including an indented list of jobs and invoices for each. The right hand panel changes depending on what’s selected on the left, showing either the overall details of a client or of a specific job, or a preview of the selected invoice.
The other aspect of the interface is a timer control in your menu bar. Click on the symbol and it drops down a menu that lets you start and stop the timer, or swap from one job to another.
When the timer’s running, you can choose from two different animations for its controller button at top-left of the main window: either a subtle pulsing or a spinning wheel of colour.
Adding a new client is easy: just click on the ‘+’ at bottom-left, select ‘New Client’ and enter the client name in the text box that’s added to the left panel. You can then enter details for address, pay and mileage rates, specify how invoices will appear and what details they will include. If your new client is already in your Address Book, you can simply click on the address card icon at the far-right of the client name, and a panel slides down to let you search and select from your contacts.
Once your client’s details are added, you can add new jobs with that same ‘+’ icon:
When you’ve added a job, clicking on it brings up a new entry panel at the bottom of the window, making it easy for you to input details of this particular job, including a description, notes, or a custom hourly rate.
Every time you start the timer for a job, a new session is added. You can see details of all the timed sessions by clicking either on the ‘i’ at the start of the selected job’s title, or on the ‘Timing Sessions’ button.
You can also use the ‘Quick Add’ button to add a timing session manually – say you have a client meeting without your Mac, so the timer’s not running: just use this when you get back to your desk to add the time to the job.
That’s really all you need to know to get going with On The Job, and to start saving money by keeping a more accurate record of where you’re spending your time… But there’s more to this app.
When it comes to getting paid, it’s really easy to produce professional invoices with On The Job. Just use the ‘+’ button again and select ‘Create New Invoice’. A panel slides down to let you select details of your new invoice.
When you’re sure the right elements are included, click on ‘OK’, and you’ll be taken to On The Job’s invoice editor:
Working with the Template Editor, it’s simple to either modify one of the existing templates to meet your needs or your tastes, or to design your own template by setting a background image or PDF layout.
Making changes to a template is as simple as dragging items you want added from the list on the left into position on the page, or deleting from the page anything that you want removed.
Once you’re done editing your invoice, you can choose to send it directly to Mail (where it will be added as a PDF to a blank message), to save it to your machine as a PDF, or to print it out immediately.
Other Clever Touches
One thing that really bothered me about Billings was that it doesn’t support multiple currencies. The app takes its currency setting from your Mac’s System Preferences (the ‘Currency’ setting, under ‘Formats’ in the ‘Language & Text’ preference pane). So whenever I’ve needed to bill a client in a different currency, I’ve had to temporarily change this setting so that I could create the invoice, and then remember to change it back again. That’s a drag. With On The Job it’s much simpler: you just set up the currency in the client profile, and you can have as many different currencies as you have clients – that’s much better in a real world situation where a freelancer might do business with clients all over the globe.
I appreciate that On The Job gets out of the way very quickly. That menu bar item actually allows you to do quite a lot, so you can close the main window and just get on with whatever it is you need to do, knowing that when you change projects you can pause the timer session on the job you’ve been working on and switch to another without needing to open the app’s main window. That works well when you just want to be getting on with things with as little distraction as possible.
Generating invoices is very straightforward and flexible, and it’s easy to edit the available templates and come up with something that works very well for you. By contrast, I’ve found Billings’s invoicing more difficult to work with.
The Missing Piece
But there’s one thing missing for me: an iPhone app. Billings didn’t have one until quite recently (and I’ve not tried that yet, because it’s on the pricey end of iPhone apps). There’s been some talk on Stunt Software’s Get Satisfaction board about whether there’s going to be an iPhone app, but the discussion still looks pretty inconclusive.
If you’re on the road a lot, this might prove to be a very important consideration, leading you to think more seriously about Billings or one of the online time-tracking options, such as Harvest. But if you’re after an application to use only on the Mac desktop, then On The Job is a very good option, and well worth a try.