Billings 3 from Marketcircle, Inc. is designed to track projects for clients, account for time spent, invoice clients and track payments. Itis perfect for small businesses, freelance writers and Web developers, for example, and it exploits good Cocoa development principles. One of the key advantages is its ability to present a professional look to the client by virtue of the design of invoices.
According to Marketcircleis CEO Alykhan Jetha, Billings was a natural follow-on to their flagship project, an opportunity and workgroup management program, Daylite, now in version 3. While Daylite is designed as a shared database program to track tasks, schedules, clients, and business opportunities, it can also be used by a single person. What it lacks, however, is the means to prepare professionally designed invoices that can create a very favorable image to the customer. Billings 3 performs that task.
To that end, the program implicitly encourages the user to create a uniform business identity. For example, some thought should be put into matching the graphics of the business logo, printed in each invoice, with the business cards and stationery.
Just as important, when it comes to a database driven systems, is how the relational database is presented to the user and how that user interface invites a natural, intuitive workflow. (The underlying database is single-user SQLite.) For example, when you want to start a task, you want to start it now. When itis time to create an invoice and mail it, that should be instant, intuitive and heavy on visual feedback to make sure the customer is billed correctly. Billings 3 achieves those goals.
At the core, Billings 3 focuses on the idea of clients and projects for clients, in a very visual way.
Client and Project Management
Clients are drawn from the Mac OS X address book to avoid duplicate data entry. Once a project for a client is identified and defined, it can be set up to be billed by time or a flat rate. Of course, multiple projects with varying starting and due dates can be defined.
I should point out here that this is one of those programs in which the user gets out of it whatis put into it. If the user is of a mind to keep meticulous notes, times, dates, activities, this program will track it all. However, that demands a certain frame of mind and attention to detail that may suit some and not others. For those with a more free-wheeling approach to life and some mild aversion to computers, a shoebox and paper notes may be the better approach for that personality. Forewarned.
Projects and WorkslipsAfter a project is defined, work has to be performed. Thatis tracked with whatis called a workslip. Think of it as a piece of paper that logs what was done, start date, end date, and a rate of billing.
Creating a Workslip
A project can have lots of workslips, for example, research, creative design, writing, a meeting, and so on. Some can be flat rate and some can be timed. For timed work, there are built-in timers and they display in the Mac OS X Menu bar for reference.
Timer for Tasks (in red at left)
At some point, the user will want to enter payments received and send out invoices for work done. Thatis when the user switches from Project screen to the Account screen associated with that account. Payments can be entered, retainers logged, and invoices for account balance generated. There are some 30 different built-in templates for invoices that look terrific, but the user can design a custom invoice with a drag-and-drop editor using live objects, reminiscent of Appleis Interface Builder. (Thatis likely not a coincidence.)
The invoice can be emailed and or printed and or filed as a PDF file for later reference.
Everyone who runs a small or freelance business wants to know the health of the business: how much has been earned, how much is due, and who the overdue guys are. Billings 3 has an extensive report page that accesses every element of the business, such account summaries, top clients, unpaid invoices, taxes collected, and so on.
IncidentalsBillings 3 is strong on the details, an evident heritage from Daylite. URLs, files, and text notes can be attached to a project. Multiple timers can be run, tied to multiple workslips. Recurring invoicing can be set. Alerts come up when payment due dates are missed so the user can follow-up with the customer. Google Maps is even linked so that one can locate clients. This is the payoff for accurate data entry and record keeping. Of course, it links to Daylite if that software is used to track projects and customers. A very easy to read 56 page manual (PDF) is in the Apple style, visually clean and not too tedious, and it has an index in addition to the table of contents.
Sample Invoice. (Pay to Address Suppressed)
NitsNo software is ever perfect, and I did find a few nits. When e-mailing an invoice, the subject line could be a little more explanatory, drawing from the work performed. The index page numbering is off by two pages because numbering starts after the title page and TOC. And the index could be more complete. Most significant was an error in which the program failed to apply a retainer received to an invoice. Marketcircle says this will be fixed in version 3.0.3. Finally, one has to be careful if a workslip is for the useris eyes only -- it has to be converted to "billable" before it will show up on an invoice. An intermediary alert during invoice generation might be useful there.
Bottom LineAs a freelance writer myself, I found this program to be a perfect candidate for managing my accounts, writing tasks, and invoicing. I couldnit find any areas where the program failed in some major fashion. In fact, it went beyond my expectations in that it is easy to approach, has an intuitive workflow, and yet ties together a lot of tidbits of essential data.
Finally, there is occasionally tendency by companies to charge a high price for software designed to be used by others who are also in the business of making money. Marketcircle has resisted that temptation and priced the program at a very modest $39.95 until November 30th, and that virtually eliminates any barrier to exploration of the product. After November 30, the price is $59. For that and all the reasons above, it rates five out of five stars.
- Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later, however Mac OS X 10.5 or later is strongly recommended.
- 1024 x 768 minimum display resolution.
- 100 MB free hard drive space.