Billings 3 Review
2009 at 10.28 am posted by Veerle Pieters
On regular occasions I get e-mail from readers to ask if I still use Billings since I reviewed version 2.5 back in 2007. The answer is yes but I moved over to Billings 3, a new version released a few months ago. If you aren’t familiar with Billings, it is a time tracking and invoicing/estimate application for Mac OS X.
Updating from Billings 2.5
As I told you in the introduction I was using version 2.5 so I needed to update my data to this new version. Always a bit of a tricky thing since you have been using the application for a while. I backed up my database just to be on the safe side. Apparently that wasn't needed since Billings creates a backup as well and renames the folder to Billings 2 Backup found in your Application Support. At the end I got a message that I needed to look at my invoice templates to update them to be compatible with version 3. The application told me that I needed to go to Design > Conversion > Convert 2.x template to 3.x. There is a bulk conversion feature as well but that didn't work in my case as nothing happened when I used it. Doing it one by one worked with the exception of a conversion warning that I apparently could ignore since my templates work just fine.
Much has changed interface wise in version 3, just how much can be judged from going back and reading the 2.5 review. The new overhauled interface feels much more at home in Leopard now, the triangle option in the client view is just one item you'll be familiar with. In fact the application’s new interface will be familiar to anyone who’s ever used Apple programs such as iTunes or iPhoto.
The biggest changes are that you now have Projects and Accounts buttons at the top. Projects is where you keep track of what you have been working on for that particular client or all clients, and where you'll also find your estimates, notes and linked files. Also new are the identifiable set of icons under GENERAL (see screen grab below). After using Billings 2.5 for more than a year this took me a mental switch to getting used too but it is for the better. Now that I've used it this way I wouldn't want to go back.
Grouping clients and live buttons
A welcome addition is that you are now able to group clients. If you have a big list of clients it became difficult to handle in version 2.5. I now sort things in Active clients, Inactive clients and a folder by Country if I have more than 5 clients in that area. The rest is filled under Active. The timer in the menubar and the timer floating window also got some design luv and provide access to recent timed jobs. It really feels nice when all pieces fall together in an application and you notice that there is a lot of thought behind the interface. One of those little touches are the live buttons at the info pane. When you hover over an overdue or unbilled amount it becomes a button that you can click to send a statement or invoice to that client. Similarly, hovering over a client's email address reveals a button to send an email. Its cool that these functions are instantly available without a trip to the menu bar or worse a UI with too many buttons that becomes cluttered. As a freelancer and to keep your bookkeeper as a friend you have to stay on top of payments. Billings 3 makes this easy as you immediately spot those clients with overdue payments because they turn red. That's when those live buttons become handy to send a reminder/statement that their bill is overdue.
I'm still using Daylite in combo with Billings and if you remember from my Daylite 3.7.6 review one of the annoyances was that you couldn't add organisations if you opted to created a new client in Billings from Daylite, it only showed persons. Now I am happy to report that this has been fixed and that you now rightly see both people and organisations. One caveat is that both applications need to be running to work together. I sometime forget that and get a warning in Billings when I create an invoice. After that it is too late and there is no way back to put the due date in your Daylite calendar. Would be nice if Billings would like wait and let you fire up Daylite first before proceeding. I create all my estimates in Daylite and export them to Billings 3 via Daylite Actions menu and Send to Billings (Estimate). I work this way so I can maintain a consistent style for both estimates and invoices.
Integration could be better between the two to make things even easier. One aspect where that shows is when you export an opportunity from Daylite to Billings as estimate, they arrive in a different order as I set them up in Daylite. My work around is adding numbers before the items so that they are chronological. Billings orders them alphabetical (when you click the Name column to sort them on). You can also use Daylite to get around the fact that Billings isn't multi-user. Billings now is able to have different workers. You can add workers in Billings by going Billings > Preferences, click labels , click the workers tab, Select the Enable labeling slips with workers checkbox and finally click the + button and enter the name of a worker. One caveat to remember is that the names have to match exactly with the name of the workers in Daylite. One can only hope that integration will be mature when Daylite 4 is released.
One of the main reasons why I opted to use Billings is the strong customization possibilities when it comes to good looking invoices. Billings 3 comes with a bunch of new templates that look ok and better than in most competing applications, but if you are a professional designer like me you want to create your own. I've created my invoice in Illustrator and brought parts of it as an EPS into the template editor.
Depending on how far you'll want to take this it can become a head scratcher. Like I mentioned in my previous review this editor can become difficult to grasp at times. I confess that when I set mine support helped me to get it working with all the special elements that are specific to Belgium. Undo for example doesn't always work like you would expect. I Didn't try to create a new template and from what I see and know, it hasn't become easier in Billings 3. I still highly recommend watching the movies before getting your fingers dirty.
As you can see my logo isn't on the template and that's because my invoices are already custom printed with some elements such as logo, footer and sales conditions (on the back) on there before I print the actual invoice on a laser printer.
Also one of the nicer additions in this version is Recurring invoices. It's for those invoices that you need to send out regularly such as for hosting. Before this feature I needed to setup a reminder each time in Daylite or iCal so that I wouldn't forget to bill that hosting invoice. Now it is easy, you just setup a recurring invoice and you can be sure Billings 3 will remind you when it is time. You'll see a number popup on the icon in the Dock. When you go to recurring invoices you'll now see a send button and sending that invoice out is just one click away.
Reports are a nice way to analyze your work. For example you could run a script Estimate vs Actual and see how much you where off. Billings 3 comes loaded with a bunch of these pre-recorded scripts. It is also possible to create your own but that can be difficult too as it uses the same logic as the invoice template editor.
No software is ever perfect as there still isn't a multi-user support, something I hoped would be there by now. True multi-currency support is also missing but from what I saw in the forum they are at least talking about it and taking note of ideas. For me this isn't a problem since I only charge in Euro anyway.
There is also a bug when you have created an invoice and delete it and restore the slips. When you recreate the invoice and use the Save a copy feature it will look like everything is ok when you get the warning that the invoice already exists and click replace. In our case we keep a copy on our xServe so that's where we go to save the copy, but when you go there to check if the new invoice is there you'll notice that it still is the previous deleted one. To solve this you need to make a trip to User > Application Support > Billings > Database > Invoices and copy the invoice from there and rename like you always do and copy it over. So the Save a Copy doesn't work when you re-create an invoice.
The Slip window could use attention as it is missing a bit of the great attention to details seen elsewhere in the application. Visually you only see two digits when timing hours and when you are over hundred like 115 hours 20 minutes for example you'll see 11 hours 20 minutes instead. Small visual glitch because the hours are counted correctly. The placement of the log button feels also a bit weird to me.
Lastly the Backup feature could use some attention as well. You can do automated backups but it feels strange to me that you can't change the location where the backup goes to. Now automatic backups are stored in Home folder > Library > Application Support > Billings > Backup. If your disk crashes you are screwed. It would make more sense to backup to somewhere else like you can when you do it manually. There isn't also a way to restore an accidently deleted project, you have to restore the whole database.
The above mentioned issues are all really minor. Billings 3 is a nice update to an already great application. No second doubts in recommending this to a friend as it made invoicing a wee bit more fun. I noticed on the site that there is a discount going on at the moment. Billings 3 now costs $39.99 and upgrades are $25. Not sure how long this will last so if you are interested I would try it out.