/ Finance

Essential Freelance Software: Billings

Billings 3 by MarketCircle is a time tracking and invoice management application for Mac, it combines all the best features from its competitors whilst leaving off all the totally irrelevant ones that are rather prominent amongst finance management apps. Interestingly, it pitches itself as "Professional time billing for anyone", but what I use it for isn't time based at all - which shows just how flexible it is. Read on.

Getting Started

billings1When you open Billings for the first time, you're greeted by a familiar Leopard-style interface; left sidebar of categories, a primary "bar" at the top for the most important functions and a search box, and a main content area.

The first thing you'll want to do is add some clients, which is very nicely done from your existing apple Address Book app. Being spared from hours of copying and pasting is always, always welcome.

You can see all your clients in the sidebar, and can further subcategorize them into types of clients if you do several types of work. Additionally, any clients with outstanding invoices are highlighted in red - a very nice little feature that makes a world of difference in terms of usability.

It's very difficult to give a simple overview of the whole app as an introduction, because it's the specific funtionality of it that makes it such a fantastic piece of software, so let's stop wasting time here and dive straight into the main features.

Projects & Accounts

There are two main views in Billings, those are, as you may have already guessed; "projects" and "accounts". Let's look at each one in a bit more detail. billings-projects

The Projects view is a bit like a mail app or rss reader, in the top pane you've got your projects and in the bottom pain you've got the details of the currently selected project, which can also be switched between 'estimate' and 'working' view.

Each project icon is colour coded so that you can tell at a glance if it's an estimate, active project, or completed project, and has the essential details such as the client associated with the project, the due date, and how much you're charging for it.

The projects view is further divided into two tabs, when you're in the Estimates tab you can see all the different items you're estimating for, and you can choose to send an estimate PDF to the client for each one individually, or all of them as a group. The only difference between the estimate tab and the working tab is that from the working view you send actual invoices with due dates, and once they're marked as completed and paid for they disappear from view (which keeps things nice and tidy).


The Account view is really the finance management part of the app. When you switch to this view you see a list of the estimates and invoices sent to clients, the amount, and whether or not they've been paid. You also see the actual document that was sent to them in a seperate pane to the right-hand side. There are quick and easy buttons at the bottom to send, resend, and add payments or retainers, making it all very easy to manage.

One thing I don't understand is why the estimate and invoice numbering systems by default start at number 100... is that an accounting thing? Maybe someone could fill me in by leaving a comment?

Tracking Time

billings-timerAs I mentioned, I don't actually use the time tracking facilities in Billings so I can't comment on them in detail. I do have an hourly rate, and I do charge based on my hourly rate, but I prefer to estimate my time and charge clients a flat rate based upon that.

From what I can tell, the time tracking aspect of the application is heavily integrated so it ties in with almost everything if you want it to. You get a very nice little icon in your OSX toolbar (pictured above) that allows you to start/stop the times as well as choose from a number of shortcuts back to the app itself.

This is particularly useful for me, as I use OSX Spaces to the point where I'll sometimes be switching between 9 virtual desktops at a time. Having something in the toolbar means that it's accessible from any Space, which other software manufacturers would do well to take note of - I'm not naming any names here, Cyberduck, Transmit, Spotify, RSIGuard.

I may still use the time tracking functionality in the future to track how accurate my estimates are, and compare how much I charged to the actual number of hours that I worked on the project - which I'm sure will be interesting to see.

Sending Estimates & Invoices


This is one of the best bits of the whole application for me. You highlight all the items which you want to bill for from the "project" view outlined above, then you simply click "send estimate" and you're almost done.

Billings comes with a set of predefined invoice templates which you can choose from and add your logo to, but it also allows you to make your own custom document template if you like. This is something I haven't done yet, but will certainly be doing in the near future.

The prompt which you're given is very straightforward and has two main sections, the details (pictured above), and the preview (below). The details tab allows you to set a due date, add comments, and choose whether you'd like to save a hard copy of the PDF, send it in an email, print it, or do all of them.

Once you hit the "create" button, the invoice or estimate is made up as a PDF, and attached to the client's profile.


Why It's Good For Web Design Businesses

If you really can't see the value in this app for your web design business then you might want to reconsider if you're in the right industry! I think that the benefits are pretty clear; a beautiful user interface that functions flawlessly, easy time and finance management allowing you to stay on top of all your clients and payments with the least amount of hassle, and professional looking integrated invoice/estimate generation.

To summarise, with an iPhone app addition coming later this year, and all the features mentioned above - this is brilliant application that makes managing clients and payments extremely easy, I've tested out a couple of similar apps such as 'On The Job' in the last couple of months and Billings is by far the best and the easiest to use of the bunch.

But as always, I hate to sing praises and brush any niggles under the carpet - so there are some things that I personally think it could do better with. Bare in mind though with all of these that I've only been using the software for a couple of weeks, so some of my niggles could be a case of me simply not knowing "how to do that" yet.

  • Expenses tracking - This is the only real big niggle for me, I really really don't want to use another seperate program or an excel spreadsheet to track my business-spending each month. It seems like a farely obvious feature - is there a way of doing this that I'm simply being ignorant about? Someone let me know!
  • I could *almost* use this app as my client database as well as an invoicing app, if the facilites were there to add custom fields to client profiles, export client list in various formats, and add reminders for key client dates - then it would be perfect.
  • To my knowledge, no time tracking app does this so it's a big ask - but I would love it if you could assign clients a directory on your computer, and that Billings would then automatically track time spent editing the files in that directory. This would truly be automated time tracking, as the app would then track every time you worked on local site files, proposal documents, or edited a contract.
  • I'd like to see Billings offer a web based service that syncronises data from the app, so that I could access my accounts from anywhere.
  • In addition to the above, I'd like them to offer an API which services such as Xero could tie into. This would mean that both myself and my accountants would have constant access to my invoices without me needing to send them anything at the end of each month.

Try It For Free

Billings is available as a free trial download from billingsapp.com so you can test out all of the things which I've been talking about here before making a decision about whether it's right for you or not.

If you do decide that it's exactly what you need, then fully licensed version of Billings is currently available to buy for the rather reasonable price of $39.99

Win A Full Copy of Billings For Yourself


But wait! There's more! Thanks to the fantastic team over at MarketCircle I have a free fully licensed copy of Billings to give away to one lucky reader.

I had some fantastic interest in the last competition for two free copies of LittleSnapper, so I'm hoping I can get even more of you interested in this one. If you're just starting up as a freelancer or a new web design company then Billings will make a huge difference to your working day.

Here's how it's going to work, to take part you need to be using Twitter, and you need to follow me.

Next, Tweet this!

RT @johnonolan Freelancers, win a Free Copy of Billings - time tracking and invoicing software! http://tinyurl.com/dglgqa
Finally - leave a comment below with the link to your Twitter status and tell me why you should be the winner, be creative! I've left the first comment as an example so you can see what I'm after.

The winner will be announced 1 week from today, so on Monday the 30th of March

This competition is now closed! Subscribe for updates on future competitions.

John O'Nolan

John O'Nolan

Founder at Ghost.org. Writes about open source, startup life, non-profits, and publishing platforms. Travels the world with a bag of kites.

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