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Billings 3: new features for professional time tracking and invoicing

Marketcircle just released version 3 of Billings last week, greatly expanding the functionality of the time-tracking and invoicing application. One of the major reasons I've chosen Billings in the past for my invoicing is the professional-looking documents it can create for electronic and paper delivery. Billings 3 adds new templates and new features, making it an application which any professional individual who needs to manage estimates, invoices, statements and collections should take a look at.

Billings 3 started as a ground-up rework of the program's foundation, focusing on future extensibility, workflow improvements and the user interface. Billings has always had time-tracking and invoicing features, with an easy-to-use timer window, menubar timers and professional invoice templates. This version expands those areas, but it's got a bevy of entirely new features designed to make the lives of self-employed individuals, freelancers and small business owners easier. Read on for an overview of what's new.

New features

User Interface


While a wide array of new functionality has been added, one of the things which makes Billings 3 a pleasure to use is its carefully-planned user interface. Put simply, it's pretty. It makes good use of standard Leopard interface elements with an easily identifiable set of icons. As you use it, though, you begin to notice small details which demonstrate the amount of thought put into the interface. Take, for example, the live buttons: if you hover over an overdue or unbilled amount in the info pane, it becomes a button 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. These functions are instantly available in a place you'd expect them to be, without requiring button clutter or a trip to the menu bar.

Clients can be grouped in any way you see fit, appearing in collapsible sections in the sidebar. If you're sending invoices, you obviously need to collect payment; clients with overdue balances show up in red, and with the live buttons, you're just a click away from sending a statement to your delinquent accounts.

Templates


The invoices you send your clients are part of your image; a professional, elegant invoice can help leave clients with a great impression. This is the primary reason I started using Billings in the first place. With Billings 3, the previously available template selection has been expanded, offering an even wider variety of designs for different lines of work. If you're picky about the look, the built-in editor makes custom invoice design a simple matter. Many designers have, at some point, resorted to creating their invoices by hand in Illustrator or other design software. Billings 3 allows you to bring in your creation as an EPS file, insert variables in the design, and never worry about sending ugly estimates, invoices and statements again.

Statements


Billings 3 makes it simple to generate a statement for a client with a few clicks. You can offer clients a document showing invoices, payments and overdue balances for a given period. You have 30+ default templates to select from, and customizing them or designing your own is simple with the built in editor.

Consolidated Invoicing

If, as most freelancers and contractors tend to, you have multiple projects running with a client at once, you can now consolidate your invoices with slips from multiple jobs and send the client one invoice. One thing that killed me in previous versions of Billings was the difficulty involved in modifying an invoice after it had been generated. Billings 3 adds Pro Forma invoices, allowing you to send an invoice for approval before finalizing it.

Recurring Invoices

If you provide services such as support contracts which are billed in a repeating cycle, Billings 3 includes the ability to set up recurring invoices. These alert you when it's time to send a new invoice, and allow you to add any additional time from that period into a consolidated invoice.

Multiple workers

If you have multiple people involved in a project, it's now possible to add them to your resources and label each slip with an individual worker.

Future plans

Marktetcircle plans to release an iPhone companion to Billings 3 in early 2009. It will use the same sync engine as the upcoming Daylite touch, which I mentioned back in July, and will allow time, mileage and expenses to be tracked even when you're away from your computer. The revamped foundation of Billings has opened up many possibilities for new features, but Marketcircle's primary focus for the next few months will be iPhone development.

I asked Marketcircle's President, Alykhan Jetha, about some other possible features for the desktop version. I brought up one of my favorite features in iBiz: the ability to track a file's usage and automatically start timers when a file is opened. AJ says that the necessary groundwork for such a feature is already laid, and it's a distinct possibility in future versions. I also asked about possible integration with online time-trackers, and found out that there's a plugin architecture in Billings 3 which hasn't been exposed yet. It sounds like there are some great possibilities for the future.

Billings 3 is a paid upgrade, but the pricing scheme remains the same: It retails at $59USD for new users, and current owners of Billings 2 can upgrade for $35USD (If you purchased Billings 2.x after August 1st, 2008, the upgrade is free). A free trial is available at the Billings 3 site.

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