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TUAW review: Billings Pro

Billings Pro builds upon the award-winning (2009 Apple Design Award) client-tracking and invoicing software, Billings, by Marketcircle. This major release introduces support for multiple users, server software, and new client side applications for both the desktop and iPhone. While many independent workers have enjoyed Billings and Billings Touch for years (myself included), small business owners with several employees have been left out. Billings Pro fixes that.

We were able to spend some time with Billings Pro, and we're happy to offer our review. Click the link below to read the full report and see additional galleries of screenshots from Billings Pro Touch and Billings Pro for the Mac.


Billings Pro Server

There are three parts to this solution: Billings Pro Server, Billings Pro Touch for iPhone, and Billings Pro for the Mac. Server, in collaboration with a service called Switchboard, communicates the server machine's IP address to Billings Pro and Billings Pro Touch. The nice thing is that even if your server has a dynamic IP address that changes frequently, Switchboard will keep this sorted and your software connected. It's super convenient and makes port forwarding much easier to set up than it is with Daylite Server (though we're told this feature could make it to Daylite Server someday). Here's how to set up Billings Pro Server:

First, designate the Mac that will act as the server. Note that any Intel Mac running Snow Leopard 10.6 will do; you needn't employ a server-grade machine. Next, run the installer, which will walk you through the setup process. You'll have to create a database from scratch (or easily import from Billings if you've been using it) or restore from a backup. From there, set up a backup routine (time and destination) and create your Switchboard account (a free service for Billings Pro customers).

Finally, you'll create users. The "First User" should be treated as the administrator and will have full access to everything. Additional users, most likely the First User's employees, can have varying degrees of access. From there, you're all set and ready to begin work. With Billings Pro Server running, those granted Billings Pro Touch access can connect to the database from anywhere at all.

Server runs invisibly in the background and synchronizes everything about every five minutes. If employee Jane is out in the field and charging by the hour with her iPhone, that data will get sent to the manager's desktop automatically. The same goes for all your iPhone-wielding employees. In our testing, this feature worked without a hitch.

Billings Pro for the Mac

The desktop software looks just like Billings, with some subtle and some major changes. First, you'll notice that it features additional invoicing templates, bringing the total number of options to more than 30. Each looks super and can easily accept your logo.



The big change is, of course, multi-user support. Now a manager can approve any time slips submitted by an employee before they make it to an invoice. In the sidebar, you'll see a new "Approvals" option. Click it to see all pending time slips. Once they've been marked as approved, then -- and only then -- they'll appear on an invoice. The UI keeps the list tidy, and you can clearly see the related employee, project, amount, date, and more.

Finally, if you're away from the server with the desktop client for any reason, it will save changes locally until it can sync once again.

Billings Pro Touch for iPhone

Billings Pro Touch for the iPhone is the mobile companion to Billings Pro and will be immediately familiar to anyone who's used Billings Touch. It provides remote access to the Billings Pro Server database, as well as in-the-field generation of time slips, invoices, projects, and more.



It's super simple to add mileage data (which also gets synchronized), expenses, and client information. I've been using Billings Touch for years, and I found the Pro version to be just as useful. Being able to start projects and time slips right where you stand is insanely handy. That the Pro version amps it up by syncing with a shared database is even better.

Timecard

Here's a great solution for users who don't need all the power of Billings Touch Pro but still want to interact with the database remotely. New to Billings Pro, Timecard is a new browser-based feature that focuses on tracking billable hours. It looks fantastic on an iPhone, and it lets your start and stop timers and enter mileage and expenses. It also looks great and behaves the same way on the desktop and the iPad.

Conclusion

As a fan of Billings, I'd definitely want to bring Pro with me if I were to become a small business owner. Here's how pricing works. Billings Pro starts at US$199.95 per user. Short-term users (like contractors) can be added for $24.95 per user per month. If you want to set up your entire office (10 users), you can purchase the works for about $2,350. It'll probably be most economical to get a license for managers and supervisors only, and go from there. In any case, we're sure you'll be glad you did.

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