When it comes to being a web worker, there are a few tools that everyone needs. Email, a calendar of some sort and, if you want to get paid, a way to bill your clients. And as the functionality of the web improves, more people are turning to web based tools to meet these needs.
As for getting paid, sending invoices is not a task that is endeared by all — quite the contrary. Spend a little time with remote workers or freelancers and you’ll find that a lot of people dread this aspect of working for yourself or running your own team.
There are a few reasons why this task can be such a chore. Choosing or creating a nice looking invoice is not an easy task, nor is following up with clients who are slow to pay. The entire process of totaling costs, prepping the invoice and then communicating with the client can be extremely time consuming.
And that’s where Ballpark comes in.
A Focus on Communication
Created by the team at MetaLab, Ballpark is a drop dead sexy application — everything these guys work on looks fantastic. But it’s easy to focus on the looks of this app and miss how well the developers focused on the process rather than focus only on features. It appears they’ve bought into the school of thought so heavily promoted by the team at 37signals. Build your own solution:
A great way to build software is to start out by solving your own problems. You’ll be the target audience and you’ll know what’s important and what’s not. That gives you a great head start on delivering a breakout product.
So this application was designed with one thing in mind — communication. The team at metalab knew from experience that all the invoicing tools currently available missed out on the most important aspect of this work. Namely, interacting with your clients. They described the situation as so:
For a long time, we were searching for the perfect invoicing app, but they all seemed to have left out one important part of the process: communication. Ballpark keeps communication simple and organized, making it effortless to collaborate with your team, keep track of current and future projects, and stay away from your messy inbox.
Now that you’ve gotten a thorough introduction to this app, let’s take a look at exactly what it offers.
The application is broken down into 4 main sections (I’ll refer to them as tabs from this point on): Dashboard, Estimates, Invoices and Clients.
As you would assume, the Dashboard gives you a summary of the recent activity on your account and a high level look at the status of your invoice totals. Over at Fusion Ads, we use this app for all of our invoicing and I can say that the Dashboard is the single most used screen for us. It’s very helpful to see in a single glance how many overdue invoices are outstanding and how much income you’ve collected for the month. As well, you have the option to create a new invoice or estimate right from the Dashboard.
Not everyone will need to use this portion of the application, but if you have to send in quotes or bids on jobs, the same logic for invoices applies to estimates. Rather than worry about multiple email threads, Ballpark keeps the estimates and any related communication in the same place.
This is where you’ll spend the majority of your time. All the functions involving an invoice are done here: creating them, adding payments, and any communication from the client are all accessible from the Invoices tab.
When viewing a single invoice, you can see all the activity that has taken place. This includes the creation of the invoice, whether it has been sent to the client or is in a draft status, whether or not the client has viewed the invoice, and any comments the client or another team member has made regarding that invoice.
Lastly, the main screen on the Invoices tab is sort of a dashboard unto its own. It gives a higher lever of detail to the summary of your invoices compared to what is displayed on the Dashboard. Your invoices are broken down into open and paid invoices. And due to the nice layout of the page, you can see the status of each invoice: Draft, Sent, Overdue or Paid. Whether you are looking for summary information or the details or a particular invoice, Ballpark gives you exactly what you need in a minimal number of steps.
The last section is simply where your client information is stored. Each client can contain a few pieces of information: name, email address and company name. When creating a new invoice, you have the option to select an existing client or create a new client on the fly. As a result, you don’t often need to access the Clients tab.
One last area of the application is the Settings tab. It’s worth mentioning because of a few of the features included there. First, there is the ability to set defaults for invoices and estimates — think of this as templates. Most invoices and estimates will most likely include a subset of information that is always needed. This is a necessary feature to reduce your time.
Secondly, Ballpark has the ability to integrate with a couple of other web apps: PayPal and Highrise. For users of those web applications, this can also reduce your workflow.
I’ve already mentioned a few of the aspects of the app that make it stand out: the attractive summary of information in the Dashboard, as well as the Invoices and Estimates tabs are essential to a smooth experience with this tool. And the absolute stunning look of this app is worth a mention all on its own.
In addition, there are some small touches that really add to the user experience. One is the ability to see your invoices and estimates as the client does. When looking at a particular invoice or estimate, there is a Client View button at the top. Clicking this takes you to the web address to which the client is sent to. It’s a more barebones look at the item.
The other nice touch is what the client can do from this screen — they can download a PDF of the invoice or pay the invoice immediately via Paypal. Most clients need to keep a copy of what they pay for, so being able to download the invoice is a necessity. But any communication regarding the invoice can stay right in the app itself. It’s the best of both worlds for the client.
Lastly, the focus on communication within the tool, as well as the PayPal integration really separates this tool from others that I’ve used in the past. Again, our team at Fusion Ads uses PayPal for all of our billing. By syncing our Ballpark account with our PayPal account, I rarely need to log in to PayPal (a good thing in my mind). Rather than using 3 or 4 different tools — email, PayPal and something to create our invoices — I can completely conduct our billing every month in Ballpark.
If you value your time, you cannot underestimate how good of a setup that is.
Room for Improvement
As with any application, there is room for improvement. Some would most likely categorize Ballpark as spartan. The feature set is limited — whether or not that is a good thing comes down to the user and his/her needs.
One area that perhaps could be more fleshed out is the Clients tab. It could be helpful to include more information about each client. I assume that the team at MetaLab designed this application with the assumption that people are already using a CRM tool to track client information. And they have made Ballpark to in a way to be used in conjunction with whatever that other tool is. If this is the case, then adding more information about a client is not really necessary.
What I would like to see then is this: additional syncing with CRM tools like Highrise. Currently, the only syncing that occurs between Highrise and Ballpark is between Ballpark’s estimates and deals within Highrise. If clients themselves could be synced between the two, the time needed to create new invoices could reduced.
These items are really just nitpicks though — there is not a lot to complain to about with this app. In fact, it basically is focused on one thing. And it does that one thing really well. If you work for yourself or run a small team and need to bill clients, Ballpark offers you all of the perks of a web application. And when it comes to invoicing and getting paid, this app gets the job done.
The fact that it looks so good is the proverbial “icing on the cake”.