Ballpark – Invoicing Done Right

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.

Feature Complete

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.

The Dashboard

The Dashboard nicely summarizes your financial information.

The Dashboard nicely summarizes your financial information.

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.

Estimates

View all your open and won estimates.

View all your open and won estimates.

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.

Invoices

You'll spend most of your time working with your invoices.

You'll spend most of your time working with your invoices.

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.

Clients

Allowable client information is limited.

Allowable client information is limited.

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.

Settings

App Integration

Integrate your Ballpark account with PayPal and/or Highrise.

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.

What Works

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.

See the invoice as the your clients will.

See the invoice as the your clients will.

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.

Conclusion

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”.


  • http://joshboulton.co.uk Josh

    Looks good

  • http://www.nouveller.com/ Benjamin Reid

    I was just about to create something like this for myself. Lucky you found it first. Nice write up.

    BTW, on the front page of web.appstorm, it looks like your using the_content function instead of the_excerpt as it’s displaying the whole article.

    • http://joshboulton.co.uk Josh

      Yeah, I already Tweeted that to them muhahaha :P

      • http://www.nouveller.com/ Benjamin Reid

        Yet, no has paid attention. 121 sub’s and followers, not bad for a few hours.

        :P

    • http://twitter.com/TylorSkory Tylor

      Yeah, lol I saw that too :D

    • Jonathan

      I wish I knew what you people talking about :p

  • http://ccpmultimedia.com Connor Crosby

    Wow, this is a pretty cool app! Too bad you have to pay per month. I would have rather payed a flat amount.

  • http://www.northernvoyageur.com Shane

    Their interface is very rich, it almost feels like you’re on a local Mac app. Ballpark really has the presentation perfected. They are still new on the scene, so we’ll see how things play out. Currently I’m using Billings, but I’m really in love with beautiful web apps such as BallPark.

  • James

    Looks lovely. Would love to see some time-tracking integration

    • Kurt

      Good call, a time tracker would be schweet

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  • Stefan T.

    Their website has an uncanny resemblance to http://www.campaignmonitor.com/

    Just sayin’.

    • Errol

      Both BallPark and CampaignMonitor borrow their style from the 37signals fleet of sites… http://37signals.com/

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  • http://www.ademaweb.nl Jeroen

    I am not paying a monthly subscription for any software. I prefer buying in one shot!

    • http://mcarthurgfx.com Sean McArthur

      So would you be more willing to pay for a year or 2 upfront? Or even a life-time subrscription, that was equal in price to like 3 years, but you could use it forever more?

  • http://www.masoutreach.nl Ewout

    Looks great. Nice interface!

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  • http://www.vexis.pt Pedro Sombreireiro

    I really like this app, although … the positioning of the information, action buttons and all … are very looked alike 37 Signals apps .

  • Matt

    The one feature that is missing in almost all of these invoice apps is a timer. I’ve been using Paymo for time tracking and invoicing. It’s been pretty good so far.

  • http://needmoredesigns.com/ Raymond Brigleb

    I found it dramatically overpriced for the paucity of features it offers. Sorry. Pretty though.

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  • http://www.yorickpeterse.com/ Yorick Peterse

    Damn, that certainly is an increadible sexy application !

  • rob

    You reckon. I think it’s an odd ‘hybrid’ somewhere between CampaignMonitor and Basecamp, but fails to copy any of them properly.

    Go try (and review) something more original like InvoiceMachine instead: http://www.invoicemachine.com – nope, I’m a happy client and gladly pay them for lovely, online invoices. I’ll communicate with my clients via my ‘messy inbox’, thanks very much.

  • Allan

    Props to the MetaLabs peoples.

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  • http://www.carletondesign.com/blog james

    I love Freshbooks.com and I don’t think Ballpark will get me to switch.

    It would be interesting to compare the features from these various invoicing apps.

    • http://web.appstorm.net Chris

      Yep, that will be something to look at in the coming weeks.

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  • http://www.hinerdesigns.com Jamison

    If you haven’t decided on a invoice estimate system, I use Greener Billing, I was using simply Invoice for awhile but Greener billing (http://www.greenerbilling.com) has some great features and I haven’t changed since. There are just so many invoicing applications, Its a pain to move from one to another after you have used one for awhile because of all the data you have to migrate

  • http://www.blarnee.com Addy Osmani

    My Two Cents

    The site design is clean but as both a Web Interface developer and designer..there’s nothing too special about the theme they’ve got going on. I’m also a freelancer and with 2-3 clients a week in this type of economic climate, I can’t afford to shell out $100 a month for what is essentially an alternative to using a simple SpreadSheet app.

    The developers among us could probably whip together a decent *free* solution to this within 2-3 hours and we would save on shelling out money for these services. For their basic plan (let alone the more expensive one) I would hope to at the very least be able to send out 50 invoices a month AND be able to have more comments and notes available for each project.

    A PAID for solution should encourage me to not need to use an external CMS or any other app for the purpose of invoicing my customers and tracking payments due.

  • http://www.vancelucas.com Vance Lucas

    Another option is InvoiceMore (http://www.invoicemore.com). Though not near as good looking as Ballpark, it does have some features BP doesn’t, like saved items and recurring services.

    • http://web.appstorm.net Chris Bowler

      Thanks Vance. Ballpark does have recurring invoices and estimates though.

  • http://www.urbanvideos.tv alan

    CakePHP 1.2 Invoicr Application

    http://www.phpvideotutorials.com/courses/view/8 Price 2 X $9.95

    you got app + video tutorials.

  • Jono

    It looks really nice, but overpriced.
    If it offered something like 40 estimates and 25 invoices a month for $99 a year I’d sign up straight away.

    Would also be useful to be able to import client’s contact details from OS X’s address book.

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  • http://simplerain.com/ Dovy

    I like Cashapp.com

    • http://simplerain.com/ Dovy

      Err, Cashboardapp.com… Not as sexy, but tons of features and I am grandfathered into the original plan which is pretty awesome.

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  • http://timskaggs.net Tim

    I starting using Ballpark and love the web app!! Invoicing is so much easier. Now, if only there was a button to shock the client into paying…

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  • http://www.peardesigns.nl Wim Vervoort

    This just looks great! Very nice job!

  • http://www.paulrowlandapps.com Paul Rowland

    Nice write up, just would prefer to pay for a piece of software out right.

  • http://ryusahre.co Ryushare

    A great way to build software is to start out by solving your own problems.

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