Until I review CronSync over a year ago, I wasn’t sold on using an application to track work hours and manage invoicing. I was perfectly content with my pre-formatted invoice document which I’d print to PDF. Since then automating the process has taken off among freelancers, home businesses and even larger studios and companies. A quick search on the Freelance Switch forums will reveal lengthy discussions on the topic.
Ballpark, a similar app with more of a focus on billing, has recently given their service a facelift promising to make things much better. The last time Ballpark was discussed on Web AppStorm was 2009. Apart from the blue colour scheme, the app looks almost unrecognizable as the same app, with its fully redesigned interface that sets it apart from the crowd of competitors.
Their new version that just went live this week offers the user increased functionality, easier navigation and an updated feel for the app. My question is whether or not it’s a viable option for a freelancing business. Let’s take a look.
Getting started with Ballpark wasn’t quite as seamless as I would have hoped, as logging into Ballpark for the first time leaves the user a little stranded. A quick look at the screenshot below gives the impression of an easy to navigate app with simple tabs. Ultimately, however, I found myself not knowing where to start. The Dashboard itself seemed entirely useless to me.
In fact, calling it a Dashboard was wishful thinking on the developer’s part. Timeline would be more of an adequate description. It simply updates users on the happenings within their accounts (invoices created, payments received, etc…) without the ability to comment or discuss. It isn’t customizable in the slightest and for small teams and individuals it serves no real purpose.
Obviously, the main reason I decided to try out Ballpark was to create invoices. It was under this function where I met the next problem. As you can see above, when filling out the Invoice template you need to enter a recipient. A name or email address wouldn’t suffice. It became apparent that in order to invoice clients you need to individually create contacts. I would not have minded this if I could import contacts from the likes of Gmail or LinkedIn – sadly there is no option to do so. What’s more you cannot create a contact ‘on the spot’ while creating an invoice. You need to abandon the invoice and head over to the contacts tab. Very annoying indeed.
The only contact importation tool I could find was to import clients from Ballparks rival, Freshbooks, a strong indication of who MetaLab are trying to take on after over three years in the market.
Once Ballpark is set up correctly with your contacts, though, it becomes a very easy to use tool the genuinely saves time and effort.
The creation of invoice couldn’t be easier. I particularly liked how instead of dates, a payment time period (eg. 30 day) can be specified and how lines are easily filled in and deleted. On average, each invoice took me around one minute to make which is a huge improvement from fiddling around with an old Word doc I had.
Another feature I love is that once you send your invoice via Ballpark, the receiver has the option to pay instantly with PayPal. Anyone that works online will know that PayPal is pretty much the ‘freelancer’s online bank’. What’s more, once the recipient pays the invoice your Ballpark account will be automatically updated and the invoice marked down as paid. If you’re paid via another avenue then you’ll have to manually update your account.
Estimates are identical to Invoices except for the payment options. They can also be distributed to team members for prior consultation and approval before being sent to the client.
The integrated timer really impressed me for a number of reasons. Firstly, you can have multiple times running at once with information attached to them such as client and a description. You can also view the times that members of your team have running.
The timer is integrated with the invoice function. When creating an invoice you can ‘Import Time’ meaning to import the tracked billable hours you spend working on a project. Then, all that’s left is to assign an hourly rate and the invoice is automatically generated.
For a small team or even a lone freelancer the reports section provides some great charts and data relating to payments and time tracking. This enables you to see at a glance the net worth of invoices, what’s overdue and how many billable hours are being tracked by the entire team. You can also filter results based on client, organisation, category and date.
What Ballpark lack in functionality it makes up for in looks. To say it resembles a plush Mac app isn’t exaggerating. The menu bar across the top lays out the functions nicely and the two-column layout makes using the application easy. Particularly as the right column is generally for bite-sized alerts and shortcuts.
The invoices themselves, which can be downloaded as a PDF, are customisable to some extent with a logo and optional ‘airmail’ borders. They look sleek and professional and are printer friendly being mostly greyscale, complying with strict A4 borders.
The use of graphics within the app itself I felt was a good design touch. This is particularly evident when you use Ballpark for the first time and there’s no invoices, estimates or trackers yet. Cool icons and graphics explain features while keeping the app looking sharp. Considering Metalab has worked on interfaces for TED, Tumblr and Disney, such awesome design work is hardly surprising.
I recommend Ballpark for freelancers and web workers. This is because of the PayPal integration which most of use use and the fact that it’s cheaper than Freshbooks. Ballpark has all the features you could possibly want to track projects and bill clients quickly. At $13 per month it’s cheaper than most other offerings at this high-end of the online-invoicing market.
It’s not a project management replacement and for larger teams there are cheaper options available in the market. Freshbooks simply has more add-ons, plug-ins and payment gateway integration options.
All things considered I really liked Ballpark. It’s been around a few years now and although there are a few issues which I think need addressing, Metalab seem to be committed to the application so hopefully future versions will improve upon the the great advancements already made for teams and agencies.
Our editor has done tech support for Ballpark and for Metalab’s other app, Flow. That in no way affected anything about this article, and it was written 100% independently by Dean, who is not affiliated with Metalab at all.