One of the best things about web apps is that you can run them from any computer. Many PC users wish they could run popular Mac apps in Windows, while Mac users for years wished they could run PC games on OS X. Linux users are often left in the cold entirely with commercial software. But if you’ve come across a brilliant new web app, you won’t have to worry whether or not it’ll work on your computer. All you need is a modern browser and an internet connection, and you’re ready to go.
Billings is a popular invoicing app for Macs, one that’s nice enough that I used to wish I could run it on my PC. It’s still a fully OS X app, but now, you can use a companion web app to manage your team, track time on work, and record expenses from any browser. It’s an interesting synergy that tries to balance the flexibility of web apps with the style and features of a native Mac app, while letting you host the web app yourself or use their cloud service to save you the trouble.
A Mac app with a web twist
Billed as the next wave for Marketcircle’s popular app, Marketcircle Cloud makes Billing Pro simple to use with your whole team. It’s a great example of how web apps can tie together native apps and make it easier for teams to work together, cross-platform. It manages to tie together popular Mac and iOS apps with a web based Timecard system and control center.
Billings Pro is still a Mac app at its core, and your original projects and final invoices will both need to be created from the native app. It’s tied together with Billings Pro Server, which is a Mac app that you can run on your own Mac server. Or, you can use it through Marketcircle’s hosted Billings Pro Server, Marketcircle Cloud. We’ve looked at the self-hosted version previously, but for many teams, hosting their own app would be more trouble than its worth.
That’s where Marketcircle Cloud comes in. You can create a new hosted account, add your team for $19/user/month, and get started tracking expenses and work from your Mac or any browser. To get started, you’ll need to install Billings Pro from the App Store for free on a Mac. You can then login to an existing Billings Pro account, or if you’re just getting started, you can setup a new Marketcircle Cloud account directly.
Your Marketcircle Cloud account will sync data from Billings Pro on any of your team’s Macs, and will let you login online to manage your team and track time. The signup process is a bit more cumbersome than many web app registrations, but then, you’re setting up your whole business’ billing settings, from your logo and address to standard rates. This bit of extra time spent now will save you time once you’re using Billings regularly. Plus, Marketcircle Cloud’s registration is still much simpler than setting up and managing your own hosted Billings Pro server, and it’ll always be online and waiting for you when you’re ready to use it.
Once you’ve setup your account, you’ll need to add your clients and projects from Billings as normal. Unfortunately, you can’t add either of these from the web interface, since its designed solely for adding slips to existing projects. The good thing is, Billings Pro is nicely designed and simple to use, giving you a convient and powerful way to manage your company’s billing. When you add new projects, be sure to add workers to them; this will let them be able to file slips from the web interface.
Timecards: Billings in Your Browser
Now, you’re ready to keep up with your work from your browser. Each worker you add will receive an email with their account info. They can then login to http://timecard.marketcircle.com/, enter their company, name, and password, and see all of the projects they’ve been added to. The web interface is designed like a corkboard, with timecard slips shown as paper slips on it. Click a project to add a new time slip, expense, or mileage entry for the project’s billing. Each slip type will have slightly different fields. There’s unfortunately no option for non-timed slips, so if you charge a standard rate for certain tasks, you might need to save them with, say, 1 hour’s work billed at that rate, and then enter those tasks as a 1 hr timed slip.
The nicest part of Timecard is the timer interface. You can start the timer in a tab, and then keep doing your work while the timer dutifully keeps up with how long you’ve worked. Since its all web based, you could be working directly on a clients’ computer in any operating system, and you’ll still get your same standard timer. If you’ve already worked for a while before starting the timer, you can also enter extra time manually into the time slips.
As you track time and file expense slips, they’re automatically synced with your team’s Billings Pro via Marketplace Cloud. You can also go back and see your own past slips, broken down by project and client. The entire interface looks entirely unlike most apps, web or native, and gives an almost playful appearance to the borking task of tracking and billing for your work.
Managing your team in Billings, online
Marketcircle Cloud brings another part of Billings Pro online: company and team management. From yourcompany.marketcircle.com/controlpanel, account managers can tweak their company’s information, add users to the team, and set their billing settings for the Marketcircle Cloud subscription. Each user can be set as a Limited User that can only use the online Timecard interface, a Full User that can use Billings Pro for Mac and iOS as well as Timecard, or an Administrator that can login to the control panel as well as use the apps. Billings Pro is still tied to a Mac, but for your day to day work in existing projects, it can be fully used from your browser, even if you need to tweak your team, billing, or other administrative tasks.
Wrapping up your projects, on your Mac
Plain slips won’t be enough to get your company paid at the end of the month, and that’s where Billings for Mac comes back in. All of the slips everyone has filed in Timecards Web or their own Billings apps will all be synced to your Billings Pro. You can then easily create stylized invoices and track payments for the projects your team has completed. Rather than having to check with everyone and see what they’ve done, Marketcircle Cloud will have all of the data ready on your Mac when you need it. It’s the synergy that makes web apps popular forged into a Mac app for the best of both worlds.
Full web apps aren’t for everyone, and as much as we’re fans of web apps, we still use a number of native apps in our daily work. Even when you could use a web app, sometimes there are native apps that have more features or work better the way you want. Billings is one of the most popular Mac invoicing apps for freelancers and small businesses, so if you’re wanting to take advantage of its features without leaving behind the syncing and team synergy you’ve come to love from web apps, Marketcircle Cloud gives you the best of both worlds. It’s an interesting twist of native and cloud apps, and goes beyond basic syncing that many apps offer. It’d be great to see more apps offer unique web offerings like this, where the whole ecosystem of apps works together to keep a team productive from any platform.