Invoicing: Online or Offline?

As voiceover artists we sometimes have to put on several occupational hats. From Social networking marketeers to accountants, to recording talents to sound engineers. You can’t do everything but you can try to make some of the different aspects of the job easier with the right tools.

I don’t know how it started but a few weeks back I realized that I need a proper invoicing software. What I  did in the past was a somewhat laborious and a very medieval method of using a graphic design program to design an invoice template and just used that design program to send out my invoices and quotations (or estimates if that is what you like to call them).

I usually limit myself to finding free or open source (which technically means free) applications that can do the job for you. But this time around I figured that I won’t limit myself to just free applications, the only restriction I would put on myself is how much I would pay for them.

So I embarked on a quest to find an invoicing solution that suited me. Oh yeah, and I also didn’t want to use an online invoicing company although their are many available who will not charge you if you have less that 10 or so clients. The reason for this decision was that I was kind of sick of having all my information available online… and didn’t want to have to go through a facepalm moment (look up facepalm online for clarification) if one of those sites gets hacked and my information goes public.. although now that I write this I have no idea who would find that information in the least bit interesting.

In any case, a few weeks back this was an issue for me. So I started looking for both applications and server based programs that you run on your hosting account.

The Different Characteristics

The software that I looked into was basically broken down into 3 segments:

1. Fully paid for with access to updates until the next big upgrade (so if it’s at 2.3 you get 2.4 to 2.9 for free but when they upgrade to version 3 you have to purchase the software again).

2. Free for use but would require some programming (for the server based apps) or not updated regularly.

3. Would require a yearly subscription (whaaat?)

So I decided to explore the first two variants and skip the 3rd. I am not looking for something too complicated and am looking to save money not constantly spend it.

The Search

So I did a little bit of web searching  including social media call outs on twitter. I have two accounts … a personal one where I post anything and everything I like and one dedicated to The Voiceover Pavilion I use that to promote the members of the Voiceover Pavilion and post things like the links to any new newsletters or promo material.. so that account is 99% voiceover related. I figured I’d ask my non voice over tweeps and my full blown voiceover tweeps and see which would provide me with the most viable responses.

Server Based

Here is the list of Server based invoicing applications (open source) that I found:

1. Bamboo Invoice

Nice, Simple, but not very customizable. Only one kind of template. You can upload your logo. There is a hack to allow the inclusion of a pay now button in invoices you send via email. I liked it but you need to have some MySQL database knowledge to install it. Many thanks to my Australian VO tweep Kevin Powe for recommending Bamboo Invoices to me.

2. Simple Invoices

Much more customizable than bamboo, looks nicer, has a very comprehensive back end (administration panel not posterior) I actually liked this free server based application. Wasn’t too hard to install (for me) but it fell short in a few respects (like template design) so I decided to go with something else.

3. My Client Base

I actually just found this one while trying to find the list of open source and server based applications that I found online and was using as reference. I haven’t tried this but it still hasn’t left beta… looks nice though!

4. Siwapp

Very straightforward looked nice, free and still was missing an element or two that I required. This is not to say that this application … like the ones before it are not good. They are all VERY good applications that do the job and give you exactly what they advertise. I just wanted a few other things including template customization (remember I work as a creative director with a background in graphic design so I’m a little more finicky that other people about how my invoices look.

Pros & Cons of Server based Invoicing

The Pros:

  1. They are all free! Nothing is better than free right?
  2. You can send an invoice or quotation (if the software provides quotations as an option) from any computer that has an internet connection and a browser.
  3. Once it’s set up some of of these applications have an auto-update feature so you don’t have to worry about reinstalling or getting your hands dirty with php code and what not.
  4. This software works independent of your operating system so whether you have a Mac or a Non-Mac this will work… Hell this would work on your net phone, iPad or any other internet centric machine with a browser!

The Cons

  1. They aren’t very comprehensive (because they are free… so don’t expect to have every feature you want included)
  2. They are server based so if your hosting company is down… you’re screwed.
  3. They need to be installed by someone who knows what they are doing… so if you don’t know how to install something on your server… Please don’t try cause you could mess something up. I actually didn’t know how to do all this server installing stuff a year back but I’m a geek so unless you’re willing to mess up let someone else do it.
  4. If Someone hacks you then they will have access to your billing information and invoices as well as your client’s financial info.

Computer Based Invoicing Applications

I am not a Mac user. I often tell my friends that I hate both Apple Corp and Microsoft equally. I am a computer user.. .whatever does the job best is what I’ll stick with. Unfortunately apple does not sell it’s operating system without its hardware which means that I am stuck with working on a pc (My latest pc cost me around $1000 to build and it’s Mac equivalent would have cost me easily 225% more). So the suggestions I am making are not for Mac invoicing software. If you would like to suggest a Mac based invoicing software please do so in the comments section.

So I went on looking for a software that can be installed on your PC that will give you the flexibility to create a customized invoice template and allow you to produce PDFs and /or send invoices as emails straight from the application itself.

What I found

Well for some weird reason most of the good invoicing / accounting software is made by UK based software houses. Why is this? no clue. The one I settled on buying was originally developed by a British software house (as far as I could tell from my research) then bought by an American Company.

1. SliQ Tools

Very nice software and to be honest … this was the one I was going to buy… it had not competitors. But after a bit more searching I found one that had a little more functionality that the SliQ tools one. It comes in two flavors. Regular and Pro. The Pro has template modification which was exactly what I was looking for. I downloaded the demo version and was able to recreate the invoice I had designed using my professional design software (remember in the beginning of this article, about 1000 or so words ago when I said what I’ve been doing is send out invoices made using a design software). So yeah … pretty impressive stuff. Still it had some irritating elements to it like how easy it was to setup an invoice and building a client data base. But the thing that stopped me from buying this was the lack of paypal integration. Cost £24 or so.

2. Express Invoice

Also downloaded the demo for this… pretty amazing stuff. Still no paypal integration. Comes in two flavors, Free and Plus. The Plus costs $49.99 only non UK  invoice company that I considered (Australian)

3. MyInvoices & Estimation Deluxe 10

By Avanquest. Very impressive list of features and integrates Paypal in it’s email sendouts. Has financial reporting integrated.

For some reason though I had a bit of difficulty purchasing the software off their site. They don’t have the software available for download on their UK site… you can only purchase the box (CD box that is… you can’t download) so I tried to purchase it using my paypal account and using my last known canadian address ( I sometimes use my friend’s address in canada). Anyway it didn’t work so I decided to call their 1 800 number and spoke to a nice gentlemen who was able to help me purchase the software on the phone using my credit card. Whether the glitch on the website was due to my living in Egypt and the IP confusing their system is unknown. Finally and after 35 minutes on the phone I was able to purchase the software but was pleasantly surprised with a 50% discount on the software I was purchasing (it was for $39.99 but they sold it to me for $19.99 because the software was on sale and their website had not reflected the sale) Maybe they felt sorry for keeping me on the phone for 35 minutes… but in the end I got the software I wanted for allot less than I expected.

Pros & Cons of Offline based Invoicing

Although there are free solutions for invoicing software out there I decided to go with something that had a little more functionality so I went with the MyInvoice Deluxe package. You can keep looking online and find some amazing softwares that give you everything you need for free… I just had that paypal hangup for some reason… I get like that sometimes. OCD or something.

Pros

  1. One time fee and updates except for major upgrade.
  2. Template editing functionality allows for customization and branding control
  3. Online integration allows for emailing invoices from the application
  4. Offline capability means if your internet is down you can go to anywhere else there is internet and send the invoice
  5. Offline capability means that you can do the work on your pc anywhere

Cons

  1. This software is not for free and the lowest one I found was around $40
  2. This software is not lifetime upgradeable… only until the next major update
  3. This software can only be installed on one computer… while you can use your server based invoicing solutions from any computer you like
  4. With more functionality you will have a bigger need to make yourself familiar with the software and read it’s manual. The simpler the software the less issues might come up

Conclusion

This is not a sponsored article.. I’m only writing to explain how I went about choosing the right software for myself. This search was over a period of several months and once the decision was the right candidate was found I purchased it the next day.

I am a big advocate of trying the demos and seeing if you are comfortable with the software. I am also a big advocate of keeping track of your business invoices and estimates which is why this article was written in the first place. You can’t keep everything in your head. There has to be some kind of database of clients and invoices.

I actually downloaded and tried allot more software than mentioned in this article but since I am nearing the 2000 word mark I think I’ll just wrap things up and hope that you enjoyed this article.

Your experiences and suggestions would be much appreciated!

Taji


2 Comments


  1. Thanks for the mention, Taji! The article is definitely very balanced and well thought out. I’ll be checking out Simple Invoices to see how it shapes up to Bamboo Invoice myself.

    One con of invoicing done from your PC that came to mind, as well – your vulnerability to losing your PC. You need to do server-side backups as well, but I always feel just a little bit more vulnerable with data kept only on my local PC.

    • Hello Kevin,

      Honestly the fact is it’s more convenient to have a server side invoice program… you can access it from anywhere and you don’t need a license for each computer you install it on… but hacking is a very real danger and as someone who has had his share of being hacked … I no longer trust any financial accounting done on a server. I mean paypal is nice and dandy because they spend gazillions on security … but your personal server is most definitely hackable. And databases get corrupt and systems crash …

      The pros and cons are there which is why I figured I’d showcase them in the article.
      Taji