In what follows I intend to save you a lot of time, and let you know what the best macOS application is for desktop based project billing and time tracking. I’ve looked at most of the options that are available for macOS, and drawn some conclusions that may speed up your path to timing, billing, invoicing heaven.
A little background
As an IT consultant and Internet developer, I do a lot of work at my computer, and I need to track time spent on jobs for clients. I need to do this at my desktop, and be able to quickly start and stop my timer, and switch between clients, tasks, etc., in my timer. For many years I’ve been using Billings 3 from MarketCircle. It was an old application they stopped selling and supporting quite a few years ago (in 2013). Despite no updates for 8 years, it still worked up to macOS Mojave, and I was never able to find a comparable replacement. A month ago, I upgraded my old Macbook Pro (which was running MacOS Mojave) for an M1 Macbook running Big Sur. The upgrade was great, except that 32 bit apps don’t run on Big Sur nor the M1 chip. Billings 3 (being a 32bit app from 8 years ago) was dead in the water.
I spent hours looking over all the options for a project timing and invoicing app as good as Billings. I looked at online options, and desktop applications, and hybrids of online with a desktop app, subscription based options, and regular license options. I tried combinations of apps, such as GrandTotal for the invoicing combined with Tyme or Timing for the time tracking side of things. That was as close as I got to an almost acceptable solution.
My timing/billing requirements
One of my big requirements was that I didn’t want to get into a subscription based solution. Apart from Setapp, I tend to avoid subscription software entirely. Something that’s becoming harder and harder to do. I was aware that MarketCircle had, back in 2013, replaced Billings 3 with Billings Pro, but at that time they switched to a subscription license model, so I didn’t consider upgrading.
My other requirements were that it be super efficient to use, is flexible / customisable (i.e., has custom fields), can handle clients that work with purchase orders, and allows me total freedom to customise the invoice and reporting templates to my exact requirements. Billings (old 2013 version) had all this.
Some of the options I considered
Here’s a shortened list of some of the apps I looked into and / or tested in my most recent attempt to find a Billings replacement:
- GrandTotal, combined with Tyme
- GrandTotal, combined with Timing
- Zoho Invoicing and Zoho Books (online solution, monthly subscription)
- Invoice Ninja (self-hosted at no cost, or cloud hosted as a paid service)
- Studiometry (offline; with optional cloud based add-ons; desktop app)
- Moon Invoice (online solution, subscription)
- invoicera (cloud based, subscription model)
- Bookipi Invoice app (iOS app, can run on M1 Macs)
- Freshbooks (entirely web/cloud based; subscription)
- … numerous others that are not worth mentioning.
Here’s my thoughts on the above options:
GrandTotal looks decent for an offline invoicing app. It has no timing functions, yet allows for other apps to plug into it. I tried Tyme and also Timing for that. I found both clunky to use. Tyme was over-simplified, and Timing was overly complicated as it is geared towards automatically timing activities you do on your computer. I just want my timer to take entries I give it, and to time those. It does that, but it’s not its primary focus. I already have a license for it via my SetApp subscription, so I was keen for it to work as I needed. But after an hour or so trying to get it to meet my needs I moved on. I didn’t want to waste time trying to get a timing app to work well in a GrandTotal based solution, if it wasn’t going to be as efficient and excellent as Billings. It also didn’t have the kind of reporting I need. Next.
Zoho Invoice and Zoho Books are good as online applications. I already use Zoho Books for the online aspect of my invoicing, for one of my businesses. For some years I was using Wave Invoicing (which is also excellent), but they stopped supporting users outside the US. So I switched to a free 12 month trial of Zoho. I’m undecided if I’ll continue once the year is up. I use Zoho Books to invoice for services such as domain registrations, and hosting services. I only have a few clients I provide these services to, and I keep it all online. That way it is fully automated, and not dependent on me and my computer (especially helpful when I am away and offline for extended periods). So once I set up their recurring invoice, that’s it. The rest happens on its own. But for tracking time and projects, Zoho Books and Zoho Invoice wasn’t sufficient for my needs.
Studiometry looks excellent. Well, actually it “looks” rather outdated and drab. The developers have not kept up with the last decade or so of MacOS app styling and standards. But it has a great feature set, making its early 2000s appearance excusable. Studiometry has a 30 day trial period. It can handle some more than just time tracking and invoicing. It has good flexibility with custom fields, can handle purchase orders, has decent reporting, does timing fairly nicely (I prefer Billings). It’s relatively expensive at US$250. Upgrades from an older version to the latest version are currently $70. I am sure for some people, who need its full feature set, and really want something similar to Billings (in terms of feature set and ease of use), and want to avoid subscription license models, it would do the trick nicely. But I just didn’t find it as intuitive and easy to use as Billings. I wasn’t willing to drop $250 on it.
Invoice Ninja and Moon Invoice are both decent for invoicing, and only invoicing. I need time tracking, and excellent reporting based on that time tracking. I considered them when I had to depart from Wave Invoicing, but settled on Zoho Books for now.
Bookipi Invoice App is just that. An invoice app. It doesn’t handle timing, and related reporting. Moving on.
invoicera looks really good. But it’s entirely online. I don’t want my timing and invoicing software online. Call me old fashioned, but I’d rather have a nice app on my computer for this. I often travel, and do work when offline. The Pro plan (suitable for a business my size) would have cost US$12 / month if paid yearly, or $15 a month if paid monthly. It doesn’t have a desktop app, although it does have an iPhone app, which you can run on an M1 Mac. Not ideal, but might work for some. If I was going to go for a purely cloud based option, it would quite likely be Invoicera. It has an excellent feature-set. I’ve not, however, tested it out, because I knew I didn’t want a purely cloud based solution.
So what did I end up with?
Cutting a long story short, I ended up buying an annual subscription for Billings Pro. After spending a great many hours (on numerous occasions over the past 6 years) looking for a timing, invoicing, reporting app as good as Billings 3, I realised I realistically could have paid for over 20 to 30 years of subscription to Billings Pro from the money I would have earned had I been working instead of software hunting. I am so glad I finally woke up to this fact, and bought Billings Pro. It’s really is excellent software in its category. In my opinion, and for my needs, it’s better than all the others I’ve looked at.
The icing on the cake is that Billings Pro imported all my data from my 2013 version of Billings 3. All my custom reports, custom invoice templates, client data, custom field settings, all other settings, all project and timer records, etc. Everything imported without a hitch. Billings Pro is a lot like Billings 3, only better. In the 8 years since Billings ceased, MarketCircle have continued refining and improving Billings Pro. I can without hesitation say that Billings Pro is the best replacement for and alternative to Billings 3. If you are a user that has grown to great like and depend on Billings 3, and you’re trying to find an alternative after upgrading macOS beyond Mojave, then really just go for it and get a yearly subscription for Billings Pro. It’ll save you a lot of time trying to find a replacement to match the fantastic features of Billings 3 and Billings Pro.
What’s the cost?
Yes, it is a subscription model. I had to overcome my resistance. I am glad I did.
If you generate less than 5 invoices a month, they have a US$5 a month “Freelance” plan. For me, I got the “Professional” plan, which is either US$10 a month when paid monthly, or $8.25 / month ($99 a year) when paid annually. They also have a free plan, which allows for 1 invoice per month. That seems kind of ridiculous, but I guess it might suit a some users.
I’ll do a more detailed write-up on Billings Pro in the near future. For now, I suggest checking out their website. If you want a really flexible, intuitive, efficient, customisable, offline invoicing, timing, reporting app, please don’t be put off by their subscription model. Anyone who really needs decent Invoicing software like Billings Pro, are going to be people who have plenty of work and clients to justify such a need. If that’s the case, then spending US$99 a year on Billings Pro is going to be of no meaningful consequence. Go for it.