Updated April 2020. Originally published September 2014.
As a web-designer and an independent contractor, I have always had a need to generate attractive invoices and keep track of projects. For years I simply used Microsoft Word to create an invoice. Almost 7 years ago now, I purchased and started using the self-hosted invoicing and project management system called Pancake App. Overall, the experience has been very positive. The following is an outline of why I chose Pancake App and what my experience with it has been like so far.
I’ve never been excited about immersing myself in systems that force un-needed complexity. That’s probably why I stuck with simply invoicing with Microsoft Word docs for so long. I had an attractive template going. I had the document laid out for work item descriptions, hours spent, additional fees, the total instructions on how to pay etc.. All the standard invoice stuff. I would just edit it on the fly and then export to .pdf when done and email it. Works fine, but record keeping was a hassle as I had these old invoices floating all over the place. Not to mention, I was keeping my time spent on tasks separately and then entering it to the doc when finished. The tedium, disorganization and opportunity for human error finally got to me and I started looking for a better way to do things. This was back in 2014.
I wanted a system that would fill several roles. Most importantly, be able to record tasks, have an integrated timer for those tasks and generate an attractive invoice from the project tasks. Any level of project management or additional features beyond those basics would just be icing on the cake. Another thing I wanted was to own the invoicing system, and not have to pay monthly bills forever.
In searching for a solution, I starting coming across a few good looking choices.
One that I considered is Wave. Wave is an online invoicing, personal finance, payroll and accounting tool. I signed up to check it out and tried to get cozy with it, but I felt a reluctance. Wave wanted to not only be a project management and invoicing system, but also a personal accounting system. It’s setup so that all the income and expense for your business is tracked through the system. You provide your bank account details and it actually imports all of your bank transaction records into the system. From that, you are intended to earmark all of your transactions as profit or loss, income or expense. To some, this might be exactly what the doctor ordered. To me, all I could see was hours and hours of extra tedium and work. I didn’t have the need to integrate that level of accounting into my workflow. You could use the invoicing system without the rest of the features, but that just seemed to me like buying a school-bus to drive yourself to the grocery store. In addition, the thought of having 100% access to my bank account records, all stored on a private server made me a little uneasy. To some, I really believe Wave could be the perfect solution. By all means, check it out. But for me it was just too involved and more complex a system than I needed. It really felt like a personal finance and accounting system first, and everything else second.
Other possible solutions I considered included Quickbooks (Can’t purchase outright, monthly fee), FreshBooks (which looked great really, but starts at $15 a month) and Hivage (The free version is limited, other versions have monthly fees). There are many other solutions, but none really stood out to me. Each seemed to be missing various components, or just simply looked un-attractive.
Payment is handled with PayPal, Google Checkout or Stripe. For me, I customize my email to offer payment through Stripe or by check. If you receive a check, you will log on and manually mark an invoice as paid. For Stripe, it’s automatic.
Another feature is “timesheets” which allows you to see how much you’ve worked in a given period of time. I hope to see this feature expanded upon in the future. I would love to see a line or bar graph, right on the logni screen that shows the amount of time worked so far in a work week. As a freelancer, staying on task and on target is important and sometimes difficult. Being able to see a graphical chart of time worked, at a glance, would help me stay on track. Plus everyone likes pretty charts. I’ve been bugging them to add this for years now. They’re probably tired of me! But, it would be cool.
What else does Pancake App do?
Quite a bit actually. Generate Estimates, track expenses, get graphical reports, create multiple business identities and more.
Is it Customizable?
Is it hard to install?
I didn’t think so, but I’m used to installing self hosted apps. But guess what, if you run in to trouble, they will do it for you, for free!
Is it actively developed?
Yes. I see updates regularly. The automated update system lets you apply the update to your installation in just one click. I haven’t had any trouble with this so far. The developers have steadily been adding features, improvement and bug-fixes ever since I signed up. As far as support goes, the developers are quick to respond and friendly. There was a forum to throw out ideas, but reports and suggestions, which is currently being replaced by some type of better system to give your input. They really do read the forums and appreciate the feedback of their users. Exactly what you want out of software developers.
Is there a demo?
Yep. Just click the “demo” link on this page.
Does it still have room for improvement?
Absolutely. I have a running wish list. It’s mostly bonus features or minor issues I have with usability. One example is, the way you start and stop your work time from within the project task view is not very friendly. The icons are first of all hidden until you mouse over, than quite tiny and hard to click on sometimes. Seems like an odd choice for such an important component. I’d also like to see the ability to add task notes to your task while you work on it, instead of having to wait until you stop the timer. Often, I do so much that it’s hard to remember everything I’ve done after I’m finished. Finally, a graphical bar or line chart view of hours worked would be the icing on the cake, to keep me motivated!
I originally wrote this article in 2014. So, I’ve been using Pancake App for over 7 years! In that time I’ve processed hundreds of invoices for many clients. I haven’t had hardly any trouble with the app over the years. It does what it does, without surprises or bugs. The few minor issues that did pop up were quickly addressed and solved when I contacted support. At this point, they don’t seem to be doing any more updates, aside from occasional security updates. However, for my uses, there’s nothing missing and I haven’t even thought about switching to a new system.
If I had used a system with monthly membership, say at $10 a month, I would have paid over $800 by now! With Pancake, all I’ve paid was the original fee, which is around $149 currently.
All in all I recommend Pancake App for any small business that wants a slick project management and invoicing tool. The customize-ability, self-hosted installation and one time fee really round out the deal for me. Check it out and good luck!
Note: In the interest of full honest disclosure, the links to Pancake App on this page are affiliate links. I receive a small kickback if someone buys the app after clicking one of the links. However, I would not write this if I didn’t really believe in endorsing their app. It’s a win-win-win for everyone!
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