We’ve done a minor update to the Mac Time Tracking and Expense Tracking Widget. Users were having to re-enter their API key after a restart or logout; this has now been fixed, and users should download the updated version here.
This morning we have unveiled a major new release of code, and have rebranded this service as Smart Invoice. It is far more than just a name change. Concurrent with this release, we have simplified the user interface, implemented several new features, and are preparing to release a number of utilities that interact with Smart Invoice (time & expense tracking utilities, QuickBooks integration, and mobile device applications). We have also taken the axe to our paid plans. We now have just two paid plans: one at $14/month, and the other at $39/month. This post describes some of the major new features in this release of Smart Invoice. As with any major release, we know that our users will have feedback, questions, and will likely spot a few minor issues. Please contact me directly if you have any questions whatsoever, and let us know what you think of the new Smart Invoice. Also, after a long hiatus, this blog has officially come out of hibernation. We’re back.
Sidney H. VanNess, Ph.D.
President & CEO
The first thing that you will notice is the new user interface. In addition to a complete redesign, we have added a dashboard that displays a snapshot of your business (A/R, billable work, and billable expenses), and which provides streamlined access to many of Smart Invoice’s core features. From this screen you can quickly create a new invoice, client, or project and can view recent activity and notifications related to your invoices.
Perhaps the most requested feature was the ability to track time. Smart Invoice now includes a simple time tracking interface that allows you to specify a client, project, and task, and log hours directly into your Smart Invoice account. The interface allows you to easily generate invoices based on time you have logged, and it sorts these items based on whether or not they have been billed. To make time tracking easier, we will soon be releasing a Mac Time Tracking Widget, as well as a time tracking utility for mobile devices.
Smart Invoice now features a simple expense tracking utility that allows you to log expenses against client projects, and to track your Company’s internal (i.e. unbillable) expenses. When you go to invoice a client who has billable expenses recorded, Smart Invoice will automatically remind you to include those expenses in the invoice. Note that the aforementioned widget will also allow you to record expenses from the Mac desktop.
Projects & Tasks
Smart Invoice introduces the concepts of projects and tasks. You can now track your work based on these inputs, and automatically generate invoices based on time you have logged against projects.
We have added PDF invoices to all paid accounts. When your clients view an invoice, they will be able to download a PDF for their records.
Automatic Past Due Notifications
Smart Invoice now features the ability to automatically send notification of past due invoices. To enable this feature visit Settings | Email Templates | Automated Payment Reminders. Enable each notification you wish to send, update the text as appropriate, and save your settings.
Business Identification Numbers
Several users (particularly users outside of the US) requested that we add the ability to display a business identification numbers on invoices. You can now add this by clicking Settings | Edit Account. You will see two fields: “Business ID Type” (e.g. VAT Number or ABN) and “Business ID” (the actual number). These will automatically show up in the address block of your invoices.
Smart Invoice now supports the import of both single and multi-contact vCards. Visit Clients | Import From vCard to perform a bulk import of clients.
Custom Item Types
We received frequent requests for the ability to add custom item types to invoices, and this has been integrated into Smart Invoice. To add custom item types, you can either click “+” in the invoice creation interface or click on Settings | Customization to define custom item types.
Smart Invoice now makes it easy to send clients a statement, which includes all outstanding invoices. To send a statement, navigate to Clients | <your client’s name> | Client Statement and click the send button.
The old AcuInvoice sales tax system was flexible, but cumbersome. Smart Invoice has adopted the less is more approach. The sales tax system allows you to specify the name of the tax and a percentage; you simply select the tax from a pulldown menu to apply the tax to the relevant items. You can define taxes in Settings | Sales Tax, or create them on the fly through the invoice creation interface.
We have significantly improved the recurring invoices feature. Previously, recurring templates required that you specify line items, a billing interval, and a start date. The problem with this system was that you could end up having several different templates for essentially the same service (e.g. web hosting starting on January 1, web hosting starting on January 2). We have therefore modified the recurring invoices feature so that a template specifies only line items and an invoicing frequency. After creating this template, you then associate specific clients, each of whom have their own start date.
This week we will be releasing version 1.0 of the AcuInvoice Simple Store, a PHP application that uses the AcuInvoice API to enable subscribers to quickly generate a standards-compliant web store where customers can place orders for products, services, and digital goods. Order information is passed securely via the AcuInvoice API to the subscriber’s account and invoices are automatically sent. If you sell digital goods (MP3s, images, software, etc), the items will be automatically delivered to the customer once payment is received and the invoice is converted into a closed state. The AcuInvoice Simple Store is an outstanding example of the power of the AcuInvoice API (it even uses a number of features and data elements that we have yet to fully document) and provides a large amount of sample code that will be useful to other AcuInvoice developers. Therefore, we will be releasing the AcuInvoice Simple Store to the AcuInvoice community free of charge as a means of providing a strong set of core classes with which developers can build custom AcuInvoice applications. We will be putting the finishing touches on the Simple Store early this week, and plan on releasing documentation and tutorials along with the script later in the week. This post highlights the features and benefits of the store, and provides access to a sample store containing some $0.10 items so that you can execute a couple of test transactions and let us know what you think.
We have posted “The Charlie Store“ so that you can see a preview of what the store looks like by default. You can execute a test transaction (where you purchase a $0.10 picture of my infant son and have it automatically delivered) to test the functionality. The script functions in the manner described in the “How It Works” section below.
How It Works
When a customer places an order from your AcuInvoice Simple Store, all order data will be instantly passed to your AcuInvoice account. The data will be used to create a new contact (if the customer is not already in the database), and an invoice will be automatically created and sent to your customer at the email address provided during checkout. When your customer receives your invoice, they can pay via any gateway that you have enabled both in your AcuInvoice account and the AcuInvoice Simple Store. Once the invoice is paid, it will be automatically converted into a closed state. If the order contained any digital goods, the script will automatically send out an email containing an order-specific download URL. The AcuInvoice Simple Store allows you to limit the duration the download URL is valid, and specify a maximum number of item downloads.
Features & Benefits
Super Simple Installation
The AcuInvoice Simple Store is easy to install and configure. Simply unzip the archive, upload it to your web server, create a MySQL database, change a couple of permissions settings, and load the installer script in your browser. Your store will be automatically configured and should be functioning in about five minutes.
The AcuInvoice Simple Store utilizes clean CSS and produces valid XHTML 1.0 Strict for maximum compatibility with a variety of popular web browsers.
Simple Management of Content
The AcuInvoice Simple Store utilizes the TinyMCE HTML editor giving you the ability to style your store’s content using a familiar interface. TinyMCE is integrated by default into a number of applications and should be familiar to most users.
Your AcuInvoice Simple Store is completely customizable. You can make modifications to the storefront to suit the look of your site, and edit the store’s CSS via a simple web-based editing utility.
Standalone and Embeddable Mode
The AcuInvoice Simple Store can be used in either a standalone or embeddable mode. The standalone mode (default) produces a separate storefront page, while the embeddable mode allows you to insert your AcuInvoice Simple Store into any web page using a singleelement. Embeddable mode could be used, for example, to insert your simple store into pages dynamically generated by popular publishing platforms such as WordPress.
Centralize Service Invoices and Store Purchases
You already use AcuInvoice to bill your clients, but if you sell products too, you might have to use another system for tracking those sales. Since the AcuInvoice Simple Store uses the AcuInvoice API to automatically enter customer and order information into AcuInvoice, all of your data will be centralized into your AcuInvoice account.
Automatically Delivers Digital Goods
If you sell digital goods from within your AcuInvoice Simple Store, these goods will be automatically delivered once the relevant invoice has been paid. Once payment is remitted and the invoice is converted into a closed state, customers will be sent an email containing a purchase-specific URLs that provides controlled access to digital content.
Plays Well With AcuInvoice Domain Mapping
If you have enabled domain mapping in your AcuInvoice account, all invoices generated via the AcuInvoice Simple Store will originate from your mapped domain, thereby giving you the option of providing a more carefully branded purchase experience for your customers.
The AcuInvoice Simple Store will be released without charge to the AcuInvoice community. Please note that transactions completed through the AcuInvoice Simple Store will automatically pass customer information securely to your AcuInvoice account. Therefore, if you believe you will have a very active store, be certain to have a subscription level that will permit you to have a sufficient number of invoiced clients.
Last night we applied some updates to the manner in which domain mapping behaves. If you have pointed yourdomain.com (or billing.yourdomain.com) to your AcuInvoice account, the following summarizes the manner in which invoice URLs and payment processing now occurs. These changes provide flexibility in branding your AcuInvoice account without sacrificing security as it pertains to sensitive data.
Invoices Sent From Mapped Domains
If you are logged into your AcuInvoice account using yourdomain.com and you send out an invoice, the invoice URL will be branded with your domain (e.g. http://yourdomain.com/someinvoice.php). Note that in this case the invoice is served over a standard http connection, due to the fact that there is not an SSL certificate installed on the AcuInvoice server that is valid for yourdomain.com. If a user clicks on the link for one of the enabled payment gateways, the transaction will occur over the acuinvoice.com domain, and will still have the benefit of 256-bit SSL encryption. In short, invoices can be viewed without SSL, but payments will be processed over an encrypted connection.
Invoices Sent From Your AcuInvoice ID
If you have a mapped domain, you can always login to AcuInvoice at https://your-acuinvoice-id.acuinvoice.com and send invoices. In this scenario, your invoices will be accessible and payable only over an encrypted connection.
One week ago today, we updated the AcuInvoice server to version 1.0. AcuInvoice users have been sent an email notifying them of the server update and explaining some of the changes that were unveiled concurrent with this release. Most of the development items in 1.0 were administrative, but there were a few features and fixes that new and existing users will note.
The obvious change with 1.0. One of the critical issues in determining AcuInvoice pricing has been the identification of a metric that could potentially be used by both AcuInvoice, as well as by the customer relationship management (CRM)/ project management module we intend to release in the second half of 2008. The plans outlined in the AcuInvoice pricing page, therefore, are based primarily on the number of invoiced clients, since this metric more closely relates to concepts that will be introduced in these additional modules. All AcuInvoice accounts include unlimited invoices and unlimited contacts. Clients only count against your subscription once they have been invoiced.
We killed the big signup form in favor of a system that merely requires an email address and the selection of an AcuInvoice subdomain. Login credentials are created on the fly and emailed to you immediately. New users can simply click on the confirmation URL and will be taken into AcuInvoice immediately. We obviously recommend that you update your user information prior to sending any invoices (they would look rather naked in the absence of your business information, wouldn’t they?), but this method makes it super-easy for people to view the AcuInvoice UI and to take our system for a test drive.
Rick at HappyPa.ws (an outstanding domain name for a great service–I’ll be sending my sister-in-law your way, Rick) suggested that we provide a means of applying discounts to invoices. Though we will likely deploy something more robust in the future, we have added “discount” as an item type in AcuInvoice. We would like to gather more feedback from users regarding a more robust discounts module and have posted a thread on the forum on this topic. We would encourage you to participate in this discussion so that our development roadmap accurately reflects the requests of our users.
Rest Added Following PayPal Transaction Completion
AcuInvoice was consistently faster than the PayPal instant payment notification (IPN) service. Therefore, when invoices were paid via PayPal, they were returned to their invoice to find it still in an open state. This was confusing, and resulted from the fact that there is a moderate delay between the completion of a PayPal transaction and the delivery of IPN notification. We have therefore implemented a delay of a few seconds to allow the PayPal IPN to update the AcuInvoice server prior to returning users to their (hopefully closed) invoice. If users encounter this issue again, let us know and we will increase the rest time a little more.
Various Browser-Specific Display Fixes
The 1.0 release includes browser-specific fixes for Safari, IE 6, IE7, Firefox, and Opera. The most irritating bug related to a Firefox display issue that was specific for Mac OSX—strange.
Thanks to the hundreds of AcuInvoice users who have contacted us, submitted tickets, and posted to our forums. We are grateful for your valuable feedback and please continue to contact us if you know of ways we can further improve AcuInvoice. We look forward to continuing the active development of AcuInvoice, implementing new features based on customer demand, and providing rapid, high-quality customer service. If you have any questions, or encounter problems of any kind, don’t hesitate to contact us.
As we near the launch of AcuInvoice 1.0, we have begun to update our development roadmap and set goals for the reminader of 2008. This post, which highlights features of the soon-to-be-developed AcuInvoice 1.1, is the first in a series of articles detailing our near term development goals and provides some insight regarding the direction of this service. Subsequent posts in this series will discuss (perhaps not in the following order):
- Plans for AcuInvoice 2.0, a major release scheduled for the second half of 2008
- Expansion of the AcuInvoice API and the release of an AcuInvoice-driven web store and
- Development of a CRM and project management module that integrates with AcuInvoice.
If you have any feedback on these, or any other, development items, please post a comment, start a topic on the forum, or contact us by email or phone.
AcuInvoice 1.1: An Update Scheduled for Late Q1 2008
The forthcoming 1.0 release marks both the conclusion of our initial development efforts, and the start of some important follow-on development. AcuInvoice 1.1, the first in a series of incremental updates, should be released late in the first quarter and will focus primarily on making the software more user friendly. Key features will include:
Dashboard Quick Actions
The AcuInvoice dashboard is ideal for scanning your invoices and identifying accounts in need of attention. However, working with invoices requires that you first click on the invoice, navigate to an invoice-specific screen, then select from one of several context-dependent actions. AcuInvoice 1.1 will include Dashboard Quick Actions, a series of functions allowing you to initiate context-specific actions from within the dashboard. You will no longer have to navigate to a particular invoice to receive payment, send a payment reminder, or deliver a thank you note; these actions will all be available via an intuitive dashboard interface.
AcuInvoice has powerful built-in reporting features and allows you to customize reports. AcuInvoice 1.1 will extend this functionality by allowing you to quickly generate reports using a set of predefined input parameters.
Tags are great for organizing your invoices and tracking various business segments. Though AcuInvoice’s tagging functionality is strong, it can be improved. The 1.1 release will allow users to edit tags and have changes automatically applied to all invoices.
There are a few elements in AcuInvoice that can be improved through the selective use of AJAX. Expect minor improvements throughout the application in this regard.
Adios, Unnecessary Pop Ups
A few unnecessary pop ups somehow managed to remain in the current code (we’re actually not sure how they managed to get there in the first place!). They will soon exit stage right.There will likely be several other small items included in AcuInvoice 1.1. Significant new features, however, will be included in AcuInvoice 2.0 (scheduled for the 2nd or 3rd quarter), and will be unveiled concurrent with the alpha release of a CRM & project management module currently in the planning stages. More on this major release (AcuInvoice 2.0) soon.