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.
Having just announced the release of the final beta version of AcuInvoice, it seems appropriate to detail the new features and enhancements soon to be introduced in our 1.0 release. Our remaining to-do list for the 1.0 release is quite short, and most are backend items that won’t meaningfully alter the user experience. Still, a few are worth noting, and details are provided below. Posts describing plans for AcuInvoice 1.1 and beyond are soon to follow.
Incremental Backups Powered by Amazon Web Services
We’re sold on Amazon Web Services. We currently use Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) as an offsite backup solution for our internal files and have decided to use S3 as a means of providing AcuInvoice subscribers an added level of security. Concurrent with the 1.0 release, we will be implementing a script that conducts nightly incremental offsite backups of your AcuInvoice database and configuration files to Amazon S3. This backup is in addition to, not a replacement for, the redundancy already provided by our server’s RAID configuration. S3 resides on one of the world’s most secure, robust, and redundant IT infrastructures, and we are happy to provide this added level of data redundancy to our subscribers.
Optimize Invoice Printing
For those who snail mail their invoices, we will be implementing minor changes to the invoice print format.
Unified Search Solution
Our blog, forum, and marketing site are all powered by different technologies. Additionally, we will soon initiate the development of comprehensive documentation (possibly via another CMS), which will increase our need for efficient, accurate search. While each platform has an available internal search function, it would require some hacking to build a function that works site-wide. We are therefore implementing Google’s Custom Search Engine to allow users to locate relevant content regardless of its location on the AcuInvoice domain. Why hack when you can just use Google?
Last Friday we updated the AcuInvoice code to the 0.4 release, the final version prior to the forthcoming commercial release. This update includes a number of feature additions, UI modifications, and minor bug fixes, the highlights of which are described below. User feedback continues to drive the rapid improvement of AcuInvoice, and we thank those who have submitted tickets, contacted us by email, or phoned us with constructive criticisms. Your observations and attention to detail help speed development and make AcuInvoice a better product for all users. As regards the timing of the first commercial release, this could happen as early as next week or as late as the first week in February. The uncertain timing derives from the expected arrival of a son (our first) in the coming days. Following his birth, I’ll be tending to things at home for several days, and will delegate most customer support duties my very capable and responsive colleagues. Lastly, there are several important blog entries we will post in the coming days, among them posts on pricing, plans for AcuInvoice 1.0 and beyond, the development of a CRM application that integrates with AcuInvoice, a funding announcement, expansion of the AcuInvoice API, and the forthcoming development of a web store script that utilizes the AcuInvoice API. Check your feeds regularly, and please post a comment, visit the forum, or contact us directly if you have any questions.
Highlights From the 0.4 Release
Several users requested the ability to add custom notes to an invoice. This feature is already being used to provide invoice recipients with additional payment instructions, VAT numbers and more. You can set a default note in My Account–>Preferences, and can easily modify the default note each time you create an invoice. If users have and additional feedback regarding this feature, please let us know.
With assistance from Luc Latulippe we have optimized the AcuPort code such that we can now import–with just one click–several dozen contacts and a large number of invoices rapidly and seemingly error free. As a reminder, AcuPort is a function in AcuInvoice that allows you to import all of your Blinksale data into AcuInvoice so that you can try our service risk free and without data loss. We have previously posted a more detailed description of AcuPort, and suggest this post if you’re interested in the relevant background information. If you have a particularly large Blinksale account and would like to give AcuInvoice a spin, please give us a call or email us at support (at) acuinvoice (dot) com and we will initiate the data transfer during off-peak times.
Linsey requested that PDFs be included as a supported invoice attachment file type. You can now attach doc, .pdf, .txt, .jpg, .png, and .bmp files to invoices. Please post a comment or submit a ticket if you would like to enable another (non-executable) filetype for attachment.
We have added a coupon script to AcuInvoice and will issue to our Early Adopters a code that provides a significant discount on paid plans. Coupon codes will be sent via email in the coming days.
Custom CSS & Template Parsing
Dean at ClickSolution observed a bug involving the use of custom CSS to design invoices and estimates; this bug has been fixed. Additionally, Dean pointed out a template parsing bug (also fixed in this release) and well as a couple of easily implemented UI improvements. Thanks for these great suggestions, Dean—we truly appreciate your help.
We identified an Amazon Payments bug specific to the Safari web browser. This has been fixed.
This release includes the repair of a minor bug related to the display of the British Pound in the comments section.
This morning we applied a major update to the AcuInvoice code and are designating this the 0.3 release. We have managed to stay on track with our development calendar, but held off on this release until we were able to get all of the languages files updated appropriately. Thanks again to Charles Jean for his outstanding translation services. The 0.3 release includes a number of significant updates, most notably an improved sales tax system and support for Google Checkout and Amazon Flexible Payment Services (Amazon FPS). With the release of these features, we now have only minor updates to apply prior to the initial commercial release of AcuInvoice. We expect these updates to be completed throughout the remainder of December and into the first week or two of January. As a reminder, subscribers who sign up prior to the initial commercial release will be entitled to a subscription plan that will not be available to those who sign up after the 1.0 release. Details on 0.3 can be found below.
Perhaps the most obvious update in the 0.3 release is the integration of Google Checkout and Amazon FPS. For those who may not be familiar with these payment options, both Google and Amazon.com have recently entered the online payments market and are offering extremely competitve rates for payment processing. Google Checkout currently has the simplest of fee structures: FREE. Payments processed through Google Checkout are completely free until February 1, 2008, after which they will charge 2% plus $0.20/transaction. Additionally, if you advertise on Google AdWords, Google will credit your Checkout account for the processing fees on charges of up to 10X your monthly AdWords spend. For example, if you spend $100 with AdWords, your first $1000 of Google Checkout processing is free (a $20 savings in this example). Lastly, non-profit organizations will not be charged any processing fees for donations processed via Google Checkout until 2009.
Like Google Checkout, Amazon FPS offers advantages that are likely to accelerate its adoption. First, since every Amazon.com customer already has the ability to make payments through FPS, Amazon FPS enters the online payments market with an astounding 70 million accounts. Second, as Paul Stamatiou has very keenly noted, Amazon FPS is an ideal solution for micropayments and will be the only economical choice for businesses selling a large number of low cost items.
Improved US Sales Tax
The current release includes expanded support for sales tax, with an emphasis on US markets (for now). Subscribers can specify sales tax rates for different states and can even create different tax rates at the city level. The improved sales tax system is located in My Account–>Sales Tax. Please try out the system and let us know what we can do to make it even better.
Please Kick The Tires!
The overwhelming majority of the improvements to AcuInvoice are attributable directly to feedback from our users. We love hearing from you and strongly encourage you to contact us at support (at) acuinvoice (dot) com if you find something that doesn’t look quite right or if you have constructive criticisms of any kind whatsoever. Thanks again for your support.
The AcuInvoice Team
On Friday we released AcuInvoice 0.2. This update includes multi-language support, translations into Spanish, French, and German, several minor feature updates, and a handful of minor bug fixes. Additionally, we have finished programming our improved tax support system, though (for reasons described below) it is not included in this release. We’re considerably closer to a 1.0 release than the 0.2 nomenclature suggests and are targeting early January for the initial commercial release of our service. Additional details on this release are below.
The most significant feature of the 0.2 release is multi-language support (MLS). Though MLS has been programmed for some time, the textual content of AcuInvoice has been evolving so much that it would have been impractical to have translations performed prior to last week. MLS is quite simple; just click on the flag indicative of your language of choice and the new language file will be loaded. These icons are found in the header area of the site and application. Our server logs indicate that many of you have already discovered as much.
What Gets Translated?
The application, the static portions of the AcuInvoice marketing site, and certain application email templates. The email templates we have translated are those that are system generated, not those that are editable by an AcuInvoice user.
Item Numbering Updated
When adding items to invoices, you can now have things such as 1.50 hours. This might get tweaked a bit more in the future, but for now it should provide the additional flexibility that many of you have requested.
We have updated AcuPort to include some bug fixes, minor changes, etc. This will probably be released as a standalone PHP script, a desktop application, or both in the coming months. Prior to releasing this, however, we have more features we will be adding.
Tax Support Finished
We have finished programming our improved tax support system. A minor consequence of our new multi-language platform, however, is that it is necessary to have language translations performed in advance of new feature releases. Therefore, we need to hold off on releasing this until such time as we can have translations of these new screens performed. We’re going to bundle these translations along with a few other forthcoming feature releases (Google Checkout, etc.), thereby minimizing the amount of work required by our translators.
Two unexpected business trips rendered this blog quiet for the past several days.Despite the silence, we continue to make considerable progress and will be releasing a series of important incremental improvements over the coming weeks. Below is a tentative release schedule for these features. Please continue to email us your comments, questions, and feature requests to support (at) acuinvoice (dot) com. The amount and quality of feedback has been exceedingly helpful and we thank our users for their support and active participation in this effort.
Multi-Language Support: Week of 11/19
Translations into Spanish, French, and German have been performed and multi-language support will be released this week. While the homepage and tour page of the marketing site will be translated as well, the blog and our responses in the user forums will remain English only.
Improved Tax Support: Week of 11/19
We are actively coding an improved sales tax system that will allow you to specify the states/regions where you need to charge sales tax. This will be a useful feature for those who send large numbers of invoices and who are required to charge different rates of tax based on the presence of a local office in one state or another. We expect to launch the improved sales tax system late this week or early next week.
Partial Hours: Week of 11/19
Several people have asked us to loosen the current restriction on having only whole hours. By the end of the week you will be able to input things such as 1.4 hours as a line item on your invoices. Thanks to several people, in particular Phillip Blake, for feedback on this issue.
AcuPort 0.2: Week of 11/19
We are implementing a series of new features and bug fixes to AcuPort, the import/export scripts that allow you move data between AcuInvoice and Blinksale with just one click. Thanks to Luc Latulippe for providing a robust test case for AcuPort and for helping us uncover a few subtle issues related to this important functionality.
Various Fixes: Week of 11/19
There are a few other minor fixes that will be released this week, among them an issue related to the invoice date picker.
CSS Based Invoice Layouts: Week of 11/26
The invoice template file includes a few unnecessary tables. In the coming days, this will be revised such that
divs are used whenever possible. This will let users float most elements in the invoice and will enable more sophisticated customization of invoices. If you are currently using something other than the default CSS file, you will likely have to update your style sheet once this new template file is released.
New Invoice Designs: Week of 11/26
Concurrent with (or shortly after) the release of the revised template file, we will start releasing a series of CSS files that will allow you to apply a different look to your invoices. Thanks in advance to Ben Gray for what are certain to be beautiful invoice designs.
Google Checkout and Amazon FPS: Week of 12/3
A few users have asked about the timeframe for the release of Google Checkout and Amazon FPS support. As of today, we are anticipating support for these gateways in early December. This will bring the number of supported payment gateways to five. Please post additional payment gateway requests to the forums or email us (as most of you seem to prefer) at support (at) acuinvoice.com. We’ve already had requests for gateways including WorldPay and eWay. If you’d like to second your support for these gateways, or if you would like to nominate others for inclusion in AcuInvoice, let us know and we’ll consider putting them on the development roadmap.
Today we are happy to announce the release of AcuPort. AcuPort lets you move your data from Blinksale to AcuInvoice (and back) with one easy click. Now you can import your Blinksale information into AcuInvoice and try it for free. Invoices imported via AcuPort don’t even count against your monthly invoice limit, so if you have a large existing Blinksale account, this isn’t an obstacle. If you like AcuInvoice, we’d love to have you as a customer. If you like Blinksale better, AcuPort gives you the freedom to move your data back the same way. Simply put, AcuPort lets you try AcuInvoice for free, with no risk and zero hassle.To use it, just go to “My Account” and click on “Import/Export”.
Under The Hood (For Geeks)
AcuPort utilizes the APIs of each service to map data fields between the respective applications and efficiently transfer account data from one service to the other. Since both APIs operate over encrypted connections, data transfer is safe and easy. AcuPort currently resides in My Account→Import/Export, but will soon be included as an option during the sign-up process. Additionally, AcuPort will be released as a standalone PHP script that can be loaded onto your server. We plan on adding additional services to AcuPort, and will update the script as we finalize the data transfer routines for our other competitors.
Invoices, contacts, tags, invoice histories, and comments. Blinksale does not support estimates, so if you have an AcuInvoice account and want to go to Blinksale, you’ll lose those.
Sounds Cool. Why Are You Doing This?
We have a strong—and improving—service and want to get the word out. For those of you who have already created AcuInvoice accounts, you’ve no doubt seen a series of incremental improvements and feature releases that makes AcuInvoice competitive with any application in this space. In addition to the features you’ve seen released, we have a variety of forthcoming features, API-based extensions, and UI improvement that will make AcuInvoice a formidable presence in the area of small business accounting.
Why Try AcuInvoice Now?
Strong Product & More To Come
AcuInvoice is a great product that’s already competitive with other applications, but we’re still adding features. If there’s something you want in your billing application, let us know and we’ll strongly consider it. This is your chance to help shape AcuInvoice.
More Powerful, Less Expensive Subscriptions
Early Adopters will have exclusive access to a feature rich, lower cost subscription plan that will not be available to subscribers who sign up after the initial commercial release. If you sign up now, you get more features for less money.
During the time you are trying AcuInvoice, you could move to the free Blinksale plan and save money.
Blinksale allows users to create invoice numbers using a free form text variable. For example, “whatever:56!:?:)” is a perfectly acceptable invoice number. AcuInvoice maintains numbering conventions whereby invoices are ordered incrementally as they are created. Therefore, when invoices are imported from Blinksale, AcuPort re-orders imported invoices according to the date of creation and assigns them an invoice number.
Blinksale Invoice Caps
Blinksale limits the number of invoices you can create per billing period; invoices transferred into Blinksale via AcuPort will count against this limit. Therefore, if you want to switch to Blinksale using this script, make sure that the account type you have is sufficient to accommodate all of your invoices.
AcuPort has been tested on medium sized accounts going both to and from AcuInvoice. Large accounts might take some time to transfer and might exceed our server’s current timeout interval (30 seconds). If you have a large account, drop us a note at support (at) acuinvoice (dot) com and we will be happy to run the scripts outside of the web interface during off peak hours; we will then email you when the data has been successfully loaded into your AcuInvoice account.
If you encounter trouble of any kind, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We have run several test cases, but there may be a few troublesome import scenarios that were impossible to identify during testing. If you see something that doesn’t look right, please contact us and we’ll fix it.
The AcuInvoice team has been hard at work implementing features, bug fixes, and UI updates. Expect blog communications to pick up considerably next week, as we unveil some significant new features and communicate a few exciting developments within the company.
Since the initial AcuIvoice launch on October 7th, we have closed 50 tickets, including 16 this week. On behalf of the entire development team, I would like to thank the AcuInvoice subscribers for emailing us with your feedback and change requests. We can’t emphasize enough the impact that your suggestions have made on product development and sincerely hope you will continue to support this development effort by providing constructive criticisms.
A Big Thanks
We would like to extend a special thanks to an AcuInvoice subscriber from Northern Ireland who has provided feedback that, both in volume and quality, surpasses anything we could have imagined. UK and EU subscribers will be particularly appreciative of this user’s eye for detail. In addition to prompting us to repair issues related EU date formats and the proper display of the British pound, said subscriber made suggestions leading to improvements to the manner in which AcuInvoice handles non-US addresses. Subscribers in the UK, Canada, and Australia will now find a pre-populated pull down menu having a variety of provinces/regions available for selection. We will be tweaking this feature a bit more, but it is far improved over that which was included in the previous iteration. Additionally, it was suggested that users be allowed to disable the printing of logos; this excellent suggestion, which shall soon be be implemented, will allow subscribers to print to their own letterhead without duplicating their logo. Lastly, thanks to his inquiry, we posted a description of how to disable the display of URLs and other header/footer information when invoices are printed. We thank you, sir, for your feedback and promise to buy the Guinness when next we’re in Ireland.
AcuInvoice Goes International
AcuInvoice has gained an international foothold. In addition to a large number of accounts in the US and Canada, we now have several subscribers from the UK, Australia, South Africa, Taiwan, and Iran. This Kentuckian was even shocked to see someone from a place called Tennessee. If our international subscribers would like to see AcuInvoice translated into their mother tongue, please post a ticket or indicate as much in the user forum. Multi-language support is coming soon, so please send us your language requests.