Blinksale–Easy Online Invoicing

Reviewed by: Chris Garrett, April 2006
Published by: Blinksale/Firewheel Design
Requires: Internet Explorer 6 or later, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple Safari
MSRP: US$6.00-$29.00/month for subscription (depending on volume; limited free sub is available)

Web 2.0 is a buzz word which has rapidly become one of the most prominent terms in software development today. Essentially, Web 2.0 is a new style of web site—one which includes similar functionality to its counterpart desktop applications whilst excluding the unnecessary bloat which is so common in the desktop environment. One of the most popular questions from skeptical users is why should they choose to use a less-featured, web-based alternative to their existing desktop applications? There are many answers to this, however my favorite is that when you use a web application and save something you've created with it, you save that file on a remote server. Essentially, this provides you with a highly secure copy of your data which is safe from dramas such as corrupted or crashed hard drives, natural disasters, employee error and other problems.

Not enough? Web 2.0 is also focused to a great extent on collaborative data sharing. Say you've got a document you've made in Microsoft Word (an invoice, creative brief, etc.) and you need to quickly get a friend to take a look at it, but your friend doesn't have Microsoft Word (maybe because he can't afford it). What do you do? You're stuck. However if you're using a web application such as Writely then all your friend needs to do is sign up for a free account and you can both collaborate on the document. Excellent! That's the background of one of the most radical changes in software development.

Isn't managing invoices a pain? Blinksale's goal is to make it easier. The company currently offers a variety of plans to suit a wide variety of business users. Each plan has a different limit on monthly invoicing. The free account allows three invoices per cycle, while the platinum plan weighs in at a $29 monthly fee and allows a mighty 500 invoices per cycle. There are plans in between with suitable pricing, depending on what type of business you run. For instance a freelance designer isn't likely to send more than 20 invoices a month, whereas someone selling products is likely to send a vast amount more.

Once you sign up for Blinksale, your account is set up on a subdomain of (e.g., I personally find this an annoyance as the first time I returned to the site after signing up I was unable to find anywhere to login. However others have said that they like the subdomain approach because it makes their invoices seem more clearly branded and less like generic third-party web templates. Once you log in you are presented with a summary page. From there you can add clients and with a few clicks easily create invoices. Selecting an option to create one of three different types of invoices (service, time, product) forces a box to pull down in the main content area (a common trait of Web 2.0 applications is a heavy use of animation thanks to javascript libraries such as Moo.FX and Prototype), which allows you to either select an existing client or, if this is your first time using the service, create a new client. In the higher end packages you're offered the option to create personalized invoice templates. The basic free package provides only a short list of predefined templates.

The available templates have been professionally designed, so they are attractive. However they are also slightly generic, although you can add your own logo to spice things up and brand your invoices. Once you've created an invoice an e-mail is sent to the client, detailing where the invoice can be accessed online. This is perhaps the best feature of the service as you remove the need to send invoices by mail and spend days worrying about whether it's been lost, intercepted, damaged by a flood, thrown in the rubbish or some other problem. The Blinksale server also saves your invoice indefinitely (without using up your storage allowance for later months) which means the invoice can be resent after 30 days for example, if your client hasn't paid for some reason.

All is not a bed of roses however because Blinksale still needs what I consider to be a few more essential features. I personally would like to export my invoices for personal assurance in some universal format (PDF, RTF, Microsoft DOC, Microsoft XLS, or an XML configuration of some kind). It would also be nice to have a login box on the home page, especially since my username is chris.garrett but my subdomain has to be which makes things slightly confusing (or at least non-intuitive, strictly speaking). Another issue is that Blinksale is a pre-hosted service which means that all your data is stored on the Blinksale server. That's great for backups and so on, but not so good if you're paranoid about who has access to your information. So Firewheel could conceivably benefit from releasing a parallel version of their system which could be run on a user's own server space and I would favor anyone who came to the marketplace with such a plan. One last step Firewheel may wish to take is the introduction of an application programming interface (API) which would allow developers to build links between other applications such as 37signals Basecamp, <> because project management and invoicing are two tasks which, in my opinion, are more or less married.

The people at Firewheel Design have provided a quality product in Blinksale. The simple interface and avoidance of unnecessary features which are more typical of desktop software, show that Firewheel believes in the philosophy that it's better to build a simpler product well rather than a more complex product poorly. This is a viable, easy to use solution for many small businesses. Recommended.

KSN Product Rating:

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