Partially because it’s been touted as a great XHTML+CSS-based application, and partially because I could use better invoice management, I signed up for a free Blinksale account. Having spent some time fiddling around with it, I’ll be the first to say that I’m pretty impressed by what’s under the hood. The markup is just about as clean as a Web application gets, and it generally uses the right elements in the right places. It might be a little
div-heavy, but that’s not an easy thing to avoid. The gang at Firewheel has done solid work there.
On the other hand, the visual design of Blinksale totally hurts my eyes. Those are some amazing shades of green, boys. I really wish they didn’t clash in quite that way. Also, the entire application feels rather like a copy of Basecamp, from the way it’s organized to the ability to get activity feeds to the “Remember me for 2 weeks” login option. Those are, of course, all nice options to have in this sort of application, but they still feel like copies.
The help system, on the other hand, turned out to be an enormously deep resource once I drilled in a bit. Just about anything you could possibly want to know about Blinksale is in there somewhere, I’d wager. Firewheel has definitely raised the bar there, and gets an enthusiastic round of applause for it.
Beyond that, Blinksale seems like it would be great for hourly consulting, or for invoicing items that are shipped to the customer. For my purposes, though, it isn’t really an invoicing system. Most of my work involves traveling to clients to conduct in-person training, so in addition to the consulting fee, there are expenses to bill and receipts to submit. In some cases, there are clients who would likely refuse to accept a web-based invoice.
So I could use it as a way to track which invoices have gone out and which have been paid, but I could do that with an Excel spreadsheet or a Filemaker Pro database, or heck, I could even whip up my own little PHP/mySQL solution. Adding in all the extra stuff, like e-mailed invoices and reminders and thank-yous, would be time-consuming, and it would be a truly major effort to add my own PayPal integration, as Blinksale has done. It probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as polished (although it also wouldn’t have those retina-searing color combinations). For basic invoice tracking, though, I’d be able to do everything Blinksale offers me, and not have limitations like only being able to store a total of three clients, or being limited to three invoices per month.
Now, remember, I’m talking about what it will do for me. I’d like to stress that my situation is somewhat unique: not many freelance consultants earn a living in training. For a freelance designer or even a small design shop, I can totally see Blinksale as being a great application to use. I doubt I’ll see a need to upgrade to a paid account—but your mileage, as ever, may vary.