If you work in design, you’ve probably freelanced, and if you’ve freelanced, you know the headaches that come along with the job. Keeping track of projects; remembering to log all your hours; getting invoices sent out on time. I’ve always thought of it as a sort of built-in karma for being able to sleep in and wear your pajamas while working. But now the unmoored contract workers of the world have something to help tip the scales of sanity back in their favor. Paydirt, a new site made for freelancers, by freelancers, is a fully featured, subscription-based service that tracks time, creates invoices, and looks damn good doing it.
Setting things up is pretty simple: You put in the name of a job, your fixed price or hourly rate, and you’re off. Everything’s displayed plainly and clearly on a nice gray background. The timer for keeping track of your hours pops up in its own little browser window, offering a big green start button for every job. With the help of some extensions for Chrome and Firefox, you can get a little shortcut to the timer built into your browser, and (here’s the cool part), have it show you a small pop-up start button when it thinks you’re working on a certain job, based on the sites you’re browsing. That smart pop-up works for emails too--if the extension sees you’re sending a note to a client, it’ll put an unobtrusive start button right in the bottom corner of your screen. It’s a clever, convenient way to make sure you’re on the clock, and hey, all those emails back and forth add up.
Paydirt was created by Tristan Gamilis and Nicholas Firth-McCoy, two freelance web developers living in Melbourne, Australia. They explained that when it comes to building a site for managing a freelance career, the timeless design dictum "less is more" definitely applies. "Simplicity is the main thing," Gamilis told me. "Running a freelance business should be simple (you set a price for your work, track the work you do, and send a bill), but a lot of other billing systems make it complex. We try not to add extraneous features or interface elements. Just as in graphic design, it’s keeping things simple that’s the challenge."
"Being unobtrusive is important too," he continued. "Time tracking is notoriously difficult to manage because it gets in the way of your natural workflow--it’s obtrusive by nature. You have to remember to start a timer before you get to work. We’re trying to reverse that, by putting the start buttons where they belong--right on the work you’re doing, so you don’t have to remember to do it--you just start working."
Invoicing with Paydirt is similarly easy, with a visual, in-browser editor that automatically grabs your logged time from a given job and lets you rearrange your work into line items as needed. A slick invoice-tracking section lets you keep track of what’s been paid at a glance--and helps keep you courteous with a dedicated link for composing a thank-you email. And you can even pull up some bar graphs showing how much time you spent on various projects throughout the week.
Paydirt was designed to salve some perennial freelance frustrations, but Gamilis points out that it’s good for newcomers, too. "When you’re starting out, nobody tells you exactly how billing works," he said, "and it can be really helpful to have a system to follow that puts [you] on the right track."
But the team is also getting praise from a slightly less likely corner: the clients.
Clients, Gamilis explained, "actually like receiving invoices, when those invoices assure them that they’re paying the right amount, and paying for the work they requested. It builds trust, and a good working rhythm. They feel comfortable requesting more work, because they know what to expect."
So how much is a stress-free, web-based billing system worth to you? Paydirt offers three monthly packages: Starter, for $8 a month, which limits you to three clients; Hustler, for $16/mo, which offers unlimited clients as well as an option for sending online invoices with a PayPal payment option; and Team, for $32/mo, which allows access for two users. Monthly fees are kind of a drag, but if you’ve already got a few freelance projects going, the handy "I see you’re emailing client So and So" pop-up button will probably pay for the subscription on its own.
[Image by travellight/Shutter Stock]