Ever since I started freelancing I’ve been searching for a way to – in short – organize my shit. If you’ve ever freelanced or done anything of the sort, you know it’s tough. There’s so much going on that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of it all, especially if you don’t have a system in place. That’s why I started using Pancake App.
I went full time with my freelance design in September of last year. At first I just kept track of things wherever I happened to write them down, and didn’t see the need for anything beyond that because I was just starting out. As I got more clients it started getting hard to keep track of what had to get done by what day, how much money I was bringing in, and everything else that a business needs to keep track of.
A few months in I realized I had to get some sort of system in place, but I was still at the point where I didn’t want to invest any large amount of money into it. There’s probably a point in every freelancers life when they still try to deny the fact that it’s necessary to make investments in your business. I was at that point, and tried to find free or the cheapest possible options for everything. I was tracking my income in excel, tracking my time with Toggl, using Trello to interact with clients, using Hello Sign to get my contracts signed, making invoices in InDesign, emailing with clients traditionally, and marking plans in my calendar. It got the job done, but it was still a lot to manage and a lot of different applications to keep track of. Not to mention that there was no central place for me to go to check in on my projects and to remind myself of what needed to get done.
A few months ago my business started to pick up and I started to get some money in the bank, so I realized it was maybe time to invest in my business, and myself. I spent far too long browsing around the internet looking for a worthily investment that would do everything I needed it to. Most of the options I came across were online and required a monthly subscription, but I’m just a little too controlling and frugal for something like that. I wanted an application that I could buy, pay for one time, and it would be mine. Where I could control the information and everything about it, and I wouldn’t have to pay a fee every month or risk losing it.
Then I came across Pancake App. Weird name – I know, just don’t judge it yet. The first thing that drew it to me was the one time payment. You buy it, it’s yours, and then you install it on your own server – just like a website. I did my research about the app, read some reviews, and tested it out before buying. The only hesitation I had was that there was no refund. Most of the programs I looked at had some sort of guarantee – like if you weren’t happy after 30 or 60 days using it you could have your money back. Pancake App on the other hand had a ‘no refund policy’. It irked me a bit but made sense in the long run. Since once you download the app you then have it and there’s no license key or way for them to get it back from you, you can’t get your money back, even if you aren’t happy with it.
But, to counteract that fact, they do have a demo on their site that you can test out. You can actually use it and go through all the motions and enter your info to try it out. But don’t forget, the login info you use to get into the demo is the same as everyone else who is using the demo, which means they can see all the info you enter, so use some fake stuff.
I’ve been using Pancake App for a few months now, and I’m in love. It works so well for everything that I need, and they are constantly updating it with new functionality. It’s an app that I can definitely stand behind, and if you’re considering buying – here is what you can expect from it.
The interface has a nice dashboard where you can see all the important things that are going on like outstanding money, client activity, and tasks for today.
The first thing you’ll want to do when you set up Pancake App is create your clients. You create a file for each client and it stores information like their website and contact info, as well as notes. Once you create a client they have a client login area where they can go in to see the details of the project. You can send this to them (though you don’t have to and emails are never sent automatically). You can also set it to be password protected.
You can create an endless number of projects, and each one is assigned to a client. Under the project you can create milestones that need to be passed, and tasks under each one. You can set the status of each task like pending or in progress so that your client can see the status. You can also choose whether a task can be seen by the client or just yourself so that you can add admin tasks to the list as well.
As you check of tasks the projects also show the percentage that is done so that you can keep track of how close you are to finishing. I love projects because I set up a workflow for all my complete branding and site design packages and saved it as a template, so every time I get a new client I create a new project from the template and all my tasks are there and organized for me.
You can track time for each individual project task using the built in timer. It tracks your time per project and then you can turn into an invoice.
You can send invoices based on time tracked or you can just create an invoice manually. You can invoice hourly or on a flat rate basis. You can make notes for how your client should pay, and even create a payment schedule if they need to pay in instalments. Once you create the invoice you can email it to your client through Pancake App. Then it tracks when the client has viewed it, and reminds you that it hasn’t been paid if it becomes overdue.
With estimates you can create a cost estimate for your client, which can also be done hourly or on a flat rate basis. This is great to do at the beginning of a project to send the client to give them an idea of the cost. It’s also great for internal purposes, if you don’t want to send it to the client you still have a record of how much you’ve quoted them.
Pancake App doesn’t have contracts, but I use proposals instead since they work very similarily. You can create a proposal with details of the project and terms and conditions, and then add an estimate into it. Then you send it to the client to view and they can accept or reject it. It’s not quite the same as having a contract signed, but very similar in function.
There’s also an area that lets you track your expenses. You can put it what you bought, what category it falls under, and even upload a picture of the receipt for your records. The only drawback is there is no column for tax paid, though apparently they are working on that in the next update.
You can view reports of things like your total income, outstanding payments, and expenses. You see them in a cool pie chart, but you can also view them in a list and download them into an excel file.
You also have the option of allowing clients to open support tickets. So if a client runs into a problem or something along the project they can login to their area and open a ticket for you to address.
Client Login Area
The client login area lists everything about the project so that the client can see it. You have the option for each individual item to be viewable there or not, so you can control what the client sees. Each item they can see can be commented on, so you can discuss the entire project there. Each comment sends a notification to both you and the client, so you can stay up to date by email, but all your contacts are recorded in Pancake App so things stay nice and organized. You can also upload files and images there so you can transfer files or discuss designs along the way.
One issue I had was actually installing it. On their website it says it’s easy, but I had a bit of trouble making my way around the backend, and if it wasn’t for the support that Dreamhost offers, I would NOT have been able to do it on my own (and I know more than the average person about the inner workings of a website). So just make sure you have some support on hand when you go to do it. It’s all a blur now because I had to ask support for help, but eventually I’ll get my head on straight and write a tutorial on how to do it.
But, my favourite part of this app is that it’s on your server and just like a website, which means that I can edit the CSS and make it look like I want it to. That’s not really an important element like the functionality or anything, but as a designer, how things look is super important to me, so I LOVE being able to fiddle with the design.
There are probably lots of other features that I’m forgetting to mention, but ultimately I’m in LOVE with Pancake App. It has everything I need and has really streamlined my process and got me organized. If you have any questions about it just ask!