A lot more people are taking up the entrepreneurial route these days. To the uninitiated it looks very easy; you are your own boss and can do whatever you wish. But someone who has already taken the plunge knows that being an entrepreneur is a lot tougher – whether working as a freelancer or the founder of a start- up, you will almost always find yourself donning several hats. While managing everything is relatively easy when you are small, it can become a daunting task to manage things when you start growing rapidly. Multitasking becomes a real skill as you negotiate with clients, send proposals and work on current assignments. With all this chaos, you certainly don’t want to miss out on payments – after all, that’s what you’re working for!
Today we introduce jBilling, which can help you manage the most important aspect of your business – the income. This is not the typical invoice management kind of tool, rather a full-fledged platform with several innovative features. jBilling helps you manage invoices, track payments, bill your customers and more with little effort on your behalf – just what you want when juggling responsibilities.
In this tutorial we will first cover the necessary steps to install and set up jBilling before having a closer look at the various features that can help you manage your business better. We have used the latest stable community edition of jBilling, version 3.1.0, for demo purposes in this article.
Step 01 Installation
jBilling is integrated with the web server out of the box, which helps make the installation process straightforward. Just unzip the downloaded zip file to a folder (where you want the installation to be done), eg ‘my_jBilling’. Open the command prompt and navigate to the folder /path/my_jBilling/bin. Assign executable permissions to all the shell script files, with the command chmod +x *.sh. Also, remember to set the JAVA_HOME variable with your Java Home path. You can then start jBilling by running ./startup.sh. This completes the installation process – note that the process may slightly differ depending on the OS you use. As the startup.sh script executes, the command prompt shows five lines of logs indicating successful start. You can then access jBilling via your browser at http://localhost:8080/jbilling and login with credentials admin/123qwe. You can also access http://localhost:8080/jbilling/signup to create your new signup.
Step 02 Customers
No one wants to add a customer’s detail to the system every single time an invoice is sent to them! It is generally a good idea to keep the details of your customer with you and that’s precisely what jBilling lets you do – simply click on the ‘Customer’ button on the main menu to go to the customer page. Here you can view all the details related to the customer – but before that, you need to add a customer. To do so, click on the ‘Add New’ button and then fill in all of the relevant details. Note that once you add a customer, a separate login for the customer is also created and they can then log in to your jBilling system and manage their account as well (to make payments, view invoices and so on). This may seem trivial for smaller organisations with a smaller number of customers, but if you have a huge customer base and would like customers to handle payments themselves, you will definitely like this feature.
Step 03 Products
Besides customers, the other important aspect of a business is what you sell – your products or services. Handling your products in jBilling is nice and straightforward. Simply click on the ‘Products’ button to go to the products page. To add a new product here, you must add product categories first – click on the ‘Add Category’ button to do that. After the category is created, select it to add new products to that particular category or view all the products within it. Once you have all your products listed in the system, you can use them to create orders, invoices and so on.
Step 04 Orders
Before serving your customer you need an order from them. jBilling lets you handle orders in a way that closely resembles real-world scenarios. Clicking on the ‘Orders’ link on the main menu will take you to the orders page where you can view a list of all the orders received up to now. At this point you may be puzzled; unlike other pages there is no button to create an order here. To create an order you must first navigate to the particular customer you plan to create it for (in the customer page) and then click the ‘Create Order’ button (located below the customer details). This arrangement makes sure that there is tight coupling between an order and related customer. Once the order is created you can see it in the Order page. You can then edit orders to add products or create invoices out of it.
Step 05 Invoices
We have tight coupling with customers and orders, so it makes sense that invoices in jBilling should be related to an order too. So, to create an invoice you need to go to the order for which you are raising the invoice and click the ‘Generate Invoice’ button. The invoice is then created – note that you can even apply other orders to an invoice (if it hasn’t been paid). Also, an order can’t be used to generate an invoice if an earlier invoice (related to it) has already been paid. Having generated the invoice, you can send it via email or download it as a PDF. You may find that you want to change the invoice logo – but we’ll get to configuration and customisation later on. We will also see in later steps about how the payments related to an invoice can also be tracked.
Step 06 Billing
Billing is the feature that helps you automate the whole process of invoicing and payments. It can come in handy for businesses with a subscription model or other cases where customers are charged in a recurring manner. To set the billing process, you need to go the Configuration page first. Once you are on the page, click on ‘Billing Process’ on the left-hand menu bar to set the date and other parameters. With the parameters set, billing process runs automatically and shows a representation of the invoices. This output (invoices) needs to be approved by the admin – only once this has happened can the real invoices get generated and delivered to the customer. The customers (whose payments are not automatic) can then pay their bills with their own logins.
Step 07 Payments
Any payment made for an invoice is tracked on the Payments page, where you can view a list of all the payments already taken care of. To create a new payment, you need to select the customer (for whom payment is being made) on the Customer page and then click the ‘Make Payment’ button at the very bottom (next to the ‘Create Order’ button). This takes you to a page with details of all the paid/unpaid invoices (raised for that customer). Just select the relevant invoice and fill up the details of payment method to complete the payment process. Later, if there is a need to edit the payment details, you need to unlink the invoice before editing the details.
Step 08 Partners
Partners – for example, any affiliate marketing partners for an eCommerce website – are people or organisations that help your business grow. They are generally paid a mutually agreed percentage of the revenue they bring in. jBilling helps you manage partners in a easy, automated way. Click on the Partners link on the homepage to reach the Partners page and set about adding a new partner. Here you will need to fill in the details related to percentage rate, referral fee, payout date and period and so on. Now whenever a new customer is added (with the Partner ID field filled in) the relevant partner gets entitled to the commission percentage (as set during adding the partner) and the jBilling system keeps a track of the partner’s due payment. Note that, as with customers, partners also get their own login once you add their details to jBilling. It is up to you to give them the login access, though.
Step 09 Reports
The reporting engine of jBilling lets you have a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on with your company’s accounts. Click on the Reports link on the main menu; here there are four report types available – invoice, order, payment and customer. You can select one to reveal the different reports available inside that type. After a report is selected, you can see a brief summary of what the report is supposed to show. Set the end date and then click on the ‘Run Report’ button to run the report. Having done this, the system shows you the output. You can also change the output format to PDF, Excel or HTML.
Step 10 Configuration
The configuration page lets you fine-tune your jBilling installation settings. Click on the Configuration link and you will see a list of settings available on the left menu bar. The links are somewhat self-explanatory but we’ll run through the more useful ones. The Billing Process link allows you to set the billing run parameters. You can change the invoice logo using the Invoice Display setting. To add new users, simply click on the ‘Users’ link. To set the default currency or add a new currency to the system, click on the ‘Currencies’ link. You can even blacklist customers under the ‘Blacklist’ link. You will find many more settings to customise jBilling as per your tastes and requirements – just keep exploring and make jBilling work for you.