Nerd alert: Pancake

When I first started freelancing — I prefer the term moonlighting, since that’s what I did — creating invoices felt scary + overwhelming. I remember spending hours on google reading up on how others did this. Since i had 1-2 clients a month {again, just moonlighting}, everything seemed too robust for my needs. So i stuck with a good ol’ Excel spreadsheet template + that did the trick for the first 8 months.
But eventually I got busier, my projects got more detailed + my spreadsheet method wasn’t keeping up.
There are approximately 3,954,402 invoicing options in the universe for folks to use, and this blog post is not a comparison of any of them. I have used 2 invoicing systems since my original method + only want to talk about the one that I currently use + geek out about — Pancake {affiliate link}.

Why I use Pancake

There are lots of things that I love about Pancake. Are these things exclusive + not available anywhere else? Nope. But in business, you have to make decisions knowing that there are other ways to solve the same problem. So picking Pancake was my way of making a choice + moving forward with my business so I could help clients, send invoices + make money.


Simply put: self-hosted means that I purchased a copy of pancake + installed it on my own server. This feature was probably one of the most important to me because I’m a mega nerd + a control freak. For some, this may seem like more of a con than a pro, and that’s a-ok. But for me, it meant no monthly fees {read: lower overall cost}, control with how things look since I could manipulate the code + full-control over the URLs. {Some services provide custom URLs even if they aren’t self-hosted.}

Time tracking

I provide two main types of services + one of those happens to be hourly work on retainer. Having a system that allowed me to track my time as I worked on projects that was directly connected to my invoicing was important. Prior to this I had been tracking my time in an Excel spreadsheet + then adding the line items to my invoices at the end of the month. Now, I simply mark a task as complete in pancake + click “generate invoice”. Way fewer steps, fewer applications to keep data in, win-win.

Invoice tracking

One of the coolest features of online invoicing is the ability to know when a client has viewed your invoice. This keeps the whole “Oh, I never saw that invoice” statement in check. What I love about Pancake is that it also works on proposals + estimates.
Whenever I log into Pancake, I can see if anyone has recently viewed an invoice, estimate or proposal that I sent to them. That way, I know clients are getting their information + am not waiting on the post office to deliver anything.
But what’s also great about Pancake, is that when invoices are overdue, you can send a notice email with a single click. You can also set up reminder emails to go out days before the due date if you have longer terms, like net 30.

File sharing

While a lot of my projects end with a site being launched, there are still files I want to share with clients at the end of a project. Prior to setting up Pancake, I had to make a choice — send them the files + hope they pay at the end or wait until they paid + try to send the files asap {AKA before they got cranky for waiting}. Thanks to a nifty feature in Pancake, all I have to do is add a file {or files} to an invoice using their upload tool. Then, when a client pays the invoice, the files become links they can download. I’m no longer running a risk of not getting paid for work that I’ve provided {at least final files} + clients aren’t waiting on me if they pay late at night or on the weekends. Again, win-win.

Client area

Since I work with designers on multiple projects at a time, the client area of Pancake has been a great feature. While I could use it for one-off projects + I certainly don’t use it to the full potential yet, right now this has met my needs. All I have to do is provide the client a link {which I can password protect or not} that they can use to view all invoices, estimates, proposals + on-going work. Each of those things can be commented on within Pancake, which makes it a project management option too.

Customer support + improvements

Even though this is a self-hosted option, the support team for Pancake is top-notch. They have fixed issues I was having + helped me understand how to use features in different ways instead of just pointing me to their how-to site. But beyond that, they are also responsive to feature requests.
In fact, I recently sent them a feature request to be able to categorize clients. That way I could organize them by active or archive, but also by the type of project I work on with them. The guys wrote back with a few questions because they were super excited to add that feature + wanted to get it right. While it’s not available yet, I know it will be soon, because they take care of their customers + want to improve on an already awesome product.
I have not even come close to listing all of the features in Pancake, just the ones that are my favorites + have elevated my business. If you are in the market for a better invoicing solution, I’d recommend checking them out.

Pick what works for you

The best advice I can give about finding an invoicing solution that works for you is a 3 step process —

  1. List out the features you need/want for invoicing {in order of most important to least}
  2. Research the options that provide those features
  3. Try the demo versions of the top 2-3 results from your research

This is exactly how I did it when I realized I needed to move on from my Excel spreadsheet ways. Before settling on Pancake, I used another option for a few months but realized quickly that online invoicing was a feature I mistakenly left off my original list. Shortly after that, I redid my list of needs + dove into the available options. Within a couple weeks I had Pancake up + running on my server, sent out emails to all existing clients letting them know I was upgrading my invoicing + how it would affect them then moved forward with running my business.

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