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Voodoochilli Blog

WHMCS for Web Designers and Developers

11th of October 2012
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admin_overviewAbout 3 months ago we made the switch to WHMCS as our billing system. It is heralded as one of the best billing systems for web professionals, with a particular emphasis on web hosting. As a company that’s main form of business is designing and developing websites, but does some hosting, we wondered if this was something that would be good for us. After favourable reviews online and a recommendation from one of our clients (a web host), we decided to take the plunge and order a copy – after about three months, these are our findings.
Suitability

The first thing that is apparent with WHMCS (Web Hosting Management Complete Solution) is that it is very hosting centric. Fans of the software state that it can be used to bill for anything, and although technically that might be true, WHMCS has plenty of extra features specifically targeted to the web host and is also lacking some that would be used to sell other products and services. I certainly wouldn’t use the software as a replacement online shopping cart to sell regular goods for example. If you do any hosting though, WHMCS really comes into it’s own – it can automate many of the processes involved in setting up a hosting account, send automatic reminders and server settings, and suspend accounts for non payers among other things.

The system run on PHP and MYSQL and is therefore only really suitable if that’s what you host your own sites on.

As well as billing WHMCS has a fully featured support system, and a variety of tools and reporting facilities. For example, you can sell domain names through a provider such as ENOM and all of the messy details are taken care through the system’s API integration. This took a while to set up but seems to be working well now.

As a web designer or developer, WHMCS is probably overkill if you are a lone freelancer and only have a small handful of clients, or you don’t host any of your client’s websites.

Learning Curve

As the director of web design company, I can safely say that WHMCS has most of the feature’s I would expect from a billing system targeted at web design and development. Possibly one problem is it can be quite daunting moving from one billing system to another. There is plenty to learn with WHMCS and some of it is not immediately intuitive if you have been using another system for some while. For me, there was some confusion at first over the difference between invoices and billable items as they seemed to do the same thing, but after around a month of playing with the system all of the software’s little idiosyncrasies began to unravel.

WHMCS claim to have excellent support, although in my experience they are pretty average for a paid monthly service. A couple of my support requests were completely ignored, but maybe my tickets got buried since they had a new release at the time. (It’s interesting to note that they use WHMCS to manage support themselves). The forums are quite active, but I had some problems logging in as well – it seemed the session wasn’t getting stored correctly.

Functionality

WHMCS does everything, maybe a little too much, but it is a lot more focused than some jack-of-all-trades software out there. It’s very functional and has some great features. The best thing about it is the automation. The system uses Cron to check up on invoices, send reminders, late payment fees etc., and it really does save you some time which can be better spend actually serving your clients.

Integration

WHMCS uses Smarty as it’s template system and it is fairly easy for a web designer or developer to match your existing website. The results are good and I think it’s a very professional and reassuring looking system for a client to login to. The client can pay invoices, send support requests, manage their web domains etc. The admin back-end is a little confusing at first, plenty of menus and options but you soon start to find your way around.

Price

The company is based in Milton Keynes, in the UK, but they charge you in dollars, presumably so as not to limit their own market to UK web hosts. This means of course you need to pay VAT on top and our bill comes to about £15 a month. There are two options, with or without branding, but the price difference is nominal so really it’s not worth having their logos and links all over your website. Instead of paying monthly you can also buy an “owned” version which is a one off fee of about £200 and comes with a year of updates included. I guess over the course of the year you save about £40 this way and it might be something we change in the future now that we know the software is suitable for our needs.

The software comes with a 30 day money back guarantee.

Criticisms

WHMCS is not perfect, and I do have a few criticisms, some of which have been mentioned already. The biggest problem I have, apart from the somewhat lacklustre support, is that the system uses a daily remote licence. What this means is when whmcs.com went down a few weeks back because of hackers, I was not able to access our client’s information or send or mark invoices as paid. This is a major problem, but one apparently WHMCS do not want to resolve. To them, stopping pirates from stealing their software is far more important than the inconvenience to their customers.

This brings me to my second criticism, which isn’t so bad. Everything except the template files is encoded and obfuscated, meaning you can’t read the code to see what the system is doing. As a web developer this annoys the hell out of me. I can learn to live with it though.

My last criticism is that the Mobile App should be included in the licence for this, but instead you have to pay an additional £20 or so. The WHMCS admin menu system is designed specifically not to work on touch screens so that they can rake more profits from the sale of mobile licences. Pretty poor if you ask me.

Closing Comments

WHMCS is a little like having an extra employee – albeit one that is sometimes hard to understand and get on with! All in all, after the learning curve I’m very happy with the software. I’m not so keen on the company behind the software, or the support structure, but that doesn’t matter. If you have a few dozen client’s or more to manage and especially if you offer some web hosting I would highly recommend WHMCS. The extra cost incurred is more than made up by the saving in time you gain from not chasing clients over late invoices and configuring hosting options.


2 responses to “WHMCS for Web Designers and Developers”

  1. Chris says:

    I`ve used WHMCS in the past, I really enjoyed using the script, i`t a little expensive though on a monthly lease. I believe cPanel recently bought them out too.

  2. janice says:

    Thanks for this round up of WHMCS. I’ve been thinking of trying it for a while and may well take the plunge after reading your article as my reasons for buying it are similar to yours. it would serve to automate the invoicing of hosted sites.
    I do however currently make use of Billings for all my invoicing and wonder if WHMCS would replace this altogether or whether i could use WHMCS for project invoicing too? What would you think after having used WHMCS for a few months now?

    Cheers

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