Near the end of 2009 I looked into starting a g33q store. I did marketing research, compiled a business plan, built an e-store (still living on one of my pc’s at home) and got everything ready to start a small online business. Then I got to the how of actually selling my stuff and things ground to a halt.
You see, to have an online business you need to be able to accept payments, and this is where I ran into difficulties. Now a new billing system is giving me ideas of trying again. Read more for my take on SnapBill, the most exciting thing to happen to e-commerce in South Africa in recent years.
E-Commerce in South Africa is BROKEN
Before I get to SnapBill itself, some background on why I decided to trash my idea of an online store. As noted above, to sell stuff online you need to be able to accept and process payments. That is done by means of a VCS account, for which you require a merchant number. This in essence means that you need to register with your bank of choice as a Credit Card Merchant. There are alternatives of course – Setcom (need at least a six month proven merchant history on a merchant number), Paygate (need a merchant number), Mygate (need a merchant number), SID Payments (need a merchant number!!!) and so on.
Notice that you need a merchant number for all of these?
Yeah, that is where the system is broken. I applied for a merchant number with my bank FNB, and then also with Standard Bank – their offer was a bit different than what FNB had available.
It took me a while to get feedback from them. FNB called back within a day – wrong department. The RIGHT department got hold of me a week later – wrong guy. Eventually I was contacted by the right person with the right information.
The long and short of getting a Merchant account and Merchant Number is that you need to have a business account with a proven history of doing business. Yes, I was starting a business from scratch, money invested in it, and I now needed a proven track record on a business account. For at least a year.
Yes. If you start a new e-commerce business you will need to have been doing business on a business account for at least a year before you can start receiving online payments.
But there is Paypal in South Africa now – Right?!
When I started-and-stopped my venture Paypal was not an option for South African residents. Recently Paypall and FNB together made Paypal available to South Africans, and while preparing the review of SnapBill I decided to link my FNB cheque account to my Paypal account to test an alternative to SnapBill. Even though all the online literature, as well as FNB literature available on their website states you can link your FNB account to your Paypal account, I needed to enter my debit card details to activate the link between the two (which took a bunch of hoops to jump through via my online banking) and then an amount was to be debited from my card. I stopped the process there. I did not ask to make a payment, nor did I authorise a payment.
Yet a payment was required contrary to the FNB statement that only fees per transaction will be charged.
During my quest to get myself an online business I started looking for alternatives. I happened on SnapBill which was still a work in progress. I remember thinking “this would be perfect for me” but alas, it was not available to use yet.
Well now it is available for everyone to use, and the best part is that there is a free signup option for small business. Now to be fair I completely forgot about SnapBill after abandoning all dreams of becoming an online business mogul, but a mail from their CMO asking me to do a review got me back on their trail.
SO, now on to the meat of my actual review (excuse the long winded introduction.)
What is SnapBill?
SnapBill is a free online billing and service provisioning system. It is fully white-paper capable, custom brand-able and automated. You can process payments, manage clients and invoices and automate your billing requirements.
With SnapBill you do not need a credit card for the free package, but to get a paid-for package you will need a credit card to pay SnapBill for their services.
SnapBill even allows you to resell some services provided by approved partners, so the opportunity to make some extra cash is there.
SnapBill can be used from any web enabled device by anyone in the world, anytime.
What Packages Are Available?
SnapBill offers three options, a FREE option, a PREMIUM 50 option, and a PREMIUM 500 option. All SnapBill packages offer management of Recurring Charges, Automated Bill Generation (timezone based), Custom Services, is Fully Brandable (the FREE option has a hyperlink to snapbill.com in your invoice footer), Custom Emails, Multiple Currencies Support, Accept Multiple Payment Formats and a few other advantages. There are some differences between the packages and below is a quick breakdown of each.
SnapBill Free has a URL Hyperlink to snapbill.com in your invoice footer, allows you to manage 50 clients, and is limited to only 25 invoices per month. I have a small practical reserve with this – you can only invoice half your clients once a month. Maybe this should be upped to 50 invoices per month to allow you to at least invoice each of your clients once? Such is the limitation of a great free service, I guess.
SnapBill PREMIUM 50
SnapBill Premium 50 removes the need for a snapbill.com link in your invoice and costs R50 per month. You are no longer limited to 25 invoices per month either, being able to process unlimited invoices. You are still limited to 50 clients though. This is the best option for new startups wanting to do serious business. A really great offer.
SnapBill PREMIUM 500
SnapBill Premium 500 allows everything that SnapBill Premium 50 does, but allows you to manage 500 clients. It costs R350 per month, which is a great price.
Is It Easy To Use?
Laughably so. Setting up a SnapBill account is easy. I was able to have my free account ready within minutes. Really the only delay is waiting for the registration confirmation e-mail to arrive (both on my self hosted mail and my wife’s Gmail there was a delay of 30 minutes to an hour or so) and then going about customizing your invoices and company details.
In fact, as per the “Wife Test” that I am incorporating into my reviews my wife was able to sign up for a free SnapBill account without any hassle.
Is It Powerful Enough?
Well… yes. I think that the 500 client limit will be restrictive to some larger online businesses, but as per the SnapBill website you can contact them to discuss larger packages to meet your needs. You can do almost anything with SnapBill with regards to billing, and adding new charges or clients is easy.
SnapBill is what e-commerce in South Africa has been waiting for. As I pointed out in my introduction getting into e-commerce in South Africa is a challenge. No, it is almost impossible for small startups to flourish. If you have less than R20K to spend on developing your e-commerce site and getting all the prerequisite VCS red-tape sorted out you are basically left without options. Yes some companies allow you to use their VCS accounts and Merchant numbers to do business with (I had that option) but the costs are prohibitive. SnapBill is the perfect alternative.
As far as SnapBill itseld there are some minor niggles, the hyperlinks in the SnapBill registration confirmation mail are broken for instance.
Right, I give ratings to my reviewed products, and it is time to rate SnapBill. SnapBill comes VERY close to getting a perfect 5/5 on Ease of Use. What stops it from getting a perfect 5/5 is the malformed hyperlinks in the confirmation e-mail. Not everyone will figure out that https://billing.snapbill.comUsername: should actually be https://billing.snapbill.com and the password that they provide needs a space between the password and the word Client.
Those are easily fixable though, but being brutally honest in my review (which to their credit was their request “Test drive the system and be brutally honest in your review”) I will have to make it four out of five.
My Q rating of course takes this and all other factors into account. I would LOVE to give SnapBill a 5/5, but there are two things. 1, The 50 clients but only 25 invoice limit of the free system doesn’t make sense. If it is 50 invoices then YES that will be perfect. Only being able to invoice half your clients in a month is a severe limitation. 2, and this is key, a middle package is needed. A SnapBill Premium 250 perhaps? Or maybe let the SnapBill Premium 500 be the intermediate but then add a SnapBill Unlimited for larger companies.
I give SnapBill a Q rating of Four out of Five then. In fact, I am so impressed with SnapBill that it will be the first product that I will list on my “Sageek Recommended Products” page.
If you want more information on SnapBill you can visit their website, but I actually recommend taking the tour and if you need what is in my opinion the best online billing system available you can sign up here.
SnapBill.com, check it out!
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