One of the most challenging aspects of managing a business is managing and invoicing clients and materials management. When these tasks get out of hand, everything around the business can quickly spiral out of control.

There are a number of tools to help with this task; unfortunately, some of those tools are cost prohibitive for a small business. I am in favor of putting the right platform into the right slot to handle the right task, so for small businesses with small budgets, that task often falls into the capable hands of open source. Kraft is a database-driven open source tool helps small businesses create and manage invoicing, create calculation schemes, create office documents, and export documents into PDF format.

Installing Kraft

I will demonstrate Kraft on a Ubuntu 11.04 machine that already has a LAMP server running, so MySQL is up and running.

Kraft can only work with two databases: MySQL and MySQLi. If you opt for MySQLi, you won’t have to do any other installation or db creation, but if you’re looking for a more robust, reliable, and scalable installation, the MySQL version is a must. The simple process requires an already working MySQL server setup and the creation of a MySQL database outside of the Kraft installation.

Database creation

The first step in the installation process is the creation of the database. You can use a tool like MySQL Workbench to create the database, or if you’re a command line ninja, you can create the database from the command line:

1. Open a terminal window.

2. Issue the command mysql -u root -p.

3. Enter the mysql root user password.

4. Enter the command CREATE DATABASE kraft;.

5. Hit the Enter key.

6. Enter the command quit and hit Enter.

Since we’re already in the terminal window, let’s install from there with this command: sudo apt-get install kraft. The apt-get tool will prompt you to accept the dependencies. After you hit “y” (to approve all dependencies), the installation will start and complete. With the installation finished, you will find the Kraft menu entry in the Office sub-menu of your desktop’s main menu. If you are using Unity or GNOME 3, search for “kraft” (no quotes) and start the application from there.

First run database setup
When you first start Kraft, you will be required to configure the tool to work with your chosen database. The first screen (Figure A) will inform you there was no database found and that you need to set one up.
Figure A

Kraft can’t find the database because you haven’t shown the application where to look yet!

The first screen that requires interaction is the database selection screen (Figure B). This is where you select the MySQL or MySQLi database types.
Figure B

For my example I select the MySQL option. If you want a simpler install, go with the MySQLi choice.

The next screen requires filling in the necessary information for the database (Figure C). It is possible to use a database server other than localhost. If you use a remote database server, make sure you have access to that server before you run the setup wizard.
Figure C

You must have the MySQL root user password, or Kraft will not be able to connect to the database.

After this information is filled out, click the Next button, and the first-run wizard will attempt to copy all the necessary information over to the database. As long as the credentials are correct, the creation of the database tables and entries will succeed. After the database is written and the first-run wizard is complete, you are ready to begin using Kraft.

Using Kraft

It’s great that Kraft is not geared toward one business type, although this means you will need to create the templates for your business. Creating templates is done pretty much from scratch, but you won’t need to do any coding. From the Kraft main window (Figure D), click Catalogs and then click the Open link associated with Standard Templates.
Figure D

You can also create/edit Material templates from this location.

In the Template Editor (Figure E), you can start building your template. Depending upon your business and your needs, these templates can be complex or simple.
Figure E

To get to this point, you must click the New Template button in the window you will see before this. You can also edit the Chapters (which are actually Categories).

Once you have your template(s) created, you can then begin the process of creating documents, which is done from the Main window by clicking the Create Document button. This will open a simple to use wizard that walks you through the process of creating the documents you will use for invoicing, etc.

It takes some effort to get Kraft in place and working for your business, but you’ll find that your effort will be well worth it.