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Going Beyond the Spreadsheet – Automate Your Billing Process with Online Software

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Going Beyond the Spreadsheet – Automate Your Billing Process with Online Software

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: December 27, 2011 Updated: March 2, 2012

Preparing invoices can be a taxing and costly process for small business owners. For example, if you are a solo business owner or just don’t have the staff to develop tough internal controls, then you’re may well be spending too much time creating manual paper-based invoices.

The resulting longer billing cycle may delay the collection of payments and ultimately impact cash flow. In fact, a 2009 survey by finance systems specialists, CODA, showed that 25 percent of small and medium businesses estimate that at least $5,000 a month in income is delayed due to invoicing errors, with 17 percent seeing payments amounting to $50,000 delayed due to invoicing errors.

There are a number of ways to minimize the risk of billing errors. One is to go beyond the spreadsheet and use online software to automate the billing process from point of sale to collections.

The Internet and cloud computing offer various options for managing the entire process efficiently and seamlessly. Below are a few reasons to take your billing system online, questions to ask, and options that may fit your business needs.

Why Take your Billing Online

One of the biggest benefits of online billing is efficiency. Instead of sifting through paper or disparate records, you can create, track, and manage invoices easily, automatically alert customers to overdue invoices, and integrate records with your accounting system.  Set-up is often easy and because files are hosted online you can access them from anywhere. In fact, given the right controls, your data is also probably more secure than if it were stored in an office filing cabinet or on your laptop.

Another significant benefit is that the vendor manages all the maintenance and upgrades to the service, so that your software is never out of date and you always have access to the latest features within your subscription grade.

Questions to Ask

Choosing the right option for your business really comes down to understanding your needs. For example, how many users need access to the tool? Do you need mobile access? What about integration with your existing accounting software? Will the service grow with your business and offer upgrade options that you may like to take advantage of? What customer service support can you expect – online chat, email, or phone? This is your money and your business at stake, so be sure you are getting the support you need to help you get those invoices posted and paid on time.

And don’t forget basic requirements such as being able to customize the invoice template with your logo or the ability to print and mail invoices as opposed to sending e-bills.

Online Billing Software Options to Consider

While these are not personal recommendations, the following options offer a variety of features ranging from basic e-billing services to automated billing, accounts reconciliation, time management, and more. You can search for more online or ask around and get referrals from other business owners.

PayPal.com remains a firm favorite for online transactions, most notably on eBay, but PayPal also offers an Online Invoicing service that lets any business prepare and email invoices to clients as well as manage account reconciliation. If you aren’t quite ready to dive into a fully-automated system, then this option might be for you. It also has the added benefit of ensuring you get an immediate payment instead of waiting for that check to arrive in the mail.  Clients can pay by credit card, through their bank account or via PayPal.

Bill.com is a cloud-based solution that offers a service similar to PayPal but also includes additional accounting services that allow you to manage and schedule your vendor payments and route bills to employees or your accountant for approval. It also synchronizes with most existing accounting software and provides a clear paper trail to help you maintain accurate record keeping, and more.

Another option is QuickBooks Online. This portfolio of products offers a variety of financial management tools for small business based on your needs. For example, if you aren’t quite ready to automate fully yet, the Online Simple Start package lets you create online bills and track payments (with mobile access) for as little as $12.95 a month for one user. As your needs grow, you can upgrade to a variety of other options that automate the billing process, provide access to more users, and help you manage your business finances.

If you want to track time, bill in multiple currencies, see when a client has viewed an invoice, then take a look at services such as Freshbooks or Harvest.

Have you made the move to online billing? Share your recommendations in the comment field below!

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About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

As a small business owner in "start-up" mode, I can't afford to pay for a lot of the online services, but I have found a few alternatives that help me get a similar result without the costs. Here are a few that I use: 1. Online Banking and Online Bill pay - you can automate your bills for free by using your bank's online bill pay feature. 2. Easy Online Payroll: My bank offers payroll services for free if my employees have bank accounts with them too. It is a lifesaver for payroll and taxes! 3. Mint.com: I can use mint.com to track all of my credit cards, bank accounts etc. At the end of the year, I have record of all of my expenditures and income all for free.
What exactly software is mentioned here and how much does it cost? I've heard that such soft can cost a lot and I'm not ready to spend lots of money on it.
As time goes on these software systems will greatly improve. Thanks to the invention of the tablet and smartphone, paper is becoming almost obsolete. I myself hardly ever write on a piece of paper anymore.
Thanks Caron for the great post. We still prepare and bill out monthly and have been looking to move our billing online. One of our vendors uses Freshbooks and I really like the look of the invoices. Just the thought of entering all the customers in an online system just seems like a huge undertaking. After reading your great advice on delays in revenue and the mistakes that can be made, I might need to move forward on this more quickly.
Great post. I thought we need to bring more ideas for this purpose. Involvement of young people can be handy in this regard.Thanks best hd tv to buy
Unfortunately, small busines in Ukraine nowadays is almost dead so this information is useless for me(
I am truly amazed at how well you have laid out this information. It’s easy to comprehend and read as well as informative. It’s so well-worded that I can’t dispute the valid points you make. seo servicesfacebook
Hi Caron. I really enjoyed reading your article on the benefits of using Online Billing Software. I personally use Quick Books for my small business Naperville Limo. I find that Billing software is a great investment for any business. I've tried maintaining my books in an Excel spreadsheet, and that was a disaster at tax time. Great advice!
Another option that is specifically for billing/invoicing is curdbee.com Nice for individual consultants and other really small shops.
There are actually a lot of options for small businesses. Some of the low cost ones not covered in the article include Zoho, Xero and Outright. Another option is to use full feature apps like ERPnext.com, to manage all functions for Billing to Inventory.

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