Driving Success. 7 Best Practices to Make Your Client Billing Easy

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1 Driving Success 7 Best Practices to Make Your Client Billing Easy

2 Introduction This white paper shows what to look for as you evaluate solutions that can make it easier to bill your clients for project work. Via seven best practices, you ll learn the value of real-time data capture, and the underlying capabilities that make tracking hours straightforward and centralized. Together they can make billing your clients much easier and more accurate. Why is this important? Timely billing is a key to optimal cash flow. Controlling it depends on your ability to deliver invoices quickly. The sooner you bill, the sooner your revenue can be available as working capital. Ultimately, your profitability is a function of this cash flow velocity. So it s vital that your billing processes are as streamlined as possible. Unfortunately, in many organizations this is far from the case. Many struggle with manual methods for submitting and reviewing hours, managing project-related items, coordinating approvals, processing expenses, and much more. These factors slow cash flow they hinder profitability just as much as clients who pay late. This problem is compounded in many situations because billing depends on capturing the appropriate hours and expenses from multiple employees. Normally, invoices can t be sent until this information is collected from everyone involved in a project. But people are inevitably late in submitting their hours, or fail to submit them altogether. It becomes a protracted effort to collect all the information needed to prepare an invoice. A related problem is billing accuracy. To invoice accurately you need precise information about factors that can vary. For example, different individuals are billed at different rates, or the same individual s time is billed differently per task. Before invoicing, their hours and rates must be calculated, which can be tedious and slow if done manually. And if any of this data has to be re-entered at any stage, errors can result. Such problems only increase with the number of workers. And what happens if billing is wrong? Contested invoices delay payment, and can erode client confidence and loyalty. There s a wealth of solutions offered for this, but their features and usability are far from equal. The best practices in this guide help ensure that the one you choose really will make billing your clients easy. 1. Invoice your clients based on detailed, up-to-themoment data As mentioned above, timely billing is vital for generating streamlined cash flow. With a manual system, your view of billable hours and expenses is fragmented and always out of date. Manual time and expense tracking systems also inherently introduce significant administrative costs, and the potential for error and omissions is very high. But in web-based systems, information about your projects is easy to see, and is updated in real-time as users enter their data. So it s easy to prepare and export data for billing based on actual, up-to-the-moment input. And when you need to answer questions for your clients, the facts you need are at your fingertips. Best practice: Deploy a web-based project time tracking system that gives you timely, easy-to-see and accurate information for billing clients. 2. Eliminate cumbersome paper- and Excel-based tracking Even a relatively small number of projects can quickly add up to a billing quagmire. Suppose yours is a medium-sized company with 400 employees involved in 20+ projects for clients. In order to get even a rough view of billable hours and expenses on a regular schedule, you d have to collect hundreds of documents from multiple places, get them validated by dozens of managers, and transcribe the data. Of course, this assumes that all your projects team members submit their information on time. Such a system is filled with opportunity for errors, and doomed to incompleteness and time lag. All of these difficulties can be overcome by implementing software that simplifies and centralizes data entry and management. User adoption rises, and information about billable hours, becomes available instantly, making it easy to shorten billing cycles and accelerate cash flow.

3 Best practice: Get employees involved in the assessment process for every prospective solution. They ll be a great barometer for the rate of adoption you can expect. And you should set that expectation high. The easier it is to capture data, the easier and faster billing your clients becomes. Of course, you might ameliorate this somewhat if you eliminated paper-based submissions, but even with electronic spreadsheets you d still face transcription chores and some errors. And you d still have slow and inefficient routing for approvals and exporting to other applications. Best practice: Use a system in which all billable data is entered just once, via web-based software. (This data should be easily shared with your other applications as well see Exchange information easily below.) 3. Get software that makes tasks easy for everyone It s important for you as a financial manager or business administrator to streamline your work, but success with capturing billing data relies on your employees adopting the system you implement. Timeliness and accuracy depend on their entries, so it s vital that they view it as genuinely easy to use. That s a fundamental of best-of-breed time tracking systems: It s extremely easy for employees to post their entries without hassles, and to do so from anywhere with Internet access. The best systems also simplify the review-and-approval process for supervisors, and roll up data for automated export to accounting systems. A great time and expense tracking system causes its users to ask, Why didn t we do it this way before? When employees can enter their project time and expenses quickly, their adoption rate and ultimately your cash flow velocity rises dramatically. 4. Choose a solution that makes administration and reporting easy Many companies struggle with time tracking software and its data-for-billing components because it is hard to use. They re often overlooked, but usability and ease-ofcustomization are critical to true value (and they re deceptively difficult to create). When you try a new system, its workflow and configurability should feel intuitive. It should include intelligence that anticipates what you need to get your work done. The best time tracking software gives you a comprehensive set of functions such as highly flexible and easy-torun, real-time reports and makes it easy to expand upon them by adding things that suit your requirements. Do you need to apply special billing rates to a group of employees or even an individual? Setting them up should be easy and obvious. Do you want to create a report based on custom parameters? It should be a simple matter and a big time-saver to plug in your variables.

4 Best practice: Give your prospective system a thorough test-drive. See how intuitive it feels. Satisfy yourself that it can do everything you need, with minimal effort. 5. Use a cloud solution for efficiency and lower cost The traditional way of running business applications on expensive, internal hardware that you monitor and maintain yourself is becoming outdated. The trend is clearly toward cloud computing, also called Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), web-based, etc. The advantages are too great to ignore. Cloud-based solutions give you much more than gains in efficiency. You also get lower total cost of ownership. Your software becomes an operating cost rather than a capital expense. There s no need for new hardware or other IT infrastructure costs, and there s minimal implementation time just hours or days instead of weeks or months. A cloud-based system means there s nothing to maintain or upgrade: You always have the most recent version of software. And all your data is available from anywhere with an Internet connection. Best practice: Go with a cloud-based solution to ensure high productivity and low operating cost. 6. Exchange information easily with other applications Capturing billing data in dedicated time tracking software is just one side of the invoicing/cash flow equation. Sharing that data with accounting applications is the other. This is a must-have component for billing. The ideal is an automated exchange via an open API (application programming interface). The best project and expense tracking software includes an API that facilitates data exchange via standards-based integration (such as XML web services). You should have the choice of developing the integration yourself, or working with your software vendor to implement it. Best practice: Choose a solution that guarantees you ll get the data sharing you need. 7. Ensure the safety, security and availability of your data With a cloud-based project tracking solution, the responsibility for safekeeping your data falls to a third party. It s extremely important that your vendor can certify your data is secure and available. Confirm that your prospective vendor provides the required combination of physical security and environmental controls, and independent certification that adequate data protection processes are in place (the industry standard for this is an SAS 70 Type II audit insist on it). Other considerations include firewalls and antivirus protection; encryption of in-transit data; and offsite data backup with tested disaster recovery provisions. Also very important: Your vendor should have a service level guarantee for the availability of your data and the software you use. Best practice: Be sure that the vendors you consider can document their means for supplying all of the above. The best project costing software makes it easy to share data with accounting and other applications

5 Conclusion To achieve and sustain optimal cash flow, you need a centralized way to get accurate, timely billing data. Traditional means for achieving this are yielding to cloud-based systems that make it simple for employees and managers alike to enter, view, and manage time and expenses. The best of these systems are straightforward to configure, readily share data with other applications, and provide low cost of ownership by offloading responsibility for hosting and security. Select one of these systems and your client billing will become remarkably easy. About Replicon Founded in 1996, Replicon, Inc. is the world leader in web-based time and expense management software. Replicon s flagship application, Web TimeSheet, provides professional service organizations with quantitative, realtime analysis of workforce productivity and a way to set employee productivity goals based on bottom line revenues. Replicon has more than 1.5 million users in 7,300 companies worldwide. For more information, please contact: Replicon Corporate Headquarters Suite 800, 910-7th Avenue SW Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2P-3N8 U.S. Office 951 Mariners Island Blvd, Suite 130 San Mateo, CA Toll Free: North America Global

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