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How to automate accounts receivable in your accounting firm

September 7th, 2022 by Ignition Team 8 minute read

As an accountant, you know more than anyone just how critical cash flow is to a business. And the best way to keep revenue flowing is to ensure clients can pay you quickly and easily.

This is where automating your accounts receivable (AR) process comes in. When you streamline how client bills are sent, processed, and paid, you can maximize productivity, improve client satisfaction, and ultimately improve your bottom line.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of AR automation, including its benefits and how to implement it in your business.

Why traditional invoicing is no longer the best option

Before diving deeper into automated accounts receivable processes, it’s worth taking a quick look at the traditional (and largely manual) way of handling invoices.

Without an automated AR system, client invoices are created and sent by the business manually. This means the company owner (or whoever handles accounts receivable) would generate an invoice at the time of billing, and then fill out the necessary information themselves.

This may include:

  • Entering the business information.

  • Listing each product or service rendered, along with the corresponding prices.

  • Totaling the amount owed.

  • Specifying the payment terms.

From there, the business sends the invoice to the client. This is typically done via email, though some companies still send paper invoices through the postal service.

As you can imagine, this manual process can take time and effort, especially if you’re invoicing multiple clients. While it’s not particularly difficult to generate an invoice, the task can be tedious, and your efforts are better spent on more optimal and high-value tasks.

As such, automating your invoicing processes is something worth considering.

What is accounts receivable automation?

Accounts receivable automation (sometimes called ‘automated invoicing’ or ‘AR automation’) refers to a system or a workflow that automatically generates and sends invoices at the right time. It can reduce or eliminate human involvement in the invoicing process.

Depending on how your AR process is set up in your accounting firm, you can streamline tasks such as:

Generating invoices. Instead of manually entering each line item and amount, you can configure your software to automatically populate the invoice based on the services included in the business proposal or service agreement.

Sending invoices. Rather than tracking various dates for when to send the invoice, your system can automatically do it for you based on the parameters you’ve set. For example, if you typically bill clients on the first day of the month, your AR automation software can do that for you.

Sending reminders. An AR automation system can also send reminders to your clients if invoices aren’t paid on time. Taking the manual admin out of following-up on past due invoices and significantly reducing the need for awkward billing-related conversations.

Payment processing. Most invoicing systems have built-in payment processing features or integrations. This means you don’t have to manually take down payment information or wait for checks to come in. When you’re using invoice processing software, clients can pay via a digital portal and the funds are deposited into your account automatically.

How to implement automated accounts receivable in your business

Ready to implement an automated accounts receivable process in your business? While the specific steps you need to take may vary depending on your needs, processes, and existing systems, here are some general best practices to keep in mind.

Define your process

The first step is to iron out what your AR procedure is – or what you want it to be. Think about each step of your billing process. This will help you determine the best software to use and how to configure it.

Here are some questions to consider at this stage:

When do you send invoices? Define the point at which your invoices need to be sent. Do you bill clients weekly, monthly, quarterly, or on an annual basis? Maybe it varies depending on the client engagement. Whatever the case, set up your system accordingly. Whatever the case, set up your system accordingly.

What’s your payment structure? Think about the mechanics of your billing procedure. Are you paid on an hourly or per-project basis? Do you charge a deposit or bill everything upfront? Do you prefer initiating payment after a service has been rendered? The right answer depends on your business.

What types of payments do you accept? Next up, have a think about the payment methods you choose to accept. Credit and debit cards are highly convenient and have become the standard when doing business. You could also consider accepting automated clearing house (ACH) payments – a favorable option if you’re wary of credit card processing fees.

When do you send invoice reminders? Iron out what happens when payments are delayed. When should reminders be sent? If you’re enforcing penalties like late fees, how much would they cost?

Find the right client invoicing solution

Use the information you’ve gathered above to find and select the right automated accounts receivable software for your business. Create a list of features you need, then use it to guide your research.

One of the key tasks at this stage is to evaluate the platform’s features and capabilities. Set your sights on solutions that tick the right boxes and enable you to implement your invoicing processes.

If you require upfront payment before starting an engagement, your invoicing system should be able to do that. Take Ignition for example, which enables you to require payments before a client accepts a proposal.

Or, let’s say your payment schedules vary from one client to the next. Maybe you have a combination of month-to-month and annual engagements. In these instances, it helps to have a system with flexible invoicing capabilities.

Ignition for instance, offers invoicing features and invoice automation to support various billing schedules – including weekly, monthly, annual, or on project completion.

Look at the system’s software integrations

Another important consideration? Software integrations. It’s recommended that you choose a system that integrates with your business solutions. These may include your accounting software, client engagement platform, payment processor, and customer relationship management (CRM) software.

When your various systems are able to talk to each other, information flows from one app to the next, further reducing manual work and double entry.

Set up and configure your invoicing system

Once you’ve selected a solution, the next step is to get the system up and running to fit your invoicing and billing processes. This is the stage where you:

  • Configure your settings (based on your payment policies and processes).

  • Set up your regular services and line items.

  • Connect the system with your other solutions.

The specific steps and actions you need to take will depend on your billing software. Some accountants choose to use their accounting software to send invoices, while others may opt to use their client management platform.

Determine which setup works best for your business and go from there.

If you’re using Ignition, you can integrate the software with solutions such as Xero and QuickBooks to streamline your invoicing and client billing processes. This allows Ignition to access your client lists and streamline your client proposals. Invoices are created from your proposals, and this gives you some flexibility to configure these before sending it to the client.

The benefits of AR automation

Finding and setting up the right AR automation process takes some time, but it’s certainly worth the effort. Here are some of the benefits you can unlock by automating your invoices.

Frees up your time to focus on high-value tasks

Automation reduces the time you spend on the accounts receivable process. Rather than taking minutes (maybe even hours) out of your day to manually generate and send invoices, your system can take care of everything for you.

This frees up time, empowering you to devote more energy towards other aspects of your business, such as strategy, growth, staff development, and client happiness.

“Using Ignition has probably saved me anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a month,” says Marie Phillips, Founder & CEO of Connected Accounting.

“Using Ignition has probably saved me anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a month.”

Marie Phillips, Founder & CEO, Connected Accounting

Reduces errors

Doing things manually opens you up to human error. For example, if you’re manually entering payment amounts, it’s all too easy to mistype a number or add another zero to the invoice.

A study from Qvalia shows that in Nordic countries 25 percent of invoices – despite undergoing a correction process internally – contained errors that resulted in lost business revenue. On average, an organization is spending 31 days to resolve and correct errors in invoicing.

Sending an incorrect invoice not only triggers additional back-and-forth with the client, it also reflects poorly on your business.

Improves cash flow because you get paid faster

These errors can also delay the invoicing process, which means you may not don’t get paid right away. Automated invoicing paves the way for rapid payment by ensuring on-time delivery, and reminders to pay in the event the invoice remains unpaid beyond the deadline.

Saves you money

Between the time it takes to generate invoices and the cost of paper (if you’re mailing out invoices), the money spent on manual processing can add up. Research by SAP Concur found that it costs an average of $12.90 to process one invoice.

SAP’s study also found that automation is helpful in decreasing expenses, delivering an average of 29 percent in cost reductions.

Simplifies and standardizes your invoicing process

One of the downsides of manual procedures is the tendency to be inconsistent. When a person is tasked with manually creating invoices every time, that process can vary slightly from one period to the next.

Let’s say an employee sends an invoice monthly. On the 1st June they send the invoice at 8am sharp. But as the month progresses they become busy and aren’t able to invoice the client again until the 5th July.

Scenarios like these, that can impact your cash flow and business operations, are a thing of the past when you’re using an automated invoicing system. Because everything is done automatically, you don’t have to worry about inconsistent processes.

Your clients receive their invoices on the same day and time every month, so they always know when to expect the bill. This consistency also makes you look more professional and improves your client relationships.

Over to you

Ignition lets you stay on top of the important components of your client engagements – from proposals, contracts, and billing. Watch a demo of our client engagement and commerce platform, and discover why thousands of accountants choose Ignition to run their practices.
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