Remote work has been steadily on the rise over the past decade. Recent research by GetApp found that remote work nearly quadrupled over the past 10 years. With added impetus from the COVID-19 situation, remote work has become the new normal for many workers. This shift may be here to stay—a recent survey by Gartner found that 74% of CFOs intend to shift some employees to remote work permanently.
As a business owner, your primary concern about remote work may be the productivity of your employees. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to help them be productive. If you put the proper tools in place to allow them to carry out their usual tasks efficiently while working remotely, they’re more likely to show the kind of productivity you’re looking for.
This is especially true for Accounts Receivable, which is an area where many businesses end up using Excel for invoicing. A 2017 article by Small Business Trends revealed that a whopping 69 percent of small businesses trust spreadsheets to track their invoices and spending. The reasons are obvious—Excel is good with numbers. Calculations are easy, and it’s simple to manually correct small errors like an item value that’s entered wrongly.
But for an invoicing team to function remotely, it needs more than a tool that can calculate. Team members need to be able to send estimates and invoices, collect payments, share insights and information easily, and most of all, stay up to date. This is where spreadsheets tend to fail, and where online invoicing tools can help.
In this article, we’ll look at the different aspects of the invoicing process and how online invoicing tools offer an edge over Excel for remote work.
In a traditional office setting, a lot of information gets exchanged during face-to-face interactions. Since this is out of the question with remote work, it’s important to ensure that your team members are still able to collaborate and keep the show running.
If messages regarding financial transactions are exchanged via collaboration tools like a chat group or email thread, it means they are not linked with the corresponding transactions. As a result, your team members have to go back and forth between their messages and their invoicing tasks to get the right information.
Since online invoicing tools are designed for a multi-user environment, they allow your team members to communicate in a space that’s connected to the work they’re doing. Users can record important details regarding invoices or estimates as comments that can be viewed by other users in the organization.
With Excel, it’s challenging to provide your team members with access to the information they need, while maintaining the security of sensitive financial information. Online invoicing tools, on the other hand, allow you to give users specific role-based access—you can define what they can and cannot view or modify.
Collaboration is not just about conversations—it’s also about making sure everyone is in the loop. Online invoicing tools allow you to schedule sales and other reports to be automatically emailed to your team members. This helps them stay up-to-date on the team’s activities, wherever they are.
If your company does invoicing in Excel, each invoice has to be created in a separate file for recordkeeping and sending to the customer. Organizing separate files for each invoice means a lot of nested folders, which makes it hard to find the individual files later. A better solution would be a central repository where all the invoices are stored, searchable, and available for your team members whenever they’re needed.
Online invoicing tools provide this setup by default—since they are cloud-based, all the transactions are saved on secure servers and team members with permission to access them can find and view them instantaneously.
3. Keeping track of invoice numbers
Accidentally duplicating invoice numbers can cause a huge and possibly expensive headache for your company. Besides making it difficult to match up incoming payments, it can also cause confusion during the end of the fiscal year and tax season.
Keeping track of invoice numbers becomes more challenging during remote work, when employees are working less closely with each other. You can avoid duplication by assigning number batches to different staff, but that requires an extra layer of manual coordination, and it makes it more likely that you’ll have gaps in your invoice numbers (which in turn makes it harder to check for duplicates).
Online invoicing tools eliminate this problem by centralizing the invoice numbering system. Once you set up how you want the invoices to be numbered, the application ensures that all your invoice numbers are unique and continuous, even if multiple users are creating invoices concurrently. This eliminates gaps and duplicates, making it easy for you to find and match transactions.
4. Errors in transactions
Excel, as good as it is for calculation, can’t keep track of your customers and items. When you create invoices in a spreadsheet, these details are mostly copied from other sources, like emails or previous transactions. It’s easy for errors to happen during this copy-paste process, especially if you have a high volume of invoices. If you find one mistake, you can advise your team members to be more careful. But if you see these errors happening often, maybe it’s time to question the tool!
Online invoicing tools give you the option to save your customer and item details separately from the individual invoice. This means that while creating invoices, you just need to pick the right customer and select the products from a list. This eliminates a lot of the errors that can happen when you type these details each time manually.
Also, if there are certain fields that must be filled in on all your invoices, an online invoicing tool allows you to actually make them mandatory. In short, you are setting rules to make sure everything goes right. This ensures that your invoices are error-free when they reach the customer, even without having a second staff member review them.
5. Tracing errors
If you notice an error in one of your invoices that’s already been sent, it may have already caused a ripple effect and caused errors in other invoices too. When Excel is used for invoicing, it’s very difficult to figure out which invoices have been affected. If you can’t search your files for the specific issue involved in the error, tracking down the affected invoices is time-consuming at best, and at worst, may not even lead to finding them all.
Because online invoicing applications record a time-stamped history for each transaction you create, and save everything in a centralized location, you have many more options when trying to track down an error. Once you notice an error in a transaction, you can cross-reference that with other transactions created around the same time, using the same new product, addressed to the same customer, created by a specific user, or anything else that may be involved in the error. Since online invoicing tools come with an elastic search functionality, you have the power to narrow down your search based on any of these criteria.
Also, online invoicing applications offer something called an audit trail. It’s just a record of each version of the invoice, so that you can compare two versions of the same invoice to see what has changed and when. As its name suggests, this can be very useful during audits, but it’s also helpful for tracking down errors.
6. Approval process
Many businesses have a process for approving sales transactions before they’re finalized. For example, the person who creates an invoice might run it by their supervisor, then by the sales manager, and only then send it out to the customer.
In companies that use Excel for invoicing, these approvals usually happen over email, which can consume a lot of time even under normal conditions. In a remote work environment, where team members can’t follow up on these emails with face-to-face conversations, you can end up with delayed invoices and even delayed payments.
An online invoicing application lets you define your approval hierarchy and have all of your invoices automatically sent to the next approver. At each stage of the approval process, the submitter and approver are notified about the invoice’s status, eliminating the need for follow-up calls and emails.
7. Project invoicing
If you charge customers based on the time you spend on their projects, Excel invoicing becomes more challenging. Each employee involved in the project has to log their time, then send it over for the AR team to apply the correct hourly rate and generate an invoice. For consultants who generate their own invoices, this whole workflow falls on one person; in larger organizations, it may be spread out among so many staff members that it creates another communication hurdle. In both cases, the manual calculations offer another opportunity for error.
Most online invoicing solutions come with extensive time tracking capabilities. If you employ temporary workers or independent contractors, you can give them access just to log their time without viewing any information about the customer or project. For your on-staff employees in leadership positions, you can use role-based access to allow them to view and manage the time entries of other users involved in the project.
Time that’s logged within your invoicing system can then be converted to an invoice with a much simpler process and no manual calculations. In addition, any billable expenses incurred during the project can also be included in the invoice automatically.
Overall, your online invoicing tool can act as the central hub for project information and keep project invoicing functioning like clockwork.
8. Invoicing on the go
How many times have you received calls from customers or colleagues with questions about invoices and payments when you are not at your desk? Keeping all your invoicing data in Excel requires you to have your laptop or PC to access even the simplest information. Since remote work increases the chance of anyone in your organization being away from their work computer, a mobile-friendly solution might come handy.
Most online invoicing tools come with a mobile version. Though they might not have all the features of the desktop version, they enable your team members to perform a lot of basic operations on the go—whether it’s sharing a payment link, recording the payment for an invoice, or pulling up last month’s sales report.
Here’s your takeaway:
If you want your invoicing team to be productive while working remotely, one of the best things you can do is to have an online invoicing solution in place. This keeps all of your invoicing information in a single application, eliminating the need for hundreds of separate files. It also keeps everyone in the loop without distracting and back-and-forth email threads.