In many firms, billing managers and back-office staff consider billing a lengthy and agonizing process that takes days or weeks. Billing can become even more frustrating when there’s missing or incomplete time and expense information or because:
- The process is not consistent.
- Client information, decisions, and other items are not documented.
- The process has multiple iterations.
- Managers do not schedule time for billing, especially in busy firms.
3 Steps to Optimize Your Billing Process
To optimize your billing process, follow these steps.
Step 1 – Map the Billing Process
First, you need to understand your billing process. Not the way you think it flows, but the actual flow. And how it flows for different billing managers.
The billing process is likely a habit, and we don’t stop and think about our habits very often. We’re too busy bringing in more business, overseeing projects, doing billable and administrative tasks, and sleeping.
When you map the flow of your billing process, you will find variations. There will be exceptions, expectations, and preferences. Mapping the steps brings them into sharp focus.
The key is to make sure the right people are involved in the process.
- Front and back-office managers and staff must be involved.
- It is imperative that the managing partner is involved and drives the process, encouraging everyone to share honestly. When a change needs to be considered, they should step up and say so.
Step 2 – Smoothing the Billing Process
When mapping the billing process, you should have defined the time spent by each person as well as the overall days required from start to delivery of invoices to clients. Also, you should have identified how the flow needs to change and the tools needed by each billing manager and staff.
One of the top tools you need will be software that provides information for decision-making. You want tools that increase billing speed and accuracy while producing timely, accurate, and complete information. However, please note that the best tools may differ between billing managers depending on how a billing manager prefers to interact with billing information.
Some billing managers work within a paper medium. They show their decisions on a printed Pre-Billing Report or Billing Worksheet by marking checkboxes, changing amounts, notes, and abbreviations. (There are standard reports in BQE Core for this that can be customized for the billing manager.) These reports are then handed off to back-office billing staff to execute the decisions. Typically, a review-and-approve cycle will occur before invoices are mailed or emailed.
In contrast, some managers prefer on-screen decision-making for billing. In BQE Core, billing managers can make decisions using the billing summary information page or working with detailed items and memos. Oftentimes, multiple screens are open at once, containing different types of client and project information.
After making (one step, not two) decisions in BQE Core, the manager typically generates the invoice and quickly checks it—in some cases, the invoices might be checked by the managing partner. After that, the back-office staff handle printing and emails.
The information a billing manager may want at hand can differ from person to person. Some managers may require a single “previously billed” summary for the past 12 months or year-to-date. Others may need monthly total invoice amounts. In either case, BQE Core can do it all.
For example, for Fixed Fee agreements, the biller needs to know how much the contract is, how much has been billed, and the remaining amount. Or maybe you want to know the Percent Completed (Earned) and the Percent Spent. For Hourly and other contracts, you may want a reminder about the “anticipated” fee shared with the client before the project began.
To optimize the billing process flow, you need options for all of it. You even need the ability to determine how detailed items are organized—by employee, activity, or date.
Note: To optimize the billing process for each billing manager, they must have the information desired presented the way they want. While standard billing reports may be adequate for many billing managers, do not hesitate to customize reports for billers. Firms report it saves (high bill rate managers) 15 to 60 minutes per billing period.
It is also important that billing managers know how to carry out their decisions in BQE Core. For example, common decisions for time and expense entries include:
- Change the Billable status of an item (e.g., not bill the time to a client)
- Hold back an item (bill it in the future)
- Mark an item as Billed (never bill it to the client)
- Mark an item as Extra (outside the contract)
- Write-up or down an item (dollar amount or percent)
- Increase or reduce the Client Hours (Billing Hours) for an item (change the bill amount)
- Raise or lower the bill rate for an item (change the bill amount)
Of course, decisions might also include discounts, applying a retainer, and changing the percent complete for a project (fixed fee contract).
Step 3 – Print or Email
This is a firm and a client decision. Many firms report that when they inform new and existing clients that invoices will be emailed, there is no pushback. However, some clients will require mailed invoices. Even in these situations, there are ways to show clients how emailed invoices can make their processes more efficient.
When you email invoices, it is strongly recommended that you include a link to an e-payment portal (it is even a good idea to include it on printed invoices)! You and your client benefit when they pay you using a credit card or e-check. And research shows that most clients will pay sooner—that means faster cash flow. You don’t have to wait weeks or months for payment.
Worried about fees? Don’t be. BQE Core includes ePayments and everything happens automatically. This means that processing and depositing checks is eliminated, saving you time. You can then use this time savings to boost the success of the firm, which more than makes up for the fees.
Bottom Line: Optimize Your Billing Process Today
Along with optimized time and expense capture, an optimized billing process boosts productivity and profit. It is smooth and intuitive—often customized to the biller’s preference. Plus, back-office staff gain hours to do more to facilitate the smooth operation of the firm. This means that managers and staff can focus more on satisfying clients and bringing in new business.