Choosing new billing software for your firm or helping your client choose software can be complex. There are a lot of options, so how do you come up with a recommendation?
No. 1 – What is the billing goal?
Your goal may be simply to get paid. But you also should consider the bill as a vehicle for communicating with your client and showing the value of the relationship. The invoice reflects what was done and can help keep your client informed of developments in the work over time. Since it may be a regular communication with the client, it must be clean and without spelling errors. It can show work done without charging – value added.
No. 2 – What is the environment for the software?
Does the firm want a desktop-based solution or does it prefer to operate in the cloud. This may be influenced by the locations in which people work, along with current hardware available. There also is the option to run “desktop” software in the cloud using a hosted solution, so all options should be explored.
The environment also involves other programs being run by the firm with which the billing software may need to share information. This could be links to accounting software, project management software, CRM or Practice Management software. Minimizing the need for double entry between products will make the firm more efficient and reduce the chances or missed or incorrect billing.
No. 3 – How does the firm want to send bills?
If the firm wants to send bills via email, you will want to make sure the software you pick works with the email system. Some software will only work with MAPI compliant email programs like Outlook, while others work directly with email programs like Gmail.
No. 4 – How does the firm want to be paid?
For a firm that accepts credit cards, it’s important to have a billing program that makes that easy. Whether you send bills to clients and they have a link to pay by credit card, or you have people in the field that can accept credit cards on a tablet or phone, you want a process that’s easy.
No. 5 – What type of billing does the firm do?
Bills may be a flat fee, hourly, progress billing or without costs. For law firms, ebilling may be required. Identifying the likely needs up front will help choose a solution that will meet the firms needs long-term.
No. 6 – How should the bill look?
Make sure the solution you recommend takes into account what the firm wants shown on the bill. If different clients need bills with different information fields, it’s important to pick a product that can do this automatically, without the billers having to make changes when running bills.
You also should consider how pre-bills should look. Some firms like to review a bill as it goes to the client, but others want a more detailed pre-bill they can review. Consider the ability to put bills in draft and make changes. Also consider how easy it is to make changes at different stages of the billing process.
No. 7 – Security
There are lots of elements to security – not only who can see the billing data, but the ability of different people to have different limits in terms of clients or timekeeper data. Also consider if you need limits on when data can be entered. Can I enter a billing item for last month?
Security also may encompass an approval process for time and expenses, as well as approval on the bills themselves. You also should determine what reports are needed and who can run them.
No. 8 – Reports
While security on reports is important, it’s even more important to look at the big picture and determine what reports are needed. If you need to pay commission, you want a program that will help calculate the commission without a lot of manual entry.
In some cases, reports may come from add-ons to the program. But this should be a conscious decision, and add-ons should be chosen to minimize double entry. If you know up front that a product is a good solution, but is missing a reporting piece, you can identify whether the need can be easily addressed by an add-on. The availability and flexibility may make a difference in the decision.
Software recommendations can come from trade associations, colleagues and consultants. Once you know your needs, you can narrow the field and test to identify the program that will help your firm get paid and grow.
Caren Schwartz is an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and the owner of Time and Cents Consultants, LLC , in Fairfield, Conn. She is a member of Insightful Accountant’s “Top 100 ProAdvisors” and the recipient of Insightful Accountant’s “2014 Niche Practice Award,” which recognizes ProAdvisors who have built their business around a specific customer segment (in Caren’s case, a recognized expert in law firm system integrations).
Caren also is one or our most read, cited and respected contributing authors, having written or contributed to more than 40 articles for Insightful Accountant since our inception. She frequently teaches or lectures on QuickBooks for law firms at major conferences and is the author of a textbook of the same name.