Timely billing and invoicing are vital not just for optimizing cash flow. They provide essential information about the customers. If utilized properly, this information can make your employers understand the needs and circumstances of customers better, allowing your company to get a better grip on the market. But bits and pieces of this vital data are often scattered around different departments like lost puzzle pieces, prompting communication and management issues. The obvious solution is to use software to centralize this data.
Receiving timely payments for products and services sold will keep your engines running, workforce paid and happy, and market analysis and advertising properly funded. Billing requires creating an invoice — a document covering the details of the sale (product or service description), the price, terms of the payment, and contact information of the contracting parties.
The invoice is then sent to the buyer with the expectation of being paid on time. However, especially when smaller companies are working with larger corporations, invoices can get lost or postponed. And if large companies can hemorrhage money for long periods of time, even a month-long cash gap can bury a start-up or a small enterprise. That's why proper billing and real-time electronic tracking of your invoices are absolutely necessary.
There are several major types of invoices that every company sends and receives during the course of its operations, depending on the industry, payment methods, and the frequency of payments.
Standard Invoice. It is the most common form of billing that fits most industries and billing cycles. It includes the company names of the buyer and seller, a detailed description of the product or service, the amount owed, and the payment date.
Credit Invoice. When a business provides its client with a refund or a discount, it issues a credit invoice or a credit memo. It includes a negative total number, which is the amount of money the seller now owes to the buyer. Usually, it is used as a discount towards future purchases.
Debit Invoice. If a service provider needs to charge the client for an additional sum, because the initial estimates of hours billed were too low, they create a debit invoice or a debit memo. Debit invoice allows making small adjustments to the original bill.
Mixed Invoice. A combination of a debit and credit invoice is called a mixed invoice. If a company offers a discount and has to bill for additional hours or services at the same time, this is the right option to use. Another way to use it is to reduce the amount owed for one project and increase the amount owed for another project if you offer multiple services to one client at the same time.
Timesheet Invoice. Usually used by smaller companies and solopreneurs, these documents describe the number of hours billed at a set rate.
Expense Report. This type of invoice is used for reimbursing client-related expenses. It is sent by agents, freelance subcontractors, and employees to the company they are working for.
Pro Forma Invoice. This document is sent by the service provider to estimate the expenses required to finish the customer's project. Pro forma invoices are altered after the work is completed to reflect real numbers.
Interim Invoice. This one is used when you need to split a large bill into smaller portions and get paid after completing agreed-upon milestones.
Past Due Invoice. If the customer has failed to pay before the due date, they get sent a past due invoice. In addition to costs of the product or service, such invoices include fees and interest.
Recurring Invoice. If a service provider charges their customers the same sum monthly for a package deal, this is the option they use. Most recurring invoices are automated.
Setting up the billing process is the cornerstone of customer relationship management. There are several reasons why billing and invoicing is more than just sending a piece of paper or an electronic document required by law.
Managing cash flow. The primary reason for billing is ensuring that the products or services you sell are being paid for. Keeping a positive cash flow and avoiding cash gaps through invoice management are the basics of running a business. You can have the best product and the most qualified sales team in the world, but if your invoice management is lacking, you can be on the way to financial ruin.
Keeping track of inventory. Having a grip on how much inventory you have in stock, how much more you need, and whether the orders have been fulfilled in time is another advantage of billing. If you are in the business of selling goods, everything from delivering ordered items to managing your warehouse, getting to know sales patterns, the best-selling and the worst-performing products, planning the future sales is founded on billing.
Bookkeeping. You need to keep the records to pay taxes and gauge the financial health of your company. Billing creates information used in accounting, such as when the goods were sold, for what price, and to what customer. Both seller and buyer can keep track of payments for commercial and legal purposes. Paying invoices on time is necessary to avoid accruing late fees or getting sued.
Gathering and analyzing data. Every modern business is a data-driven business, regardless of its type, scope, or market share. Billing software can help you gather data automatically from all invoices and bills sent to the customers. Analyzing this information can reveal which of your products sell better, and which do not. You can discover peak buying times, better locations, or delivery providers (if you run a multi-store or online business), and learn about the larger trends dominating your product category and the market as a whole. Your shareholders will want to know this information for stock management and long-term planning. Your marketing strategy and advertising channels also depend on the insight gleaned from your billing data.
Having legal proof of sale. Sending and receiving an invoice constitutes legal proof of sale. If your company has not sent an invoice for products or services delivered, you will have a hard time trying to prove that the deal took place. You might need collaborating statements from witnesses, email, and messaging data about the exchange between you and the customer. And even if you manage to prove the fact of the sale, the amount owed will be up for dispute. Collecting payments can sometimes be hard even with invoices, you don't need to complicate the process further.
Smaller businesses create individual invoices by hand or use online generators. In both cases, it requires filling out forms like the company's name, address and contact info, descriptions of the goods and services, dates, payment terms, the amount of money owed, and taxes information (VAT). If you have just one or two customers, this might just do the trick. However, if you are running a larger business or planning to scale, automating your invoices process is a must.
Companies looking to automate their invoices often use special Excel macros and plugins or opt for the billing features of their accounting software. While this is a solid method, it has quite a few drawbacks. Data entry is automated for the most part (taken from your database, cash register, and payment processing software), but the options for analysis are quite limited. You will have to parse the data generated by these apps with another software or a custom-made script. With your client base growing, the analysis will consume more and more work-hours driving up the costs of customer relationship management.
At this stage, growing businesses start buying more specialized software often creating digital behemoths, comprised of databases, networks, and channels. Managing such a system requires having a specialized IT team. You will incur additional costs trying to onboard and educate your employees about using different apps, interfaces and transferring data between them.
Comprehensive relationship management requires a large set of tools that can make running a business more complicated than it needs to be. Invoicing is usually done with an accounting app and has to be integrated with Customer Relationship Management software, often through a third-party provider. If you need to have additional options like tracking electronic invoice downloads and open rates, you'll probably have to look for another app. Larger businesses have their in-house IT teams tasked with running automation, app syncing, and troubleshooting. Smaller businesses and start-ups have to rely on the tech-savvy of their founders, outsource or forego the integration in favor of less tech-intensive solutions.
Luckily, quite a few modern CRMs come with the invoicing and billing option right out of the box. And some of them are even free. If you build your business around the needs of your customers, you will need robust CRM software with billing capabilities, including automatic invoice status tracking, account statements, age, and the option to generate unique online payment links. A thorough analysis can arm you with knowledge of your best paying or under-performing clients so you can reward your best customers and partners with promotions or smooth out the kinks in communication between your sales force and the customers' decision-makers.
A CRM connected to a billing platform and other aspects of business can bring your enterprise to the next level. Having a comprehensive solution reduces the risk of clerical error (from double-entry or miscounting), saves time on routine operations, and automates most mundane tasks, freeing your employees to perform meaningful duties that influence how customers perceive you. Now you can help your clients faster and better, increasing customer satisfaction.
A billing CRM is a godsend if you run a subscription business. It requires minimal supervision, allowing you to provide your customers with a wide selection of choices for their subscription packages. It will supervise the dates of renewals, sending automated messages, and signaling your managers to filter and purge entries from the client list when necessary.
Resolving tickets related to billing and payments becomes much easier with a billing CRM. Your service desk can have all the information to resolve the issue at their fingertips without needing to contact other departments. Customer interaction can be recorded for future assessment and evaluation. Introducing an automated ticketing process into your workflow can cover up to 80% of most common customer requests.
With a billing CRM, you can task your service teams to upsell new products to already existing clients. Once their routine is freed from operational tasks thanks to automation, they can focus more on customer needs, find those clients who intend to purchase more services and engage them in conversation.
Finding a perfect blend of customer relationship management and billing in a piece of software is not a trivial task. Some apps rely on third-party integrations, others offer full functionality right after installing or signing up for a cloud service. We have gathered some of the best free CRM apps with an invoicing option that can be used by companies of all sizes and solopreneurs. In addition to a free tier, they offer premium options that have more features, customization possibilities, and dedicated customer support.
Whether you want an all-in-one solution, a specialized app that focuses on product catalogs, a customized invoice form generator, a powerhouse system that can integrate with any other service, or an unlimited option to send bills and invoices to thousands of clients, you can find it in this list:
1. Agile CRM
Agile CRM is a nice, entry-level billing CRM that has some interesting advanced options. It allows you to automate marketing and sales, assign scores to leads, set deal milestones, and even create sales forecasts. Its interface is pretty intuitive and user-friendly.
However, with its free plan limited to 10 users only, a limited number of quotes and invoices, and reduced customization abilities it leaves much to be desired for a larger team working with a lot of customers.
2. Salesforce Essentials
One of the best choices for small teams, Salesforce Essentials is a CRM that uses its large integrating capabilities to connect with most accounting apps on the market, allowing it to have a billing option. It can send and track unlimited invoices and automate the billing process. Users can enjoy a streamlined experience both on mobile and desktop. Salesforce Essentials is often touted for its enterprise-level security.
However, even with its paid plan it supports a maximum of 10 users and has no product catalog option.
Apptivo is often called one of the best all-in-one solutions for small businesses and e-commerce. The app allows you to send and track unlimited invoices, customize the templates, and ordering information. With its range of customizable options, you can create incredibly large and detailed invoices. It supports multiple currencies and product catalogs even with the free plan. If you are running a large product catalog website, you probably should look into this app. Apptivo can be integrated with QuickBooks and Xero
However, its free plan is limited just to one user with no mobile option. Calendar synchronizing has caused some issues in the past according to user reviews.
ZOHO is a famous app suite that offers a wide range of options to companies of any size. It can integrate with many apps, including Mailchimp, Slack, and Shopify. ZOHO is a robust CRM, offering teams working with it a bird's-eye view of all transactions, invoices, and other customer information. It updates the status of your invoices automatically and auto-populates the forms, allowing you to create dozens of invoices in seconds. Managing product catalogs is quite comfortable with this app.
However, it does not offer unlimited quotes and invoices, and its free plan is limited only to 3 users.
This is the ideal solution for users looking to have a comprehensive system for project management, marketing, and sales in one package. Bitrix24 also offers a state-of-the-art e-commerce toolkit. Even with the free plan, available to multiple users at the same time, it works wonders for small-to-large businesses looking to automate their billing workflow. Its free functionalities are advanced compared to most other apps on the market with its ability to send unlimited transactions at no cost being the app's main draw.
highly customizable forms that include custom fields and logos;
ability to set payment reminders;
free unlimited invoices, including recurring invoices and tracking;
bulk email support;