This may sound like a dramatic title, but hopefully after reading this article you will see there are things every entity can do to improve their processes. For the past 19 years I have worked with clients to help them optimize their invoicing and am always amazed at how many different ways people generate these business critical documents. We are going to focus on the core areas around where we can make an impact including saving money, ensuring accuracy, facilitating faster returns and promoting your offerings.
It used to be difficult for companies to make changes to their invoices because everything would have to be hard coded by their IT departments. Now there are simple software applications that can manipulate your current print output files to give you complete control to optimize your documents. Here is how it can work:
- A print file of your daily invoices is generated from your business system and stored in a specific directory. A printer driver can be installed (if needed) to allow you to save as a file vs. printing.
- A third party software program intercepts this file and manipulates the output to do what you request. Pitney Bowes, Neopost, Objectif Lune, Syntell and many other smaller entities can provide these solutions. These companies will either do the programming for a fee or introduce you to programmers who can assist.
For the remainder of this article we are going to focus on how using these tools can improve your processes.
Forms Savings: I strongly recommend trying to do away with preprinted forms whenever possible. By utilizing this type of software application, the entire invoice can be printed with your logos, graphics, borders and boxes at the same time as the text and in one pass. Even if are using multi part forms, consider printing multiple copies to reduce costs. Here are the benefits:
- Less expensive – I have seen forms cost as high as $.50 per piece vs. less than $.005 for white paper.
- No need to order and store large quantities of stock. Everyone uses white paper for their basic copying needs.
- If logo’s, addresses, or other fields change on your document, you can adapt quickly vs. throwing away and reordering stock.
Labor Savings: Since you now have control of the entire print file, there are many ways to streamline production. Here are some examples of steps that can be automated:
- Repressing print on $0 or credit balance invoices, which many customers do by hand.
- Grouping invoices from multiple locations to one bill to address.
- Placing optical marks or barcodes on the invoice. This will tell the folder and inserter how many pieces to collate into the envelope. Many companies do this by hand or only run the single page invoices through their inserter because they do not have these markings.
It is important to look at the manual steps and bottle necks in your process to find what could be automated.
Postage Savings: Many of the providers in this space can link their tools to postal automation software that will get you the lowest postal rates. Automatically, your addresses will be matched to the national USPS database, sorted to the postal requirements, and the proper USPS forms generated.
The postage savings you can access by using these barcodes is significant as is shown below. Also, the USPS put in a change this year where the second ounce of automated mail is free.
There are other ways to save postage that need to be considered:
- Invoice Optimization– That is redesigning the document to maximize the space available. This can reduce the number of pages being printed, thus reducing weight and postage. Examples include:
- Increasing the number of order lines that can print on a page.
- Shrinking the margins and the size of the header/footer.
- Changing print size or font.
- Duplex printing – Printing on the front and back can reduce the weight and postage from invoices over 5 pages.
- Converting Flats to Letters – I have seen many companies that process anything over 5 sheets of paper and put it into a 9X12 or 10X13 envelope because it is easier. What they do not realize is the extra costs associated as you can see below.
Electronic Substitution – This is the ultimate way to save money because it eliminates all of the forms, labor and postage costs discussed above. Many of the providers in this space can automatically email or fax your invoices. The questions come up in more secure applications. As an example, many clients want to notify the recipient there is an invoice waiting for them to open on a secure server they can log into to access. When comparing suppliers, make sure they can support your required level of electronic presentment and payment.
There is also a new trend called the digital mailbox. You can work with a provider like Pitney Bowes (Volly) or Zumbox and they will allow customers to access your invoices on their digital mailbox platform. They charge a fee per invoice, but it is much less than the cost to print and mail. The question comes to how many of your customers are on these networks and would utilize these services.
It is a great idea to offer your customers an incentive to switch away from paper because of the cost savings it will provide over the long run.
Accuracy is the most important and often overlooked benefits to redesigning your invoices through the tools now available. Many companies do a lot of processes by hand which can lead to errors. What would happen if a customer received a different clients invoice who was getting much lower rates? Here are some of the ways these systems can ensure accuracy:
- Rules Optimization – As was discussed above, these systems can define your business rules and how you want your invoices grouped, suppressed, ordered etc. This eliminates the manual steps and costly errors.
- OMR/Barcodes – These markings can be printed on each page to ensure the right documents are printed and inserted together into the envelope.
Facilitating Faster Returns
CFO’s are always interested in the time it takes a sale to get paid. Anything that can be done to shorten this cycle improves the cash flow for the company. Here are ways to get your bills paid faster:
- Faster Production – Because these new processes reduce steps and labor, invoices can get out the door quicker.
- Faster Delivery – Automated First Class Mail (With barcodes) is the fastest way to move letters through the USPS because it can be routed deeper into the postal system. Also, since addresses are validated upfront, there are less USPS steps and potential for returns.
- Streamlining Remittance – By printing OCR codes or barcodes on the remittance stubs, it can make it easier to process payments.
Promoting Company and Offerings
I was talking to a much respected consultant (and friend) in this space and was swiftly corrected when I asked if his customers were focusing on Transpromo. He said this was a made up term that should not be used. But yes, his customers are promoting themselves and their offerings on their invoices and that he does see this as a growing trend.
This is a great opportunity to utilize the white space on your documents to communicate valuable information at almost no additional costs. Also, it has been shown that your customers will spend much more time looking at a bill vs. a marketing letter.
With reductions in the costs to print in color, you can get decent quality to support your marketing initiatives. I have seen color ink prices as low as $.01-.03 per page for acceptable quality. It is important to know that this is not the family picture that needs to be printed at the highest quality and put in a mantle. It is a disposable document.
The biggest obstacle is not the technology, which can be made very simple. It is the coordination of marketing and operations to define the message and the criteria. Once these are defined, programing can be made easy.
Here are some additional ways to help you entice customers:
- QR Codes – These barcodes can be printed onto your envelopes and documents to direct your client to a designated web page. This is a great way to get them more involved with your offerings.
- Augmented Reality – This is a new technology where the customer would scan an object on your bill (That could look like a small picture of something you define) and they can see a specific video or message on their smart phone. The uses of this are just beginning and I expect this to become a huge way to market services in the future.
- Second Ounce Rides Free – This year the USPS made the second ounce of mail free for all automated (Barcoded) items. They did this to entice customers to put extra advertising content into their mailings. Think about the invoice that is only one sheet of paper. You could get an additional 10 sheets of advertising content without paying any additional postage.
Hopefully now that you have seen what can be done to optimize your invoices, the “Making them Dance” title is justified. These tools give you the power to get invoices produced faster, more accurately and at lower costs. They can also be used to help grow your business.