Although invoicing and billing are processes where a seller issues sales documents to a buyer when compared against each other, the significant difference between the two processes is quite plain and simple.

This article will explain both invoicing and billing in-depth, as well as share best practices for invoicing for small businesses.

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Invoicing vs. Billing

Invoicing is a process where a seller issues a commercial document to a buyer requesting payment. This document shows all products and services rendered, the payment owed, and the contact details of both the buyer and the seller.

An invoice serves as a request for payment for specified payment terms and is typically issued after delivering the purchased service or product. An invoice also represents credit because the seller will only receive cash at a future date.

On the other hand, a bill is a sales document that details a customer’s payment for purchasing products or services rendered. It’s usually written to serve as a piece of legal evidence that a transaction took place between the buyer and the seller.

A bill is typically used at businesses where the customer pays for the product or service upfront, including restaurants, subscription businesses, and retail outlets.

Billing on the other hand, is the process of issuing a sales document that’s used as legal proof of transaction and is usually done for one-time upfront payments. In contrast, invoicing is issuing a sales document that serves as a request for payment for products or services sold on credit. Invoicing can be done for both recurring and one-time payments.

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What are the best invoicing tools out there?

Invoicing can be stressful; creating the invoice, sending it out, and following up on it can take a lot of time. Even more stressful are the recurring invoices that eventually cost you money down the line.

A multitude of invoice software can help you send out invoices and manage the process efficiently. Invoicing software can save you a lot of time and money. With all your payments being managed by one software package, you’ll never lose a payment.

If you’re considering invoicing software, here are a few of the best packages for your business.

Wave is cloud-based invoicing software that suits small businesses. With Wave, small businesses can create, customize, send, and track invoices in one place.

Wave’s other unique features are automated scheduling, automated payment reminders, and many helpful software integrations. Wave is free to use and has android and iOS versions.

Xero is special accounting software that permits unlimited users and offers 24/7 support. With Xero, you can create customized, professionally designed invoices, set up recurring invoices, and automate invoice payment reminders personalized to your customers.

You can create and send invoices for your mobile app and enable your customers to pay online via debit card and PayPal. Xero tells you when your invoices are opened and lets you send bulk invoices, which will eventually help you save time. Xero works on a monthly subscription.

QuickBooks is intuitive cloud-based accounting software that lets you organize all your business finances in one place. With QuickBooks, you can create and send custom receipts and invoices, schedule recurring payments, and transact in multiple currencies.

You can also track expenses and profits as well as manage your sales tax. QuickBooks works on various digital platforms, lets you sync across your devices, and automatically stores your data in the cloud.

Invoicing software is only the start. Take a look at the best financial forecasting software available on the market today.

Invoicing for SaaS recurring subscription models

When it comes to business payment systems, invoicing is quite different for SaaS recurring subscriptions. Invoicing is a request for payment issued after a seller has delivered a product on credit, and the payment is to be settled at a future date.

For SaaS subscriptions, the client agrees to an electronic contract subscription, whether the client is a business or an individual. Subscriptions are charged on a recurring interval such as monthly or yearly and clients can cancel anytime without a penalty or fee. If a customer cancels before the end of their prepaid subscription, they are typically refunded.

When is it appropriate to do invoicing?

Sending invoices to your customers is sometimes a delicate subject for business owners. When deciding the appropriate time to send an invoice, you may decide to send it right after a job, but that may be inconvenient if you are preoccupied with multiple jobs.

If you decide to wait, you run the risk of disturbing your cash flow. Some other businesses adopt invoicing before the job, and that approach has its perks, but what happens if the scope of the job expands?

Businesses usually send invoices in one of two ways:

1. Before the work is started: There are some situations where it makes sense to invoice a client. It’s usually called prepayment or requesting a deposit. Here are some typical scenarios where you should invoice a client before the job is complete.

  •  The client in question has a history of delayed payments: In these situations, it makes sense to request a prepayment to protect your business.
  • The job requires the purchase of materials and equipment: You may decide to take on the cost, but it may be safer to get some financial commitment from the client.
  • The job is a large commercial contract: Before you get your hopes up, request a deposit to seal the client’s commitment.

2. After the work is completed: Invoicing when work has been completed is the most common practice in business services. Many clients prefer to pay after the work is completed. Here are some situations where it’s appropriate to invoice a client after the work is complete.

  • It’s a one-time job and the client is onsite (on-the-spot invoicing): Invoicing in this way works well if you’re just starting your business. To make this approach work for you, you should discuss your terms of work with your client and ensure that they know what the charge will be after the work is completed. Prepare an official invoice ahead of time and make it easy for clients to pay with a credit card.
  • Monthly recurring services: Many businesses do monthly invoicing for recurring commercial contracts. This invoicing method is ideal for clients and companies that do not wish to process multiple payments every month. To effectively apply this system, confirm the terms of payment with the client ahead of time. This information should be added as part of the quote before the client signs off on the first service.

When should you do a monthly subscription?

Many businesses favor monthly subscription models because it’s profitable and offers long-term revenue growth. While considering these benefits, also consider if it’s the best option for your company and customers.

Monthly subscriptions work well for service businesses that customers frequently use, and the service is frequently updated, e.g. Netflix and HubSpot. A monthly subscription also works well for businesses that sell consumables or licensed products that can be used for a limited time, e.g. subscription boxes.

Innovation is critical for subscription businesses to ensure customer loyalty and their continued patronage. If the service never improves, usage will go down, and the fantastic revenues will plummet.

The customer lifetime value is a metric that predicts how much a customer will spend on your product throughout their entire relationship with your business. It improves with every subscription renewal and opens up more opportunities for upselling on other services.

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Which is more time-consuming?

Invoicing is generally more time-consuming than the subscription-based business model. Although some businesses adopt steps to reduce the time constraints around invoicing, some unavoidable setbacks, such as legal and regulatory requirements, must be considered while creating the layout of an invoice.

Sending an invoice in multiple formats and ensuring that the layout stays the same within many platforms is stressful. When clients don’t settle invoices, your cash flow can be seriously damaged. The process of getting a client to settle their debt may leave your business repeatedly sending email reminders.

In monthly subscriptions, clients are already hooked into the service and enjoying the value it adds. After the initial customer acquisition where the client usually has had the chance to try out the service, once the client opts in for the service, they’ll need to renew their subscription to continue using the service.

As long as your business constantly innovates and offers new features based on customer feedback, clients will remain hooked on the service and enjoy auto-renewal benefits.

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Which brings in more revenue?

Both invoicing and monthly subscriptions drive revenue for the businesses that adopt them. There’s incredible revenue potential for companies that adopt either invoicing or monthly subscriptions. Success will depend on how management runs the business.

A monthly subscription business usually delivers digital service and locks in clients for the long term. There are many opportunities to upsell and cross-sell other products and services on top of the monthly subscription.

After the initial trial phase and customers register for a service, they are usually set on an auto-renew contract. In invoicing, businesses render services on credit, and businesses run the risk of customers’ debts running into the thousands, even when there are automated reminders for clients. Invoicing suffers many legal and regulatory requirements that may delay payments, whereas a monthly subscription does not.

Can you completely avoid invoicing?

Invoicing can be avoided if your business sells conference registrations, licenses, dues, or payments to government agencies. However, if your business sells goods or services, invoicing is unavoidable. invoicing is a means of creating a legally enforceable agreement that documents the services rendered to a client and the terms of payment owed.

If the transaction is between two businesses, the seller is required by law to provide an invoice. An invoice is not the same as a receipt: the former creates a sales agreement, while the latter is for acknowledgment of payment.

When is invoicing absolutely necessary?

Invoicing is always necessary if your business incurs debt in the course of selling to customers. A signed invoice will serve as a legally binding agreement that the client has agreed to pay for a product or a service. The invoice also provides details of the work being done and the timeline of completion of the work.

How to handle invoicing: Eight steps to handling invoicing effectively for your SaaS

Efficiently dealing with invoices can be an essential ingredient to the success of your SaaS business. An efficient invoicing system not only ensures that the money keeps coming in but also helps you track sales and keep accurate records for tax filings and future sales forecasting. How can you effectively handle invoicing for your SaaS company? Here are 8 steps you can adopt.

1. Ensure that your invoice is clear and straightforward.

Keep all information easily visible so that, when the customer takes a glimpse at the document, they can simply navigate the payment process. Remove jargon and unnecessary information; this is a sure way to help the client make fast payments.

2. Ensure it’s legible and embodies your brand identity.

An invoice from your company isn’t just a typical document—it’s representative of your brand. As such, your brand identity and values must be aligned with every word and formatting of the document. Leverage any chance to remind your customer of what’s great about your brand.

3. Put the right date and reference number.

With all the back and forth of multiple invoices, how do you keep track of the customer? Use dates and reference numbers to organize and communicate your invoices with your customer and your internal ordering.

4. Ensure that the invoice has the correct terms of payment, payment amount, and due date.

Another big step in keeping things clear for the customer is to include the terms of service, due date, and total amount. This practice ensures that everyone is on the same page.

5. Clarify each item on the invoice.

Clarity for your customer is a vital part of the transaction—a chance to explain the value you provided to the client while showing transparency in your invoicing process.

Remember to keep it simple still; don’t send a massive list of items. Keep it short and straightforward. If the client has more questions, they’ll surely reach out to you.

6. Address the invoice to the right person.

It’s not enough to simply include the name of the company in the address. You should also attach the name of the person who supervised the work. Whether it’s a small company or a large one, doing this adds a friendly touch.

7. Use emails to send invoices and activate “read receipts.”

Send the invoice to your customer’s email since it’s one of the most stable and direct communication methods available. Use “read receipts” to confirm that your invoices are reaching your client’s inbox. Many invoicing tools offer “read receipts” and link tracking. This works to keep you informed on how your client has interacted with your email.

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8. Automate recurring invoicing tasks

Many accounting tools simplify the invoicing procedures by helping you automatically carry out some essential tasks. Professional services would greatly benefit from this.

Some invoicing tasks can sap the company’s budget without adding any extra benefit. Use a full suite accounting software to automate manual work, save time, and reduce the chances of human error.

Take some time to understand the tenets of your invoicing since you know it’s the last direct communication you have with your client. Finetune your tone of voice and use an elegant design. There’s more benefit in catering properly to current and old clients—they are easier to impress than prospective new clients.

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