In the latest in our series on digital material, we embark on a grumpy tirade, targeting paper invoices! I know that some of you will be in disbelief that this subject even needs to be included in our list of digital immaturity indicators, but before we get into the subject matter here, I must confirm that yes, it does actually happen. As a business in 2018, we do indeed still receive invoices via the post, and surprisingly often. Printed. On. Paper.

Here are some of the reasons why #facepalm happens, every time we see a paper invoice…

  • • Time spent printing out the invoice and retrieving it from the printer
  • • Time spent setting up and printing out labels
  • • Time spent sorting, folding and stuffing invoices into envelopes
  • • The cost of stamps or franking
  • • The effort of obtaining stamps and maintaining inventory
  • • The time spent getting the envelopes to a postbox or to the mail room
  • • The time delay in the invoices reaching their intended recipient
  • • The effort the recipient most likely has to spend processing the invoice into an electronic system

All of which constitute an enormous detour, given the fact that the invoice was most likely generated from a digital accounting system in the first place. Why transfer from a digital to an anologue scenario without good reason? Keep it digital.

Note, though, that not all kinds of ‘digital’ are equal. Receiving an invoice notification via email, that lets you link straight to a payment screen, or open up a PDF – these are good things, that promote a smooth workflow. Receiving an email with a Word attachment? Not so good. Generally, a Word document is editable. Therefore, you should only send it in that format if you need the recipient to be able to make changes to it at their end. Furthermore, you’ll want your invoice to look the way it was intended to look. Don’t assume that everyone has Word, or will open it in Word. They might just as likely open it in Pages (on a Mac), or Google Docs, or something else. These programs will generally do as they see fit with your carefully considered formatting. In other words, it could turn out to be a jumbled mess. If you can, send it as a PDF. An added bonus with this, is that many browsers will open PDFs natively, rather than forcing a download of the file. This can cut out another repetitious step for the recipient.

Having had a quick ranty rant about invoices, let’s broaden the topic. Of course, this umbrage is not all to do with paper invoices! It’s more to do with what they represent – a reluctance to embrace digital systems and processes. A reluctance to acknowledge that things don’t have to be done the same way they have always been done. A reluctance to exploit the massive gains in efficiency that digital tools can bring to business processes.

Having said all of that, it’s sweetly ironic that, today, a handwritten letter, sent by post, can create quite an impression! Special circumstances, rather than routine processes, may be the future for paper in the post.

Solutions not problems

In the spirit of offering up positive solutions, let’s provide some pointers on how to get going, if you don’t already have a comprehensive system for accounting, bookkeeping and invoicing, try Xero (xero.com). If you have tried ‘off-the-shelf’ systems and you need something bespoke, we can build it for you. Contact us to discuss your requirements.