Accounts Receivable Invoicing
Bad Debt Prevention Part 2
Accounts Receivable Invoicing is step 2 in a 3 step path to payment.
- Make a sale
- Create and send an invoice
- Collect payment for the invoice
When all goes well, it’s a simple and elegant process leading to prompt payment, positive cash flow, and profitability.
Unfortunately, the number of ways we manage to screw up invoices seems to be almost limitless. (Okay I’m exaggerating for effect) But the fact remains that a mistake on an invoice will delay payment and create unnecessary collection work.
Common Invoicing Errors
If you want to be paid promptly, send your invoice promptly. Ideally, you’ll send it within a day or two of providing your service or shipping your product. Some customers may take late invoicing as an invitation to pay late.
In other words, waiting too long to send the invoice and using the date of service as the invoice date in hopes of getting paid faster. It won’t work, and you’ll annoy the accounts payable department.
- Not sending the invoice at all (happens more than you would imagine).
- Sending the invoice to the wrong department (usually purchasing instead of accounts payable).
- Using an incorrect address or email address – (again preventable if you insist on a complete credit application).
- Not following vendor instructions (read the vendor instructions, they’re annoying, but if you want to get paid quickly, you’ve got to play by the rules.
- Mail only or email only – again read the vendor instructions or ask your accounts payable contact how they want invoices delivered, then do it!
Invoice Identification Errors
- No invoice number – you’ve got to use invoice numbers, so your customers have a way to enter and locate your invoice.
- Duplicate invoice numbers – I’ve never seen an accounting system that will accept a duplicate invoice number.
- Difficult Invoice Numbers –
- Too long
- Using the date only
- Too many leading zeros (or really, too many 0’s in a row anywhere in the invoice will lead to data entry errors.
Payment terms specify the amount of time you’ll give your buyer to pay an invoice and should be clearly stated in your company’s credit policy. Consider industry standards, your customer’s credit history, and your companies cash flow needs when deciding.
Avoid the temptation to list “Due upon receipt” unless you require payment in front before shipping or providing service. Due upon receipt is an invitation for your customer to decide for themselves what the terms will be. Larger companies may set their own terms anyway, but generally speaking, it is the seller’s prerogative to set them.
Smaller service companies should consider shorter terms, we usually suggest net 10 or net 15. We’ve found the further your customer gets from the service provided, the less important paying the balance becomes.
Some of the more commonly used terms are;
- COD (or cash on delivery)
- Net 10 (due ten days after receipt of goods or service)
- Net 30 (due 30 days after receipt of goods or service)
For an exhaustive list of terms and their definitions, check out this article.
Purchase Order Errors
- No PO listed on the invoice (if your customer uses Purchase Orders, they’ll want to see the PO number on the invoice; if it’s not there, you won’t get paid.
- Wrong PO listed on the invoice
- PO doesn’t match the invoice
- No information
- Partial information
- Wrong information
Any Purchase Order (PO) error is going to hold up payment. Generally speaking, don’t assume your customer “knows” or “remembers” anything. Include as much accurate information on your invoice as is reasonably possible. The fewer errors on your invoices the less time you’ll spend on the back end correcting and collecting.
Our friends over at The Kaplan Group recommend putting this statement on every invoice “Accounts not paid within terms are subject to a _% monthly finance charge.”
We agree with one proviso; don’t automatically calculate late fees, it may work well for a large business with plentiful resources, but for a small business, you’ll create an accounting nightmare that, in my view, isn’t worth it. More often than not, customers don’t pay them, and you’re stuck having to write them off.
However, should you ever land in court with your customer, without the statement, or one like it on the invoice, the judge is unlikely to award late fees.
For more information on Small Claims errors, check out our ebook “Small Claims Big Mistakes.” It’s in the Resources section of our website. We aren’t attorneys, so we can’t give legal advice, but we can share our experience with you – check it out.
This article was written in November of 2018 and updated May 14th 2020