What is an invoice, why does your business need one, and what steps can you take to make the invoicing process more efficient? Read below to have all your questions answered.
Although they come in many forms, invoices are essentially payment requests sent to a customer when a business has successfully delivered goods or services. Invoices document:
However, most invoices also include a few more pieces of information.
In addition to items (or services), payment methods, and the amount due, invoices can also include some or all of the following:
It’s also a best practice to print the word “Invoice” somewhere on the statement itself.
The purpose of an invoice is to request payment from a customer – whether for one-off purchases or an ongoing service. It is most commonly used when there is a time delay between the request for goods and services and actual delivery. Contractors, internet service providers, and utility companies are examples of businesses that all fall into this category. By contrast, retailers and restaurants don’t normally use invoices, since the exchange of goods and payment happens on the spot, or, payment is made online before the delivery is completed.
However, invoices represent more than just a formal request of payment. They can also help add legitimacy to your growing business. Customers will likely have more confidence in your brand if you send them professional-looking invoices, whether in digital form sent to their inbox or as a paper copy sent to a mailbox or P.O. box.
Invoices serve another important purpose, too. They help establish a paper trail – complete with timestamps, dates, and detailed records. Having this type of documentation is helpful for accounting purposes and can be incredibly useful during tax season.
If invoices are official requests for payment, what are bills and receipts?
Although “bills” and “invoices” are often used interchangeably, they are actually separate terms used to describe the same payment request. The only difference is that the business sends an invoice – whereas the customer receives a bill.
Whereas invoices are sent prior to payment, receipts are always generated after payment. They provide the customer and business with official confirmation that the invoice has been settled.
Receipts also apply to in-store or online purchases for which no invoice is required. The cashier tells you how much everything costs or the shopping cart software displays the amount owed. After paying at the counter or on the checkout page, you receive a paper or electronic receipt.
Every business has slightly different payment needs, but most invoices fall into one of the following categories:
It is also worth noting that all of the above can be sent either as hardcopy statements or as online requests. Paper is the older and more established method, but it has drawbacks, including:
Cost: With hardcopies, you have added expenses that include ink, paper, and postage to manually process outgoing invoices. You also have to factor in the time and cost that managing paperwork requires, whether it is done by you or another paid employee. Of course, there is also the environmental cost when sending hardcopy statements to customers.
Speed: Mailing invoices by post takes time, and some statements occasionally get lost. When you factor in the time it takes for invoices to be sent and checks to be returned, you may be looking at 30 days or more to settle payment.
Productivity: Even with a well-organized paper-filing system, document storage and retrieval can slow down your operations and make you less efficient. It also requires you to be on-site when managing paper records.
By contrast, sending electronic statements helps you avoid those issues, plus you receive these benefits:
Probably most important, however, is that sending invoices by email is instantaneous. This helps to speed up the payment process, improving your cash flow.
However, there are steps you can take to help reduce payment delays even more.
Use the tips and best practices below to help you get paid faster:
At Clover, our PCI-compliant payment processing solutions include powerful invoicing tools to help you get paid as quickly as possible. In fact, our invoicing feature already comes preinstalled in your Clover® Virtual Terminal.