BEYOND BUSINESS BASICS
Managing Your Money Processes: Manual and Automated Options
by Sylva Leduc
I don't know about you, but for me, sending client invoices is one of those "necessary chores" in managing my business. Sure, I love it when the checks arrive. But I have to admit, taking time to go to the bank can be an interruption in my day.
Even as I am writing this, I have one invoice to create and send, plus three checks to deposit. You may wonder if I am so fabulously wealthy that I can afford to let several thousand dollars sit outside of my bank account. Hardly!!
It's just that the money process is another of those administrivia tasks that can really make coaches less than efficient.
In the last issue of Business Coaching Worldwide, I wrote about the many tasks and processes that can be delegated to a Virtual Assistant. A VA may not be able to physically take your checks to the bank for deposit, but a VA can do your invoicing, and may be able to help you set up and manage a Merchant Account or Shopping Cart.
Wait, though! I'm getting ahead of myself. First, we need to talk about the difference between manual and automated processes, and then discuss why you may want to use a Shopping Cart or Merchant Account. Plus, since you may not know the differences between the two, I'll provide a brief comparison.
Totally Manual Processes
If you use a manual process, you'll need to create and send multiple individual invoices for every client. I suspect that the majority of the people reading this article have a template they use for their invoices, so I won't belabor the idea of creating a standard format. If you have not standardized a format, then take the time to create a template to use. Then, each time you invoice, you can refer back to the master copy to create the current invoice for your client.
Software for Invoicing
There are many programs on the market that you can use for invoicing. Among them are QuickBooks and MYOB software products. If you use ACT! as your contact manager, then you can also use the invoicing plug-in to connect to QuickBooks. These software programs can create invoices for your customers based on the specific information that you choose. Instead of creating invoices from scratch each time for each customer, however, these programs can include past due information or allow you to choose from a menu of your products and services. Much of the invoice information is created for you.
If I didn't tell you about Client Compass software and its invoicing system, I'd be remiss in providing you with complete information for automating your business. I am biased, of course. Although it was recently acquired by John Wiley and Sons, I was the founder of Client Compass, the company that created Client Compass software for coaches. Client Compass provides invoicing templates and calculation wizards, tracks payments, and allows you to process credit card charges via a "virtual terminal."
Online Automated Systems
Merchant accounts and shopping carts provide additional methods for automating both the invoicing and payment processes.
Coaches, consultants and small business owners use merchant accounts and shopping carts to sell their services and products. What's the difference between the two?
MERCHANT ACCOUNT: A merchant account is established by a coach through their bank or a "payment gateway" to receive payment via credit card. You don't need to have a Web site to use a merchant account.
SHOPPING CART: This is online software that allows clients/customers to order a number of products/services from a coach's Web site (using the merchant account for processing payment).
There are basically four ways to set up a shopping cart system:
- Buy software and install it on your own server
- Buy software and install it on your hosting company's server
- Sign up with a hosting company that has shopping cart software available
- Sign up with a shopping cart service; the shopping cart software runs on their server, linked directly from your Web site
The first two options are incredibly expensive for a small business. The third option is very viable. Ask your hosting company if they provide a shopping cart as part of their offerings. Check to see if it is combined with a merchant account or if you'll need to provide your own merchant account.
The fourth option is probably the easiest. There are several companies which provide cost-effective all-in-one solutions or stand-alone shopping carts. While third-party payment processors, like PayPal, will charge you a higher percentage of each transaction, they don't require you to carry a merchant account. Most shopping cart solutions, like 1ShoppingCart.com, do require a merchant account.
Be aware that some shopping cart solutions are resold by other companies. For example, Practice Pay Solutions, one of the most widely-known merchant account solutions in the coaching world, offers a shopping cart through Professional Cart Solutions. What many people don't know is that Professional Cart Solutions is a private label of 1ShoppingCart.com.
Why Use A Shopping Cart?
Shopping carts serve multiple purposes:
- gather contact information
- automate processing, including credit card processing
- fulfill orders through links or direct downloads
- activate e-mail autoresponders, reducing the need for manual replies
- process orders automatically 24/7
If you have products and services for sale, providing client access to your site at any time of the day or night from anywhere in the world in order to complete purchases is very appealing.
On my own coaching sites, my shopping cart is set up to allow people to opt in to my newsletter and order free reports (with automated delivery). I also have separate Web pages where clients can purchase assessments, e-books, special reports, coaching sessions, and coaching programs.
An automated system frees up time you're currently spending on administration for working with clients and marketing your services. And the more time you have to work on those activities, the better!
If you are currently using manual processes to get invoices out and money in, consider streamlining your accounts receivable and putting your business on autopilot.
Sylva (Syl) Leduc, MEd, MPEC, is a Certified Executive Coach who has worked with business owners, leaders, executives, and coaches for the past 14 years. She is the President of Benego Business Solutions and creator of the Coaches Tool Box. Read more about Sylva in the WABC Coach Directory. Sylva may be reached by email at info@Benego.com.