Posted - 12/04/11 | 0 Comments

Avoid “Groundhog Day” by automating recurring invoices with Clear

What’s your innermost fear of technology … that robots will take over the world?

A bad thing no doubt. But how about letting our mechanoid underlings just do the really boring, mundane stuff you have to live through, over and over again? Tasks that require zero original thinking but eat up hours of time? In movie terms, think something like I Robot meets Groundhog Day. We applied this to Clear – and introduced two neat time-savers.

First, you now have Recurring Invoices. These are the weekly, quarterly or yearly bills that never change – but you have to churn them out each time nevertheless. Perhaps some of your customers are on retainers, service contracts, maintenance packages, subscriptions or other regular arrangements? It’s deja vous for you, each time you invoice them.

With Recurring Invoices, you just set up the invoice once … and then forget it.

Clear sends the invoice automatically. Every time. On the dot. And just click to stop them any time.

The other time-saver relates to the onerous task of chasing customers when payments are overdue. Something that most people hate doing. Thought some probably like it!

Clear’s ability to send auto-reminders on your behalf has been one of its winning features from the outset. But now we’ve fine-tuned this feature so the approach can be targeted differently for each customer – to maximise results!

It’s possible to enable different auto-reminders profiles for each customer if you go to My Clear > Customers. Set the number of days before you want Clear to chase – and Clear will send them a polite reminder by email when the morning arrives. You can set Clear to follow up anything up to four times at intervals if the invoice remains unpaid or you can just chase them once – its up to you.

Now, for the first time, you can also customise what the reminder says.

There are a bunch of template messages that you can edit.

Clear suggests the text. But you can tweak the message – to add or remove the sugar as needed!

The bottom line … is the bottom line. Smarter chasing = faster payments into your account.

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Posted - 08/04/11 | 1 Comment

Clear V2.0 sets you up for summer!

 

Summer will soon be here … but Clear V2.0 has arrived already! Now you can spend even less time sorting invoices at lunchtime or staying after hours and missing your best mate’s barbecue party.

Clear V.20 includes an extremely useful feature for those of you who charge by the hour, rather than a fixed price for goods and services.  Clear’s new time-tracking option lets you bill customers more accurately for jobs. There’s no need to rely on memory, diary notes or emails for clues.

Clear makes it easy to create a new project and keep a record of project-related tasks – like meetings, phonecalls and project work – for the entire lifecycle of the job. And when it’s time to invoice for the project, a click of the mouse and all the facts and figures will be beamed up, Star Trek-style, onto your regular Clear invoice. Very logical. As Spock might say.

Here’s a peek (see below). The time tracking feature is available now. Just log in to Clear and look for the “Timesheet” menu option.  If you need some more pointers, see this section in the Clear Help Guide.

Note: If Timesheet doesn’t show up in your menu, then the next bit explains why … and shows you how to make it appear.

Not everyone bills by the hour. Some of us charge a fixed price for goods and services. But some of us need the flexibility to invoice for both … hourly rates and fixed prices.

So we’ve created a choice of invoice layout styles to suit all three options. It’s something you select when you create your Clear account. It looks like this …

But you can always go back to these options (and change the invoice layout you use) by selecting My Clear and editing your Company Details. See this Clear Help Guide page for more tips.

Note: Timesheet will only appear in your Clear menu if you select the second or third options in the last (ie. by telling Clear that you sometimes need to charge by the hour).

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Posted - 01/04/11 | 0 Comments

Why invoice scanning and OCR is no more than an interim solution

The following article first appeared in Peter Whent’s blog “Small Business Syndrome”. Peter Whent is Founder and Chief Executive of Clear . You can follow his blog here: http://small-business-syndrome.blogspot.com/

Invoice scanning together with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – digitising paper documents to you and me – is presented by many as the answer to everyone’s electronic invoicing prayers. In fact one company which I won’t name, which claims to be a leader in e-invoicing, is actively promoting it as their strategy. There are several reasons why invoice scanning is not the answer and represents only an interim solution.

The holy grail in the world of e-invoicing is that an invoice should go from creation, to delivery, to approval, to payment without a piece of paper being created. In other words machine to machine with software doing the work along the way. Not a pipe dream at all. Today we deliver hundreds of thousands of true electronic invoices a year that follow exactly this path.

Invoice scanning and OCR (in the context of invoice processing) became popular because companies couldn’t persuade enough of their suppliers to adopt a truly electronic method of submitting invoices. This meant they found themselves in no man’s land – paying for an e-invoice solution but still having to retain a small army of employees to handle paper invoices. Scanning and OCR takes the paper, scans it and uses OCR technology to lift the data off the page so that it is useful and uses it to create an electronic invoice. But here is why it is no more than an interim solution:

1.       It is at best an inaccurate process. OCR software vendors will tell you they can read characters from paper with 99% accuracy. That may be so with a simple text document in a medium sized typeface. But when it comes to small print on invoices, the reality is that it is a lot less accurate. It only needs to read one character incorrectly in the wrong place for the invoice to fail in an electronic approval process. Someone has to manage these failures and exceptions. People involved in the process? Not what was promised from “electronic invoicing”

2.       Second – OCR on its own is not enough. The next thing a well run AP department will want to do is validate an invoice before it goes into an approval process so that it doesn’t get lost within the approval process. Validation, which is an automated process, includes all those pre-flight checks before starting an electronic approval process – is there a Purchasde Order (PO) number? Does it relate to an existing PO? Is there a supplier reference? Is there a VAT number? Does the invoice add up correctly? And so on. Even the most sophisticated solutions with people checking every invoice struggle with this. Suddenly the failure rate had risen. More inaccuracies and exceptions to manage. More people involved.

Of course the net result of this is that you or your outsourced provider has to incur some real costs to bring this error rate down. Guess who ends up getting stuck with those costs? So suddenly your business plan doesn’t look so good. Where you were expecting to drive the cost of processing each invoice down below £1, human intervention has resulted in costs being much higher.

Scanning and OCR has its place. Even allowing for the absurdity of taking an electronic file, printing it out on paper as an invoice, sending the paper to your customer for them to use an expensive process to turn it back into an electronic file – it has its place. But only if you build your business case based on there being a concerted effort to migrate from scanning and OCR to real electronic invoicing. You should aim over a three year period to turn a ratio of 80% scanned and 20% electronic on its head and have 80% submitted electronically. This is all about being good at persuading your suppliers to send you electronic invoices or online invoices. That is a whole subject on its own!

To see how a good e-invoicing deployment works download a case study here which shows how Essex County Council released 20 AP staff and will save £2.5 million next year by understanding the important distinction between scanning as a means to an end versus scanning as the answer. They now process tens of thousands of real electronic invoices – those that go from creation to delivery, to approval to payment without a piece of paper being created. Invoice scanning was merely a stepping stone which helped them to get there.

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