Fewer software packages have the potential to provide as big a return on investment as time and billing. Used properly these software packages turn idle time into money. Coupled with the latest technologies - including wireless email, paperless billing, and PDA data collection - the hours of time which were previously lost can now be captured, billed, and collected. If you haven't updated your existing time and billing software in the last five years, you may be in for a surprise. Most software reviewed here will allow for a much more highly customized invoice format than ever before. In addition, things such as remote access, printing of invoices, and statements to electronic PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format) are enhancements that have the potential to save you hours each month.
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Stand-alone time and billing is such an important part of your financial success that you should make sure your system is up to the current standards. This means that your billing software is fully Windows compliant, allows for paperless billing, can export and import data, and collect time from the Internet, as well as generate a myriad of reports to satisfy the most curious timekeeper and client.
Always strive for an industry leading billing system. This means pick your software from among the most widely used systems-for these are typically the ones which are being continually improved upon and expanded with new features. Reviewing these systems has been made easier with the popularity of the Internet, which allows for instant downloading of demonstration programs and viewing online real-time demonstrations from the comfort of your office or home.
The first step in the evaluation process is to create a wish list of items that your new software should have. Not every package can include all the items. And the omission of one or two key features does not mean that a software package should be avoided - rather use these suggested items as the starting point for your own checklist of "must-have" features. When considering a new time and billing system, your top consideration should include many from the following list:
Flexible billing layouts. Clients are demanding in the detail and layouts that they expect from your bills. If you are unable to submit properly formatted invoices with the right amount of detail, your invoices remain buried at the bottom of the pile of papers accumulating dust. Give the clients enough detail the first time you send the bill and your staff won't worry about researching months-old bills and the owners can significantly reduce the amount of bad debt that is written off solely because of lack of detail provided to the client.
Ease of use. It's no fun puzzling over software features. The way you make money is by billing hours-not learning esoteric features of complicated billing programs. The first evaluation step is to look at the software's interface. Is it an old DOS-type screen that has been pushed into Windows era kicking and screaming? Or does the layout look fresh and uncluttered? The more timekeepers you have entering data, the more important it is for you to be able to smoothly navigate the different screens. Adequate security should allow for limiting user access to sensitive areas such as billing rates, employee costs, and the export of client names.
Comprehensive reporting and analysis. At a minimum you need to know which employee billed what type of hours (audit, tax, consulting, or financial planning), which clients paid, and the outstanding balances for both work and process and accounts receivable.
You should track time for each employee segmented by the type of work performed. In addition, it's highly desirable that you be able to compare budget versus actual hours. This accumulation of time not only makes the current engagements easier to manage but will allow for historical analysis of time when the process of planning next years' engagement begins. Without accurate historical information broken down by the type of work, you may not have enough information to know where engagements are inefficient and where you need to increase the proposed time budget for your client.
Custom report writing. When the canned reports fall short, you should make use of a solid report writer such as Crystal Reports. Typically, report writers will connect via an ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) link, which allows for one company's report writer to work with data from other systems.
When your reporting is extra intensive, the use of an intermediate database such as Microsoft Access can often be used. These software tools will usually interact with your data via an ODBC connection that allows for the one-way reading of data from the time and billing program into the database. From within the database, further manipulation is typically provided by the use of queries.
Historical data retention. The more data you can retain the better. Seek to retain a minimum of five years' worth of time-and-billing data inside your software. This allows for analysis of prior years' time to discover what areas are taking extra time to perform and perhaps should have their work budget adjusted upwards.
Budgeting of actual versus planned hours. With larger annual engagements, the use of time budgets is even more crucial to profitability. By allowing for simple comparisons of time spent versus time allowed, you can quickly spot problem areas within an engagement. This will allow your staff to create a change order for the client to sign off and either authorize or decline further work in the troublesome area.
Remote time collection. Much of today's work is performed off-site. Therefore, it is more crucial than ever to have an efficient way to easily track the time spent on individual engagements. Entry of time via the Internet is fast becoming an expected feature that all software products need to include in order to be competitive. By entering your time via the Web you'll capture hours that may have otherwise been forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the engagement process.
Paperless billing. When clients call for copies of their invoices or statements, it is always a time saver if those documents can be transmitted electronically versus mailing a printed copy. If the time and billing system you've selected allows for printing of bills to an electronic format then it's a good bet that your format will be the Adobe PDF layout. This allows for any person to receive an electronic bill and open it using a free viewer. The result is an on-screen copy of your invoice that looks identical to the paper. The client can print out the invoice and retain it for their records.
Timeslips by Sage
One of the most striking features of Timeslips is the intuitive nature of the user interface. Navigating to each function is simplified by a graphical interface that is not so much a menu as it is a road map. Each step of time collection and processing is well documented by arrows that point you in the direction of your next logical step.
An almost unlimited number of invoice layouts can be created within Timeslips. There is a graphical format designer that is a snap to use and allows for adding your own logo as well as additional fields that you may wish to view on the final invoice. Multiple invoice formats may be created and each format may be assigned to a different client.
New users of Timeslips who might otherwise be intimidated by a lengthy setup can breathe a sigh of relief. Timeslips has thoughtfully included training videos as well as pre-defined layouts for a variety of industries including legal, accounting, construction, consulting, and architectural. The use of the built-in data import utilities will assist in the speedy setup of your customers, timekeepers, and work codes. Supported file formats include tab delimited, CSV, fixed, and custom delimited.
Busy managers will like the Timeslips Today feature. The last 10 slips and receivable transactions are displayed on a dashboard along with the total billings for the month and listings of clients with overdue balances.
When billing, the Interactive Bill Preview brings new meaning to the term WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). As you are billing your clients, if any portion of the bill is incorrect, it can be adjusted directly through the bill preview screen. New to Version 6 is the ability to re-print copies of invoices that have already been posted.
Some other new features included in Version 6 are the ability to print most Timeslips reports to Microsoft Excel and thumbnail views of most reports. Both of these options make an already smooth interface even more efficient.
Smaller organizations with a need for a powerful and flexible billing package will enjoy the features within Timeslips. The software has an extremely easy interface as well as a large variety of pre-designed reports. When the existing reports aren't enough, then you can use the built-in report designer to create your own customizations.
Timeslips by Sage