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Automating AP for firms and SMB clients: Three key steps

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For firms serving small businesses, success is largely defined by the ability to cut down unnecessary costs and allocate resources effectively. One of the easiest but often-overlooked ways of doing so is through the automation of manual, tedious processes that clog up workloads and tie down resources.

This is especially true when it comes to accounting, where the potential savings in both time and money is high — particularly for accounts payable processes, which require significant time and resources when done without automation.

However, small to medium businesses have been slow to catch on to the positive benefits that automation can provide. Currently, 86 percent of SMBs enter their accounting data manually — compared to 22 percent of enterprises — meaning that precious time and money are being wasted by not investing in automation. In fact, SMBs can reduce their typical AP invoice processing time by an average of 40 days, with full automation of the process saving roughly $12 per invoice, according to data from Beanworks.

While it may seem daunting to begin a process towards full automation, accountants can break it down into a few simple steps. When it comes to AP automation, a small firm can make the switch by keeping in mind the following three things.

1. Make sure it’s compatible with your existing accounting systems.

Automation doesn't always mean that you need to throw out existing systems and start over. On the contrary, it’s essential that new AP automation software fits perfectly with your existing software in order for it to be most effective. Tight integration firm-wide will result in the most efficient transition into AP automation.

You should look for AP automation providers that are compatible with the software that is already in place at the company. This way, rather than working against each other, the software solutions complement each other. In order to save time and money, the smoothest transition is needed — AP automation should cater to existing systems and processes rather than against them.

The goal is for all software to work as a team. Just as enterprise resource planning automates things like project management and human resourcing, AP automation simplifies all things accounting from invoicing to payments. This will allow you to lower the risks of AP automation, saving on implementation overhead and increasing ROI in the near future.

2. Find the right automation provider

Equally important is finding a solution provider that understands the clients you serve, how big you are, and what kind of environment you’re in. Each firm has vastly different AP needs and you need to be able to put your trust in a provider that thoroughly understands your specific requirements. In addition to ERP integration, your firm’s size, industries served, and potential growth all need to be taken into account in order to find a provider that can help you scale your AP department.

3. Bring the perfect business case

The last thing to keep in mind when looking to automate AP systems is to develop a strong business case to bring your partners to show them the impact AP automation can have on the firm, and on clients.

Developing a strong business case to clearly show the benefits of automation — increased visibility, lower costs, and the impact of improvement on the rest of the business.

Assessing the current AP state and the money saved through automation can go a long way toward determining and pitching the ROI to key decision-makers, who often need to see the potential for improvement on ROI before they make a momentous decision to switch a long-established process. Think of it as a pitch— wow your higher-ups with mountains of data that show exactly how AP automation will fit into your company’s long term plans.

To accomplish this, you need to build a well-structured business case that shows every initial cost coupled with the vast benefits of automation. Highlight the risks associated with traditional AP solutions and show your high-level bosses that failure to adopt automation resonates even further for SMBs than it does for large enterprises.

Automation is essential for businesses of every size, but contrary to popular belief, small businesses have even more to lose by keeping outdated accounting processes intact. Don’t be afraid to make the change and take your accounting to the next level.

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Automation Apps Small business accounting software
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