What is Project Invoicing?
Project invoicing is part of a larger project billing function that involves invoicing customers for a specific task, project, or milestone.
Professional service organizations often face certain unique challenges and one of the primary issues is how to ensure clients make payments on time. At the same time, organizations need to ensure their clients are billed and invoiced accurately.
Invoicing does more than simply informing clients what they owe. The invoicing process, and the invoice itself, can reflect on the business as a whole. Sloppy or error-filled invoices speak poorly, but accurate and clear invoices let clients know the organization values transparency and good communication, which helps strengthen relationships with clients.
For professional service organizations, effective project invoicing takes an even more important role. Project invoicing is essential in revenue realization and can help to ensure a reliable cash flow, healthy margins, and happy clients. As a result, it’s essential to have a robust and effective project invoicing process.
Project Invoicing and Project Billing
Project invoicing is part of the larger process billing function which encompasses both invoicing and collecting payment from customers for project-based time and expenses. Project billing may sound like something an accounting team does at the end of the project, but effective invoicing starts in the planning phase. It encompasses a definite plan on how to bill clients, payment structure, when payments are billed and expected, and an estimation of how much all of it will cost. Project billing is also impacted by how effectively organizations stick to budget and schedule and how well organizations utilize resources.
Project billing has two main types: Time and materials billing, and fixed fee structure.
Both of these have their own advantages, drawbacks, and impact on the project, and project managers need to take them all into consideration when deciding which method to employ.
Many clients find it easier to accept fixed costs since they know exactly what to budget for, but organizations have to then assume the financial risk if the schedule slips and expenses rise. It can be more difficult to convince clients to accept a time-and-materials strategy, but it is more likely to cover costs accurately because it accounts for the real time spent on a project.
Regardless of the project billing type organizations select, organizations should ideally utilize a project billing system that:
- Realizes project income gradually as organizations meet certain project deliverables, and
- Maintain cash flow for the company
Fixed Fee Project Invoicing
Fixed fees work best for projects with clear and well-defined deliverables. It’s also the method to use if the business has experience with similar projects and a high degree of accuracy in forecasting a timeline and budget.
If this is the preferred method, organizations must establish the precise scope of the work as soon as possible to provide the client with an accurate quote. This can be difficult since customers occasionally ask for quotations before being entirely certain of what they want. To help the project manager provide an accurate price for the work, ensure they can access data from previous projects, such as how long they took and how many resources were needed. Otherwise, organizations might end up facing unexpected costs, timeline slippage, and resources that were redlined.
Additionally, make sure a procedure for modification requests is in place. This is a structured procedure for documenting, evaluating, and approving or rejecting project changes. It guards against scope creep in projects.
Time and Materials Invoicing
The time-and-materials strategy is effective for less predictable projects. For example, if the precise scope of the project isn’t known or if the company hasn’t worked on a project of this nature previously. According to research, time and materials-based projects often generate the highest margins when bill rates are adequately set and resource plans remain intact.
With this method, the project team is empowered to devote the necessary time to the project by allowing organizations to bill for the time actually spent on it. There is less risk of exhausting resources with excessive expectations and less pressure to do the task “quickly” rather than “well” if it turns out to be more difficult than anticipated. This may result in improved client outcomes.
It can also discourage clients from wanting to alter a project’s scope or specifications because it makes them more directly responsible for paying for it.
If organizations want to employ this method of invoicing, they can still leverage historical data from previous projects to provide clients with estimates, reducing any uncertainty they may have around cost. To truly optimize the process, organizations can consider using resource management software that helps locate the most suited resource for the project in terms of cost, abilities, and seniority. Organizations can pass on these savings to their client or use them to maintain a healthy profit margin.
|Time and materials
Project Billing Scheme or Schedule
A project billing scheme is a payment schedule that specifies intermediate payments which are received throughout the course of a project. It is an agreement between the client and the service provider in advance. It is frequently based on a percentage of work finished or connected to the achievement of predetermined project milestones.
Organizations that provide professional services cannot wait until the end of the projects to realize the revenue because projects can take a long time to complete (sometimes they take many years to complete). The project will also come to a halt if organizations don’t have enough cash flow to pay staff, rent, utilities, and other obligations.
As organizations receive money throughout the project, a project billing plan lowers the risk of non-payment, which is another benefit for the professional services organization. Because organizations bill frequently while time and costs are still fresh in everyone’s minds, it also enables organizations to produce correct bills and collect payment without unnecessary delays.
Who is Involved in Project Invoicing and Billing?
Effective project invoicing involves more than just the finance or accounting team. True teamwork is part of the end-to-end process.
The project manager chooses the best way to charge for the project and prepares a forecast of the schedule and costs for the client quote, often suggesting milestones which will be appropriate for billing times. The project manager also supervises and manages project delivery to keep costs in check, corrects course when necessary, and provides the accountant with details of billable hours and costs for billing.
This is any team member working on the project. Project resources who are billable should accurately record their time using time tracking software to make sure customers are invoiced correctly and document what should be assigned to the overall operating costs of the company.
The project accountant generates and issues invoices for projects, collects payments, and reconciles them.
The goal of all the personnel involved in project invoicing should be to issue client invoices that are accurate, timely, transparent, and cleared for payment as soon as possible. Any ambiguity regarding the contents of the invoice or the rationale behind the client’s charges may cause a delay in payment and harm the working relationship with the client.
Challenges Involved in Project Invoicing
Project invoices must be thorough, accurate, and current if organizations want to receive payments quickly and easily. Otherwise, organizations run the danger of receiving challenges from customers who contest the charges, and cash flow suffers. Getting the precise level of information organizations require, however, might be difficult. These are the top three challenges in project invoicing.
It Can Get Complex, Fast
Compared to regular business accounting, determining income and costs for each unique project requires a higher degree of examination and openness. Essentially, project invoicing adds an additional layer of administrative work for accountants, project managers, and project resources. The fact that this additional administrative work might be time-consuming and prone to human error is also another challenge.
Time Tracking is Challenging
It is highly likely that employees are working on several projects at once. Additionally, not every hour they put in for a client is billable. They might also devote time to attending training sessions, seminars, and other activities.
As a result, organizations must encourage resources to keep track of time in precise detail in hours as opposed to working weeks and be aware of the hourly rates for each billable resource. The project team will have to work harder to determine what is billable, at what cost, to whom, and for how long.
Billable hours that aren’t billed will directly affect profits, so it’s crucial to do this right.
The Shared-Expenses Challenge
The company must recover the indirect costs associated with a project in addition to the direct expenditures incurred in its completion. Examples include everything from administrative fees and office supplies to specialized software and employee education.
Having a consistent method for allocating these expenditures between projects and customers is crucial for generating invoices. If organizations don’t, they risk losing that money forever.
The Benefits of Accurate Project Invoicing
There are many benefits to striving for project invoicing accuracy on every assignment. The most important one is, of course, that organizations get paid what they are owed and that the company has positive cash flow. However, that isn’t the only perk.
If the invoice is clear and comprehensive, clients will have all the information they need to approve it and pay the organizations they work with. While there is not always a guarantee that invoices will be paid on time, there are less barriers to payment if everything is clear and there’s no need to query items.
Protects Profit Margin
Keeping tabs on how far forward a project is as time goes on is crucial for accurate invoicing. It guarantees that the project will reach predetermined goals and earn the money organizations anticipate earning by a certain date.
A project manager can help organizations deliver on time, within budget, and safeguard profit margins by keeping a tight check on time and costs for billing purposes, increasing the likelihood that they will notice when projects deviate from their projection and take corrective action.
Better Client Relationships
Improved connections with customers are one of the biggest takeaways from streamlined project invoicing. A client who is upset with the amount they have been charged is the worst possible outcome for a project involving professional services. Or the fact that both time and money have been wasted on a time-and-materials project. Maintaining strict management against over-invoicing for projects safeguards the relationship with clients.
Allows for Future Projections
The benefits of precise time tracking and expense allocation through project invoicing aren’t limited to the work at hand. Predictions for future projects can also benefit from this information.
Organizations will be able to estimate how long and how much it will cost to execute various jobs. Therefore, organizations will be less likely to underbid on a comparable project in the future.
This can be particularly useful when a business is working on flat-fee projects in the future.
How to Improve the Project Invoicing Process
Organizations can implement improvements that will result in more precise invoicing throughout the duration of the project.
Use Past Project Data to Optimize Quoting
When estimating how much to charge a client, it’s best to look at similar completed jobs as a starting point. Look up related projects to see how they were executed, and the amount of budget needed. Any discrepancy between budgeted and actual costs must be investigated thoroughly. These can be used to determine the source of inaccurate previous forecasts and make more precise future projections for the project at hand.
Invoicing at Key Points
Milestone invoicing is a fantastic method for swiftly turning projects into profit. Receiving payments in stages helps maintain cash flow, which is essential for running a business. This also brings down the risk of nonpayment.
Managing and Monitoring Need to be Proactive
Organizations need to keep close tabs and track how much time and money is being spent once the project has begun. Comparing actual results with forecasts helps to check if they are on track to meet goals and get interim payments. If that’s not the case, organizations need to do something quickly to change directions.
Make Time Tracking Simple for Project Resources
In order to ensure that employees and contractors are keeping accurate timesheets, organizations should make the process as simple as possible for them. Don’t expect people to manually keep track of their time in a complicated spreadsheet at the end of the week. Instead, provide them with time tracking software that is easy to learn and use and won’t interfere with their work.
Implement a Change Management Process
Regular revenue and predictable profit from project work is one of the goals of a smart project invoicing procedure. But this goal can be threatened by scope creep and unchecked project alterations. They introduce unanticipated labor, which raises expenses and slows down the project’s progress and revenue.
All changes must be evaluated in a change management process and either accepted or denied. If they are accepted, the project’s timeline, budget, and/or resources should be adjusted accordingly.
Utilize an Automated Project Accounting Program
Financial data for specific projects may be tracked and reported on with ease thanks to project accounting software. Common features include invoicing and billing, project profitability analysis, time tracking, and artificial intelligence which can help to enter data, identify problems, and predict project overruns.
In addition to facilitating automation that speeds up, simplifies, and reduces the likelihood of human mistakes in the process, these solutions provide project managers and project accountants with the project-by-project visibility they require.
Invoices Need to Be Detailed
When it comes to finances, nobody likes to be in the dark. It’s important to be as specific as possible in all client invoices. Apply all relevant information to deliver detailed accounts of time spent working and money spent on resources. This will benefit both organizations and the accounts payable department in the event that the client returns with questions about the costs they were charged. While granular information shouldn’t be required, a thorough overview of expenses is.
Provide Incentives for Prompt Payment
Add incentives for prompt payment of invoices if improving cash flow is a priority. For example, realizing revenue sooner with a 10% early payment discount could free up capital for expansion investments and other uses.
Also, typical invoicing mistakes, such as forgetting to include a purchase order number, might result in bills being delayed in being paid during the monthly pay cycle, so take care to avoid such errors.
Project Invoicing is Important to Ensure Project Payment
Project invoicing is crucial as it provides useful data for management to use in planning for the future of the company. Invoicing can assist a business in seeing which of its many projects bring in the most money and which aren’t worth the time and effort.
Timely, accurate, and thorough invoicing goes a long way to ensuring fast and uncontested payment at agreed-upon milestones.