For Small Businesses, the Difference Between Success and Failure Could Sit in the Copy Room

According to a recent Huffington Post article by Ellen Cannon, a growing number of American consumers have embraced electronic statements and online banking since 2000. That said, a large number of consumers are still not ready to let go of paper statements, primarily because they rely on them as a way to track transactions, fees and interest and important tax information. Yet even among those consumers reliant on paper statements, more than 74 percent said they would be willing to adopt electronic statements if it meant saving money -- such as waived fees or free checking.

It led me to wonder: What prevents small businesses from converting to paperless invoices?

Benefits outweigh the costs
The first roadblock to get past is the "We've always done it this way" mentality. Moving from hard-copy invoices to paperless billing doesn't have to require expensive systems or equipment, and it can do more than just save money on printing and postage. Paperless billing can also vastly reduce the instances of unpaid invoices and late payments.

Consider this. According to an international survey conducted by Atradius, 22.5 percent of companies surveyed in the Americas identified collecting unpaid invoices as one of their greatest challenges to achieving business profitability. What's more, an additional 31 percent identified their greatest challenge to be maintaining adequate cash flow -- a goal directly impacted by unpaid invoices -- which means more than 50 percent of small businesses surveyed face challenges that stem from invoices not being paid.

Ask yourself this question: How many invoices remain unpaid because they are sitting in an unopened envelope on the wrong person's desk? Or worse, they are thrown out because they never reach the right contact for payment? How do you track these circumstances that negatively impact your cash flow? The simple answer -- it's all about document workflows.

PDF and paperless print management
With the right document management solution and the appropriate pre-defined workflows, businesses can centralize invoice processing and ensure payments are approved on time by the right managers. For example, your finance team may be receiving many invoices via email, yet it's likely just as many are sent via traditional mail. And of course, there are those invoices sent to managers incurring the charges for services rendered.

Scanning incoming invoices through your copy room's multi-function printers (MFPs) right after they enter your office can give your finance associates and managers access to pre-defined paperless workflows associated with invoices. These workflows automate everything from format, file name, and recipient and ensure that a proper process for every invoice is followed with the touch of a button.

By centralizing and automating document processing, the electronic version of a document is the first option, ensuring that critical documents like invoices are quickly routed to the intended recipient within the small business and its constituents, such as customers, partners and vendors. In addition, building processes around MFPs makes it easy for associates and managers to initiate invoice payments and remove manual steps inherent in paper-based processes that waste valuable time for finance teams and accounts payable personnel.

Attracting new customers and growing the business is the top priority for most small businesses; however, most business leaders are so caught up in the day-to-day operations of the company that they don't have enough time to focus on growth strategies. If you are a small or midsize business struggling with cash flow issues resulting from lost invoices and manual payment processes, a move toward a paperless process can help you address these challenges.