I love the freedom of being able to sell information products and services remotely, and the ease of taking payments online. I equally love the ease of buying pretty much anything I need online too.

But there is one aspect of taking payments online that a lot of expert businesses are falling short on – and that’s the nitty gritty of sending invoices.

It is SO frustrating!

Ok, so after having a l’il rant about this on Facebook (as you do *cough*!) I’ve come to realise that my frustration is probably due to my being a Bookkeeper in my ‘previous life’ – where to me this stuff is really basic business know-how…

But I’m sure you’ve heard me saying that the stuff you believe to be b-a-s-i-c level “stating the bleeding obvious“, is not what your customers think is obvious. The only reason you think it’s basic is because you’re the expert.

But your prospects aren’t the expert, so it’s not bleeding obvious to them at all.

Which means that you might not be aware that this invoicing issue even exists, yet alone why your customers are so frustrated by it!

So, let me explain…

When you are taking payments online, here’s why your customers are feeling frustrated by your invoicing practices…

Sending invoices for online payments keeps your customers happy

When your customers pay you via PayPal (or any other online payment merchant), you receive an email notifying you that you’ve received funds, and they receive a receipt from PayPal (or another payment merchant if you don’t use PayPal) confirming that they’ve paid you £xx amount.

So far so good.

If you are not VAT registered;

You don’t HAVE to do anything more than that. There is no legal requirement for you to raise your own invoices on a separate accounting system.

Although you should be using an accounting system and using it to record your invoices and purchases. It’s the easiest way of keeping track of the numbers moving forwards. Yes I know an Excel spreadsheet is the easiest way, but with your ‘start with the end in mind’ hat on, the sooner you get into the habit of effective financial reporting, the better you can monitor what is/not working in the long term.

But I’m not an Accountant, so I’ll leave the why to them.

Going back to my l’il rant…

When you (the supplier) are VAT registered;

And your customer is VAT registered on the cash or accruals scheme, they cannot recover the VAT they’ve paid you unless you have sent them a proper VAT invoice… and that PayPal (or other payment merchant) receipt that was triggered automatically is not a proper VAT invoice.

And this is the position I found myself in recently… trying to get our VAT return sorted, and missing a ton of supplier invoices. So now I (and any of your customers doing the same) either…

  • #1: Don’t know whether you’re VAT registered or not… when we pay via PayPal it isn’t obvious whether you have charged us VAT in the first place
  • #2: Can’t recover the VAT we paid you because we don’t have the VAT invoice – meaning we have to pay more dosh to HMRC #sadface
  • #3: Have to call you and ask you to send us a VAT invoice – meaning we have to pay more dosh for the time it takes us or our staff to call every business owner who hasn’t automatically sent us an invoice

Legal obligation versus customer care

But here’s the REALLY annoying thing… you (the VAT registered supplier) are not legally obliged to send your customers a VAT invoice unless they ask for it!

And because your customers haven’t received a VAT invoice from you, they have to go off an research whether you are actually VAT registered to know whether they should be able to recover VAT on the amount they paid you, before calling you to ask for the VAT invoice.

If you put yourself in the shoes of your customers, do you see how you might be peeing off a lot of people to save yourself an hour of admin a week?

Automating invoices

If you sell your stuff via Infusionsoft and a merchant account, you can automate the invoicing, so you don’t even need to spend any extra time in making your customers happy

You can also sync up Infusionsoft to Xero and other accounting systems to have an invoice raised in your accounting software, whenever a payment is received in Infusionsoft.

We haven’t automated this side yet, but here’s what we do (and it takes us no more than an hour a week…

One off payments:

For one off purchases we raise a sales invoice in Xero, and allocate the payment to the invoice. This VAT invoice/receipt is also emailed directly to the customer within 72 hours of their purchase

Subscription payments:

When the first payment is received for a subscription, we raise a repeating invoice that automatically gets allocated to the customer account in Xero, and the VAT invoice is emailed to the customer each billing period. When the payment comes in, it gets allocated to the invoice. Job done.

Now I realise you might be reading this and thinking “well I’m not VAT registered so this doesn’t apply to me” or “B-O-R-I-N-G!” especially if you’re not a details person.

But I have cancelled my subscription to recurring membership programs because I got sick of having to chase invoices every month – and if it pees me off enough to do that, I imagine you could well be losing a few clients over it too.

Even though they likely wouldn’t tell you that’s the reason they are cancelling!

So, if you care about your clients (and I know you do), don’t scrimp on the work involved in taking care of the details. Send them an invoice whenever they make an online payment to you – even if you’re not VAT registered yet.

It’s a good practice to send the invoice anyway – it stops them having to call you to ask if you’re VAT registered… whether they need to account for the VAT or not.

Then you won’t be the person that looks like they only care about the money their customers pay them, and not the customers themselves and the value of their time.

Do you send invoices for payments you are taking online? Does it frustrate you when you don’t receive invoices when you pay your suppliers online? Had you even considered that this invoicing malarkey could be so annoying your customers?