Palo Alto, Calif.-based Bill.com is betting big that small-business invoicing, billing and payables is a major and underserved market.
“The financial processes for small business have been out of whack for some time,” says Jeff Schultz, vice president of marketing for Bill.com. Schultz says even basic billing technologies, taken for granted in personal banking, are not part of most small-businesses payment systems. “We have not seen any innovation for a long time.”
Considering how critical billing is to most companies, I installed a demo account from Bill.com ($20 per month per user, with five free checks and $.99 a check after that, $.49 per ePayment transfer) and used it for a few weeks at my six-person digital content company.
What's to Love
Top-quality invoicing management at reasonable prices, at least to start
Bill.com has clearly done its homework. The system really is a top-drawer payables management tool offered at rates small firms can afford, within limits. Best-practice, enterprise-grade accounting tools are all here: calendaring, new bills received, a well-done payables breakdown screen and sophisticated reporting across all avenues of working capital. I was particularly impressed with the audit trail database access and security. The software also syncs with modern tax programs like QuickBooks and soon Intacct, though some Web-based accounting software like FreshBooks is not supported.
But most important, Bill.com is comfortable being business accounting software. There is none of the Mint.com nouveau accounting concepts like “people I owe money to” or similar soft peddling. A payable is a payable. An invoice is an invoice. Professional managers will feel comfortable.
Clever use of e-mail addresses and fax numbers
Particularly impressive about Bill.com is the e-mail and fax integration. The system matches itself to a unique e-mail address and company fax number. So all invoices -- electronic or paper -- can be automatically injected into the system electronically or over the phone. E-mailed bills are automatically captured, and faxed bills are scanned and kept as high-quality digital files on Bill.com's servers. Simply give a vendor your specific e-mail address or fax number for invoicing, and that company's bills appear in the system ready to be processed, authorized, paid or challenged. Impressive stuff.
What's Not to Love
As low cost as Bill.com is to start, the software can get comparatively expensive. Company officials estimate that Bill.com customers spend an average of $480 a year on monthly subscription fees and per-check and electronic fund transfer charges. Keep in mind that is on top of whatever monthly accounting fees your company pays -- say, $25 a month for QuickBooks Online, plus accounting time or banking charges not covered by Bill.com. And your company is still looking at the time, stress and employee complaint factor at deploying a new accounting system, which is never trivial.
Plus, many Web-based products -- 50 is probably not too high a number -- have invoicing baked in. Sophisticated billing is suddenly part of everything from QuickBooks to FreshBooks. So sending bills is not as complex or expensive as it once was.
Bill.com execs say none of these other products can match its range of services and that its fees are a fraction of what an accountant will charge for similar work.
What to Do
Certainly, for businesses with significant billing costs, Bill.com is worth at least a look. Its interface is high quality. Its accounting standards are excellent. And overall, you can trust this tool to keep your billing straight. But many firms, particularly smaller ones, will find that business accounting software, like pretty much everything else on the Web, is a brutally competitive, deflationary market. Dozens of firms offer similar invoicing choices. With a bit of tinkering you can probably cobble together a similar set of accounting tools on your own -- and save yourself a whole lot of money.