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“The check is in the mail.” Virtually every small business ownerhas heard this excuse at least once from a customer with unpaidbills. And while it’s an “oldie, but goodie,” collecting paymentsfrom customers is one of the most important concerns businessowners face when managing billing for their companies.

Getting paid is the lifeblood of any small business, thefunction that makes possible everything else small business ownersdo. Yet, efficiently billing customers – and getting paid faster -is a chronic concern for SBOs, and the current economy has onlymade it worse.

The average small business carries $1,500 or more in overdueinvoices from month to month, according to a survey by marketresearch firm Decipher Inc. In this economy, that kind of backlogcan be ultimately fatal for a small business. Efficient billingmakes it easier to bring in cash, as without cash there is noprofit and no way for a business to pay its own bills.

Simply finding the time to create and issue invoices can be achallenge. And getting customers to pay promptly once they receivethe invoice is another.

For many small business owners, the answer to these concerns isonline billing and payment acceptance. Processing automatedclearing house (ACH) or e-checks and credit cards through onlinetools can streamline the invoicing process and allow customers topay their bills quickly and easily. About seven out of 10households are already paying bills online through banks andbillers, according to a 2010 study by Javelin Research. AndGeneration Y customers prefer to pay bills online directly atbiller websites.

A recent survey of small business owners by American Express,which offers AcceptPay, an online payment acceptance and invoicingtool, indicates that SBOs feel they get paid faster when they are able to provide customers withthe payment format they want. Being able to accept credit cardpayments online is a top priority, they say.

To make billing easier, an online tool should:

* Accept both credit card and ACH payments

* Enable a business to accept payments online, via phone, or inperson.

* Provide the ability to establish recurring billing and paymentplans.

* Deposit customer payments directly into the business owner’saccount.

* Allow for customization of invoices.

* Generate automated reminders for customers when their billsage beyond 30 days.

* Provide on-demand reporting that provides a complete view offunds.

Automated recurring billing and the ability to accept payments online canbe particularly useful to businesses. Customers whose invoiceamount remains the same from month to month can be placed on anautomatic recurring billing system – allowing the business owner toconcentrate on other matters, rather than generating the sameinvoice every month. The system also allows business owners to setup automatic payments, so a customer’s credit card or bank accountcan be charged with the recurring amount every month.

AcceptPay offers recurring billing and online paymentacceptance, as well as a host of other features, for one low,all-inclusive monthly fee. Users are able to accept customerpayments using all major credit cards and ACH, have paymentsdeposited directly into their bank accounts, and integrate theironline billing activities into Quickbooks, a popular accountingprogram among small businesses.

Billing will always be a necessary chore for small businesses.And while online billing and payment acceptance can’t completelyerase all worries, it can help reduce the time business ownersspend on invoicing – and ensure they will never again need to hearthe phrase “the check is in the mail.”

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