“My payment process was a multi-week, check-chasing ordeal.” – Mat Vogels, Lapfour
Sound familiar? Mat Vogels is like many freelancers out there. He’s passionate, talented, and struggles like hell to get his clients to pay him.
His typical billing process looked like this: track time in his head, create an invoice in Word, save as a PDF, email the PDF to his customer, and wait for a paper check to arrive.
Waiting for one of these...
It turns out that it takes the typical freelancer 60 days to get paid. That’s a real problem. Time that could be billable gets wasted chasing down checks. This lost revenue and cash flow puts the freelancer’s business at risk.
But, what if it didn’t take 60 days to get paid? What if it didn’t even take 60 minutes?
That’s our vision for Payable — to get freelancers paid instantly. To get there, we’ll need to rethink the way we track time, invoice, and pay.
So, we worked with Mat to test our theories and see just how fast we could get him paid.
We decided to save development time by using the “Wizard of Oz” approach popularized in The Lean Startup. Essentially, our users would perceive our software working as intended. But, in reality, we’d be performing these actions ourselves (more detail on the specifics).
Our first difference was to send out the invoice immediately after the work was done. Typically, invoices are sent out at the end of the month.
To accomplish this, we set up email alerts to go off to the team whenever Mat added a time entry into Payable. That would be our signal to spring into action and scrape together the invoice.
Second, the invoice included only the absolutely necessary information: who did the work, what work was done, and how much it cost. Things like physical address and net terms fell by the wayside. Line item details were placed behind a click. If customers cared to dig deeper, they could. But, we wanted to make it as simple as possible for users to just look at the total and pay.
Last, we added a touch of personality — a smiling profile picture of the person who did the work. Invoices have historically been treated as cold, financial instruments. But, when you think about it, invoices are really communication between two people about work that’s been done. We wanted to bring that human aspect back into mix.
We compiled all of this into a mobile-friendly, manually-created email that we would send to Mat’s customer. The email led to a secure credit card payment page.
With these three factors combined: instant invoicing, mobile-friendly payment, and a human touch — our theory was that we’d dramatically reduce the time it took to get paid.
But, to be honest, we had no clue what would happen.
The original invoice email test Mat approved his first hours on a Friday afternoon. The alerts went out and we started cranking. In about 15 minutes, we had his first three invoices ready and sent. Whew!
30 minutes later I received a notification…Invoice Paid!
We were all working remotely, so the high fives were virtual, but they still made a good “thwack” sound.
Then, another email hit my inbox. The second customer had paid his invoice just five minutes later.
The third customer paid just eight minutes after that.
Holy cow! Within an hour, Mat had been paid by three separate customers.
We had the first indicators that we could get freelancers paid instantly.
“Payable turned my payment collecting process from a multi-week check-chasing ordeal, to collecting payments within minutes of sending out invoices. I literally get paid weeks faster.” – Mat Vogels, Lapfour
We kept running these “Wizard of Oz” invoices through July and into August. The approach forced our team to deal with the reality our customers faced and informed what we built.
And, our core theories held true. Generating invoices off tracked time greatly reduces the effort it takes to invoice customers. Customers are willing to pay for freelance services from their mobile devices. And, anecdotally, people say they like the smiling faces :-).
Earlier in September, we launched an update to Payable based on all we learned. It allows our users to create flat-rate charges, adjust billable rates, and add customer notes. Plus, it works in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and most of Europe.
We continue to see success with this approach. Payable users are getting paid faster. And, we no longer need to be in the middle.
But, it’s not yet instant. That means there’s still work to be done.
This is just our first step on a long road. Until we reach the end, we’ll keep rethinking the invoice.