Accurate, streamlined billing processes are absolutely essential for professional service providers. It’s how your business generates revenue, tracks payments, and maintains cash flow.
But too often, businesses rely on manual processes that are time-consuming, prone to errors, and difficult to keep up with, risking unbilled hours, frustrated clients, and decreased profit margins.
To ensure your organization runs smoothly (and profitably), you need to figure out how to streamline your billing process. Timely, accurate, and efficient billing saves you time and money, keeps your clients happy, and helps you achieve greater success.
…And this doesn’t require a complete overhaul. There are proven tips to unlock efficiency within your professional services billing process, putting you on the path to success — which we’ll dive into below.
Unlocking efficiency: Proven tips for professional services billing
What is professional services billing?
Professional services billing is the process of creating and sending invoices to clients for payment of services rendered. It is common in professional services organizations, such as marketing, accounting, consulting, and IT services, where billing is based on services rendered, rather than products purchased.
The billing process usually involves several key components:
Time tracking: You must capture the time your team spends on projects to accurately bill your clients. This includes billable time and non-billable time (training and administrative tasks). You can use timesheets or billing software to track and record billable hours.
Expense management: Depending on the project scope, you may have to capture and track project-related expenses, such as travel, equipment rental, and supplies.
Project milestones: These provide a framework for tracking progress against a project’s objectives and goals. Milestones help you better manage the project timeline, budget, and resources, leading to better client relations.
Billing rates: To provide clients with accurate invoices, you must determine your billing rates for each type of service. This includes labor (per hour or per project), materials, and expenses.
There are different billing models that allow you to bill clients based on an hourly rate, fixed fee, or retainer, depending on the scope of work, the client’s needs, and your internal processes. Whichever billing model you use, the goal is to ensure accuracy, consistency, and transparency to maintain equitable client relationships.
Teamwork.com's time-tracking software helps you accurately track time and streamline invoicing with features like billable activities, automated reminders, and budget management.
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Billable vs. non-billable hours
Billable and non-billable hours are two distinct — but intertwined — concepts. You need to understand both to set up an effective billing process and ensure you’re not leaving money on the table.
Billable hours is the time your team spends on tasks you can charge the client for, based on an agreed-upon rate. Essentially, these hours generate revenue for you and should be tracked accurately in a timesheet or project management software. They include things like client meetings, research, development, and analysis.
Non-billable hours refer to tasks necessary for a project’s completion but can’t be directly charged to the client. These include administrative and overhead activities, such as internal meetings, training, and networking.
How to calculate billable hours
Calculating billable hours is pretty straightforward. Just multiply the hours worked by your established billing rate to arrive at the total billable amount. For instance, if your team works 30 hours on a project and you charge $90/hr, the total billable amount is $2,700 ($90 x 30 hrs).
While the specifics may vary somewhat depending on your business and the project, the basic steps remain the same:
Set your hourly rate: Determine how much you’ll charge for each hour of work based on your overhead costs, team salaries, and the value of services rendered.
Track the hours worked: Use timesheet software to track employee hours, projects worked on, and tasks completed.
Calculate the billable amount: Add the total billable hours and multiply them by your established hourly rate.
Create and send an invoice: Use cloud-based invoicing software to generate professional invoices quickly and easily. Include all contract terms and details, such as the project name, date of work, and payment due date.
Why is choosing the right billing process model important?
In many cases, a professional service firm’s project failure traces back to billing issues. Not using the right billing model can lead to cash flow problems, delayed payments, and even project abandonment.
You may under or overcharge clients, lose track of billable hours, and end up in a vicious cycle of missed deadlines and unhappy clients.
If you’re still not convinced, here are just a few reasons why choosing the proper billing process model is critical.
Client satisfaction and longer relationships
Choosing the right billing model is about ensuring smooth operations, fostering trust, building stronger, longer-lasting relationships with clients.
A successful billing process ensures timely payments, transparent communication, and accurate invoicing, leading to greater client satisfaction.
Zendesk reports 64% of businesses with excellent customer satisfaction register increased sales, and 90% of clients will spend more money with businesses that provide excellent customer experiences.
Reduced payment delays
Nothing ruins workflow and productivity like missed payments. Payment delays result in cash flow issues, missed deadlines, and client dissatisfaction.
A well-defined billing model with clear payment terms eliminates the guesswork and helps you get paid on time. You can leverage automation capabilities within your accounting software to set up recurring payments, automated reminders, and payment tracking.
Similarly, powerful project management software like Teamwork.com can help track billing, invoices, and budgets to keep your projects and payments humming along.
Optimized revenue and profitability
The end goal of any business is to generate revenue and boost profitability. This is only possible if you have a billing model that accurately captures all the billable hours, tasks completed, and resources used. An efficient billing process will help you quickly and accurately generate invoices, track expenses, and manage time, boosting your bottom line.
Modern professional services automation software offers a centralized dashboard to track all your invoicing, payments, and project progress in one place. You get a bird’s-eye view of all your projects, tasks, and activities to help measure ROI and optimize revenue.
Better cost control and cash flow management
Cost control and cash flow management go hand-in-hand. Knowing how and where your money is spent helps you stay in control of the budget, track expenses, and plan for future investments. Advanced tracking capabilities help you quickly identify discrepancies between billing and expenses, enabling you to make data-driven decisions about your financial health.
Examples of popular professional services billing models
The right billing model for your professional services firm can vary depending on the nature of the project, size, scope, and complexity. Here are some of the most common billing models used by businesses.
Fixed or project-based billing
Fixed or project-based billing is a model where a client is charged an agreed-upon amount for a specific project, irrespective of the time or resources it takes to complete the project. This means the client knows exactly what they’ll pay from the start, offering certainty and a predictable cash flow.
If the fixed price is $2,500, then the client will pay $2,500 — regardless of how long your team takes to complete the project. This model works best when the scope of work doesn’t change often or is well-defined, but it can be tougher to manage when there’s a lot of variability or contingencies.
Time and materials billing
“Time and materials” (T&M) is the simplest and most commonly used billing model, where the client pays for actual hours worked and materials used on a recurring basis. It’s typically charged per person, task, or skill and works best for projects with a variable scope but with an agreed-upon budget for labor, materials, and equipment.
You’ll need to track staff's hours on specific activities, record materials used, and invoice clients regularly. This billing model allows you to easily adjust the budget as needed to accommodate any scope changes.
In a retainer billing model, the client pays a fixed, pre-agreed fee for ongoing services over a specific period. You bill the client on a recurring basis, usually monthly, quarterly, or yearly. There are two types of retainer billing models:
Rolling: The client can carry over unused hours as long as the contract is renewed.
Limited: All unused hours are forfeited at the end of each billing period, and a new fee is charged for the subsequent period.
Retainer billing works best when dealing with long-term projects where you need to provide ongoing support, such as website management, technical IT support, and software maintenance.
For instance, if your client needs someone to manage their website, you can offer a monthly retainer package for $5,000, with 20 hours allocated for tasks such as site maintenance, content updates, bug fixes, and design changes.
Milestone or progress billing
Under this invoicing method, you bill the client at defined stages or milestones based on the project’s completion. It’s a great billing model for large projects that span several months.
For instance, in a website development project, milestones could be completing the design, development, testing, and launch phases. You can invoice the client after each phase is completed and approved.
However, milestone billing may not be the best option for projects with a fluid or evolving scope. This might necessitate frequent renegotiations of what constitutes a milestone or payment structure. In these cases, you’re better off billing time and materials rather than milestones.
Tips for a more efficient professional services billing system
So, how do you ensure that your billing system is efficient and accurate? Here are some practical tips to help you get the most out of your billing system:
Standardize your procedures
Standardizing your billing procedures is crucial for maintaining consistency and accuracy in your invoices. When everyone on your team follows the same process, it reduces errors and discrepancies that can lead to billing disputes and delayed payments.
Automation streamlines your billing process by eliminating manual tracking and calculations — saving time and reducing errors. Automated billing solutions can track time spent on projects, generate invoices automatically based on predefined parameters and sync payments with your accounting software.
Set realistic project estimates
Accurate project estimates are the foundation of successful billing — they help you set client expectations, improve resource management, and schedule tasks more efficiently. If your estimates are off, it can lead to cost overruns, lower profits, and client dissatisfaction.
Create and review invoices promptly
Creating and reviewing invoices promptly is vital for maintaining healthy cash flow and fostering good client relationships. Swift invoicing implies efficiency and professionalism, encouraging quicker payments. This improves your working capital, allowing you to take on more projects and scale your organization.
Let Teamwork.com help you create more accurate services billing
The keys to successful professional services billing are accuracy, consistency, and efficiency. By standardizing your procedures, automating mundane tasks, crafting realistic project estimates, and invoicing promptly, you can ensure that your billing system runs smoothly and efficiently. This will save you time, help improve cash flow, and boost your profitability.
Teamwork.com's time tracking, task management, expense tracking, and invoicing tools are designed to help professional services teams work more efficiently and accurately. Our platform enables you to accurately track billable hours, sync data between systems, and generate accurate invoices quickly and easily.