How to Create a Bill Pay Offering for Your Clients (and Your Firm)
Part 2 of The Accountant’s Guide to Offering Automated AP Services
Congrats! You’ve decided to add bill pay to your services line. Now, to address the big question: Where do you start? This guide will walk you step by step through packaging and pricing, internal rollout, and marketing to existing clients and prospects on the path to launching your new bill pay service.
When implementing any new service, the best place to start is with a well-thought-out plan. This guide will help you think through your execution as well as providing a roadmap for service rollout.
Start with your goals
What are your core objectives—what’s your goal in providing this new service? When adding bill pay as a service, your answers might include:
- To be proactive by offering a service that’s valuable to clients (before they have to ask)
- To automate AP for clients—helping fuel efficiency
- To solve a major pain point for clients
- To standardize our processes and metrics to prepare to offer advisory services
- To add a new revenue stream to the firm
Build your AP service plan
Once you’ve thought through your objectives, you’re ready to build your plan. While every firm’s plan will be unique to fit your needs and your clients’ needs, the bones will be similar. When adding an AP service plan, here are 4 key elements you should think about and know upfront before you roll anything out to clients. Doing this work ahead of time can save you headaches down the road.
- Decide where bill pay fits into your overall services line. Is it stand-alone? Will it be part of a bundle? For example, will you offer a package that includes bill pay, payroll, tax return prep, and bookkeeping? Get a clear picture of where bill pay fits before you dig into your larger plan.
- Define the service clearly. Building on the bullet above, if you decide to offer bundles, what exactly is included in each? If bill pay is stand alone, what’s included?
- Price your service based on the value you’ve assigned it. You know better than anyone what your business clients need and what pain points you’ll solve, so think through pricing on a stand-alone service and all bundles.
- Plan each step of your rollout—from getting buy-in and training staff to marketing the service and full execution.
The following sections offer more detail on building your plan—from packaging and pricing through taking your new bill pay service to market.
Define your bill pay services clearly
This step calls for you to define your service offering clearly. What’s included with the service? Will you offer different levels of service (bundles)—for example: Basic, Advanced, Complete? You’ll want to get consensus from key staff on what your service package looks like and clearly define service boundaries.
Bill payment is a standard compliance offering and easily aligns with other firm basics, such as payroll, bookkeeping, and tax prep, for example. So, it makes sense to tack bill pay on within your larger compliance services line. This means it can be offered as a stand-alone service and simply added to the roster; however, many firms have gone the route of bundling bill pay with other offerings to provide service level choices.
An example package offering could look like:
||Includes everything from Basic, plus:
||Includes everything from Advanced, plus:
If you choose to offer service bundles, create a comparison chart similar to the one above to highlight what’s included at each level. The chart above offers a jumping off point, so be sure to think through the services you would include in each category—as every firm will be different. A chart that outlines services in an easy-to-read format will also support marketing and sales efforts later on.
Price your service based on value
Assigning price is the next big step. Today, it’s all about value pricing over hourly billing. Simply put, value pricing assigns a price based on the perceived value of the service. For example, there’s tremendous value in a service that automates work. Automation eliminates repetitive, manual, administrative tasks—significantly elevating productivity and making clients more willing to pay a premium.
Also consider other top benefits of the value pricing model, including:
- Creates transparency between firms and their clients—clients know exactly what they’re getting for the fixed price
- Demonstrates the value of your expertise
- Eliminates billing surprises—no more client complaints about invoices with extra billing hours
- Increases firm accountability to deliver on expectations
- Enables firms to be more profitable
Finally, be aware that many of today’s business owners both expect and prefer fixed pricing for professional services. Value pricing enables clients to set a budget for the year because they know upfront what their month-to-month costs will be. Further, as noted in our survey, when firms connect with clients and clearly communicate the benefits of automation, they’re 3.5 times more likely to successfully assign a higher price. Looking for some pricing benchmarks? Our report Where Opportunity Meets Value has some insights on business model and pricing trends and benchmarks, including the benefits of automation.
Be sure to consider the comparison chart in the section above when you think through your pricing structure. Bill payment can be a key component—it represents complex, time-consuming, back-office work that most business owners detest. Removing the responsibility (and pain) of bill payment is highly valuable to business owners—so make sure you clearly relay this.
For firms that plan to transition current clients first, be aware that our Opportunity Meets Value report stats suggest starting with more recent clients— those who have been with a firm for less than 5 years are more likely to make the transition to a value-pricing model. As part of your take-it-to-market efforts, conduct an inventory of clients to identify those who have been with you less than 5 years and begin selling within this group.
Before launching your AP service, make sure to get full buy-in from your team and offer firm-wide training. You never want to go to market before everyone’s on the same page and you’ve ironed out service kinks internally. This includes ensuring that everyone is familiar with product bundle levels and that select staff are trained on the supporting AP solution. With a defined product and pricing structure in place, it’s time to begin implementation rollout.
During this phase, be sure to:
- Communicate the broad firm vision—Staff need to understand why you’re launching this new AP service. Be sure to explain the value to clients and the firm as well as the impact it will have on existing staff.
- Share the benefits for staff—Explain how a new service line offers the opportunity for growth within the firm. Some team members may be interested in changing roles to take on an AP support position. As the firm’s bill pay client base grows, the need for other positions may emerge, such as managers or coaches to help train clients and staff on the AP solution and processes.
- Define and standardize workflow—This ensures that everyone is performing tasks the same way and working at peak efficiency. Take the time to map out each step of your automated AP process and share it with key staff to critique and refine. It’s recommended that you also test your AP workflow in a “live” environment to identify and correct areas in need of improvement.
- Train your staff—Once you’ve nailed down your AP workflow, train your staff. This should include every team member who will be involved in the process. It’s also a good idea to cross-train employees in other departments, so you always have backup. The most successful training is led by a dedicated champion. Identify a training champion in your firm and make that individual responsible for executing the training program.
Take it to market
It’s time to market your services and build your bill pay client base. Marketing can be an uncomfortable word for accounting professionals. But it doesn’t have to be. At its core, think of marketing as communicating.
So then, what are you communicating about the new AP offering? It’s pretty simple, really: what’s included in the service/bundle and what the value is to the buyer. If you can clearly articulate these two things, you can effectively market your new bill pay service. Remember, your message is founded in the goals you identified when you decided to add AP to your services roster in the first place, including:
- To proactively offer a service you know is of value to your clients—solving a major pain point for business owners (i.e., being stuck in the back office handling AP tasks)
- To automate AP for clients—helping fuel efficiency and save them hours (if not days) of their time
As you start marketing your new service, be sure to consider the following:
- Start close to home—Before you go full-on prospecting, look to your existing client base first. Conduct an inventory of business clients and identify those in need of automated bill pay services. Because you already have a relationship with your current clients, it’s much easier to sell into this base. This group represents your low-hanging (lucrative) fruit, so be sure to communicate with existing clients first.
- Vet prospects appropriately—Go after the most likely candidates. The clients who will most value an automated bill pay service include those that:
- Pay more than 10 bills per month
- Are disorganized, but have a desire to be more efficient
- Desire better cash flow management
- Don’t have a dedicated employee handling billing
- Are growing too fast and require help managing back-office tasks
- Articulate the value—Clients want to know “what’s in it for them.” It’s your job to help them understand the value of your service and the pain points it can resolve. As such, make sure your messaging hits on the many ways automation eliminates time-sucking, repetitive administrative tasks, and how this translates into big time savings for them. Other value propositions to include:
- Having the expertise of an accounting professional handling bill pay work end to end
- Creating visibility into the bill pay process for real-time views of cash flow
- Reclaiming hours of time spent on back-office tasks such as tracking due dates and printing and signing checks—and then putting that time toward growing their business
- Make sure your website is updated—Your website should always be your core call to action. This is where you’ll send prospects to learn more about your automated bill pay service. Dedicate a landing page to explaining the service in detail that highlights the value propositions and offers a few screen captures of your bill pay system.
- Connect with your bill pay vendor (like Bill.com)—Further showcase your expertise by aligning with your technology provider. Write articles or blogs on the topic of automated bill pay services for vendor channels and then push published content out into your own social channels for more exposure.
Get going with bill pay
Back-office duties consume hours and hours of a business owner’s time every week. Automated bill pay services not only allow businesses to hand over this tedious administrative function, but also to work with an accounting expert within a streamlined and highly efficient solution.
If you’re not yet offering bill pay, it’s time to consider it. Business owners need assistance in this area, especially now, and who better to offer help then a trusted advisor? See how Bill.com can help: Start your trial or request a demo today.
This is the second of 3 articles in our The Accounting Firm’s Guide to Offering AP Services series. Stay tuned for our next article, How to Break the Bonds of Hourly Billing Through Automation, next week.