Bill.com helps an online writing-instruction company succeed by speeding payments to its teachers.
WriteAtHome.com produces a popular series of online writing courses for homeschooled children. The company was founded 12 years when Brian Wasko, a former high school teacher who was homeschooling his own kids, discovered that parents had no trouble teaching math or history but struggled mightily with essay writing and research papers.
WriteAtHome.com offers students personal instruction via the internet with one of the company’s 60 professional writing coaches. The results are often dramatic. One student won a prestigious short-story contest and subsequently received full-scholarship offers from several major universities based on the strength of her writing.
The key to this success is quality coaches, says Steve Bokmiller, CFO at WriteAtHome.com. Good coaches mean high-achieving students, which mean a thriving business. So keeping coaches happy is a top priority for WriteAtHome.com—and the way the company does that is to pay them promptly.
But doing so hasn’t always been easy. In the past, WriteAtHome.com’s cumbersome paper-based accounts payable system slowed down the process. It often took up to two months to pay coaches. Needless to say, that timetable was not earning WriteAtHome.com any gold stars.
Here’s how the process used to work. As contractors, writing instructors submitted invoices at the end of the month based on the number of students they taught. Some would email their invoices. Others would send them in the mail.
But often invoices took a long time to reach the right address. WriteAtHome.com has a four-person management team, all with separate home offices, and “sometimes an invoice would be sent to our president or our director of operations and that person would forget to forward it to me,” Bokmiller says.
Once he finally received an invoice, Bokmiller would print it out, verify the amount and manually enter all necessary information into WriteAtHome.com’s QuickBooks accounting system. Then he’d make out a check, put it in an envelope, look for a stamp and go to the post office.
The work was especially bothersome and time-consuming for Bokmiller because he was doing it at night, after returning from his day job at another company.
“I’m coming home after a long day of work and last thing I want is to go through all these invoices and figure out who I’ve paid and whether I’ve paid them the right amount,” he says. “None of our information was centralized and it was coming in from all different places. It was a real nightmare.”
So Bokmiller started looking for a better way. At first he considered paying coaches via PayPal but he quickly discovered the transaction fees there were too high. Next he inquired at his bank about making electronic payments but those costs were also prohibitive for WriteAtHome.com.
He also didn’t like the idea of having to ask coaches for their bank account information. “I have a healthy case of securanoia, so I didn’t want to be responsible for maintaining other people’s bank info,” Bokmiller says.
Finally he alighted on Bill.com. He hasn’t looked back since. Coaches now send all their invoices directly to WriteAtHome.com’s Bill.com account. Bokmiller logs into the system once a day for a few minutes to see what invoices have come in. He pays the money into their online bank accounts with one click and all the information syncs automatically with QuickBooks.
Coaches can also choose to be paid electronically via Bill.com without giving their bank account information to Bokmiller. “With Bill.com they remain in control, so that really won them over,” he says. “They go into the system themselves and set up their own Bill.com accounts, which means we never have access to their personal information. They get paid as quickly as two days instead of two months.”
Coaches are happy because money is in their account almost instantly. WriteAtHome.com is happy because it can recruit and retain the best writing instructors. And Bokmiller is happy because he now spends less than two hours a month on payables, down from the 20 hours he used to spend. WriteAtHome.com was also able to eliminate its part-time bookkeeper, saving the company about $300 a month.
Bill.com’s other real appeal for WriteAtHome.com is document storage. “I desperately wanted to go paperless. I was swimming in paper,” Bokmiller says. “I didn’t want to have to store boxes of old invoices and check copies. I wanted to store it all electronically. Almost overnight, Bill.com eliminated our need for storage and paperwork.”
WriteAtHome.com is also using Bill.com for receivables, which helps the company get paid faster by its customers. For example, WriteAtHome.com works with a number of correspondence schools in Alaska that provide the WriteAtHome.com curriculum to their students.
“In the past the schools would fax us a purchase order, then we’d have to go into QuickBooks, create an invoice, print it out and mail it to the school,” says Bokmiller. “It was taking 60 to 90 days for us to get paid because of the flow of paperwork.”
Since switching to Bill.com, WriteAtHome.com is processing purchase orders faster and generating electronic invoices, which it emails directly to schools. As a result, it’s now getting paid in two or three weeks, not two or three months. It’s also able to store all contracts and documentation in the Bill.com cloud, where files can be accessed anytime, anywhere.
“Managing a business, the last thing you want to do—especially when you’re wearing so many hats—is burn a lot of time on administrative stuff,” Bokmiller says. “Bill.com is a great platform for keeping it simple, eliminating paperwork and making it easy to manage invoices with the kind of controls you need. It’s almost too good to be true.”