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Net payments Featured

7:40am EDT April 30, 2002
Leveraging the Internet to benefit your business doesn't have to be in the form of an impress-the-world Web site.

In fact, the easiest road to cost savings may not require a site at all.

"Online billing and payment comes in many forms, and at some level, is beneficial to just about any company that doesn't receive payment immediately," says Joe Muttillo, sales director for the Intersoft Group, a Cleveland-based e-commerce solutions provider. "It doesn't matter whether your customer is a consumer or a business customer. Where companies receive benefits is that it helps them streamline their accounts receivable, increase their cash flow, minimize billing costs and expedite payments."

The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates the cost to send out a paper invoice or statement is 85 cents when you add in all related expenses. Sending them electronically can cost as little as 15 cents.

"One thing you have to ask yourself is whether or not you have or can get your customers' e-mail addresses," says Muttillo. "If it's a business-to-business customer, it's probably no problem. For consumers, nearly half the country still doesn't have Internet access."

Muttillo says it's important not to be misled on what an online billing system can actually do.

"This is not a product where you hit a switch and all your billing will be done online," he says.

Because you probably won't have everyone's e-mail address, you'll still have to run most of your bills the old way.

"Offer some incentive to pay online, if you can," says Muttillo. "It might be a discount or something free after so many payments. Once you are able to run people off the old system onto the online one, that's where your true savings will take place."

Smaller companies may not see huge savings because of smaller mailing costs, but they still benefit from improved cash flow. Transactions are set up as bank-to-bank transfers, saving time and money on banking fees. Bills or statements are sent out as HTML attachments in the e-mail, allowing you to customize them to look like your company Web site. For added security, the documents can also be stored on the Web, with the e-mail just stating where the bill can be viewed.

"Make sure any company you use for online billing understands your business processes and not just the Internet side," says Muttillo. "There's some upfront work to do this right, but in the long run, it saves you money." How to reach: Intersoft Group, www.intersoftgroup.com