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Tips for Builders - How to avoid Accounts Processing Traps

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

Great customer service includes promptly presenting complete, detailed, accurate accounts.

Your client has expectations about your account (as well as your work) and while these expectations may not align with what they actually receive, they will certainly be unimpressed if you overbill them or underbill them, then a month or four later, you bill them what was missed or doubled up on. Even if you do not plan to overbill them or underbill them, the day it accidentally happens, it will reflect badly on you.

Looking after your Clients

Boring old systems processes are required. You do not have to operate a formal order book system, but you can if you want to. The basic purchasing system must include the discipline of keeping a tidy record of every purchase with an unambiguous reference linked to the soon to arrive invoice. That record could be a carefully stacked pile of delivery dockets and other records of telephone order details.

Contrary to trade practice, the floor of the ute is not where you file your delivery dockets and purchase records.

Setup your “Orders Not Invoiced” records filed for easy retrieval. When a job ends or your billing cycle comes around, dive into your “Orders Not Invoiced” file and identify every delivery/receipt document by client/project. Then accurately cost those deliveries so you can use these values to accrue costs to your accounts ledger and accurately bill your client.

Looking after your Suppliers (Case Study)

Worse, I joined Arrow International in the mid 1990’s when they were on the rise to big jobs from tier 3 jobs. They had order books but no control over how many were issued and who they were issued to. No one was accounting for order numbers used or not used. The mail-room staff used to open the invoice mail and distribute it directly to the project managers who had to match it to order numbers they had issued, then send it to accounts to get paid. Because there was no order book control it was often a guess as to which job the invoice was for. Misdirected deliveries of invoices slowed supplier payments. Project managers (read builders) come in all flavours including those who lose invoices in new and interesting ways, every day of the week.

When I joined and asked accounts about what works well and what does not work well, the big problem was that suppliers were regularly getting shirty about not getting paid on time. Supply would stop and jobs got into trouble. Go figure? The company had good cashflow (cash in) but bad payment processing systems and discipline.

Solution implemented;

1. Inventory the order books, do not issue another one until the old one is nearly used up;

2. Send all invoice mail to accounts;

3. Send all delivery dockets to accounts;

4. Match dockets and invoices in accounts then issue in batches where the count and value of invoices is recorded for QA purposes;

5. Track the batches until they are returned to accounts for processing and filing.

Service to suppliers and clients improved, project managers workload and stress levels dropped, accounts had more functions but the same volume of work, just not the negative stuff, sorting out unnecessary problems. Suppliers always got paid and jobs never stopped. The accountant could more accurately report company costs each month, with a smile.


Great customer service is providing your customer with a complete experience they enjoy.

Every organisation needs basic invoice control systems to keep their promise to their Suppliers and Customers.

By Matthew Ensoll Life Member NZIQS. Reg.QS.

Editor New Zealand Building Economist (NZBE).



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