I set up HAPPY AP as a result of being made redundant from a large corporate company. Over the last 30 years I have worked primarily in AP, along with Provisioning, Vendor Management, Fixed Asset Management, Mentoring and Training.
Most of the companies I have worked for have been those large ones – where there is a department for this and a department for that. It’s great when it works, but a pain when it doesn’t. However, it does mean I have seen virtually every AP problem you can come across, and possibly a few you haven’t. Along the way, I have come across companies with software to help with areas like: Vendor Databases, Bulk Payments, Foreign Payments, Streamlining Invoice Processing etc. all of which are great, but do tend to have one common drawback – they are based on the size of the business. This means that small to medium size businesses are not able to make use of these. Also, there are so many out there, which one do you pick?
Talking of Accounts Payable automation (which is basically where we’re at now), even large companies find it a struggle to get on board with this. There is the issue of finding time to even start looking at the issue; then there is the research, who should be involved, let alone which companies to talk to. To top it off, after all that, there is still getting buy-in from senior management and take it from me, that is the hardest bit. All businesses want top service and results for little to no outlay. This is why things get put on the back burner. I know, I’ve been there, and it is so frustrating.
However, there are a few things that can be done to make life easier, don’t cost much – if anything – and can make you look clever.
The Joy of AP
Accounts Payable should not be viewed as something to be endured, but something that can be FUN. Yes, you read that right, FUN. Think of it this way (not forgetting confidentiality and professionalism) you get to see the start of the process that allows the business you work for to make money:
No suppliers, no goods/services = no sales.
In theory, you could bring the company to a standstill by not paying bills – certainly not recommended – but it does show how important this area is. You get to interact with people internally & externally; Sales Ledger / Credit Control do not have so much interaction. If there is a major spend, like a building improvement, it’s likely you will be involved, and take it from me, it is so cool being involved in something like that. If your AP covers Staff Expenses, you get to know who is starting and who is leaving. You also look wonderful when you turn people’s expenses around quickly!
I haven’t mentioned the competition you can have with suppliers, where you pay them, they ring up and before they even finish their sentence, you ask if they’ve checked their bank today as you have already paid that invoice – always a good one.
Purchasing departments tend to be the department thought to have the supplier relationships, but take it from me, AP can form great ones as well, which come in handy – especially when it comes to those nasty credit limits.
How to succeed
I find that, to work in Accounts Payable, it takes a certain type of mentality. If you are not methodical and able to work at a fast pace, then maybe rather than finding it FUN, you would find it stressful. Not how I would want to spend my working day. Also, it helps to have great training, and I don’t mean just on the system you are working with, but on the fundamentals of how Accounts Payable, or even Purchase to Pay, work.
You need to understand the impacts on other areas of the business and why certain things are done. This means that if you get questioned later, as to why you did something a certain way, you have facts that you can back up your explanation with. Then, there is confidence. Unfortunately, there is no training manual for this, but a good Mentor can help. A Mentor is great at pointing out what you are good at, and showing you what skills you have (which you may think of as irrelevant to the role, but actually contribute a great deal).
I have always said, I would not give my staff a job to do if I cannot do it myself. How can I help if things go astray otherwise? I have always listened to my staff if they come up with an easier way to do a task, checking that it complies with any standards required. Listen to your team, there is no I in TEAM.
– Heather Peters, HAPPY AP Founder