Imagine you’re in a world where you don’t provide a product until it’s paid for, you don’t buy inventory until someone has purchased it, and similarly, you don’t perform services until you have received payment for them. Late payments would be nonexistent.

But that world exists, doesn’t it? When I bought a pair of shoes from Zappos, they certainly didn’t ship the things until my credit card went through. In the world of retail, though, payment at the point of purchase is and has always been a given. So can service based businesses get the same benefit?  When the process is moved online, the answer seems to be “yes.”

When I go to my eye doctor, I receive an invoice in the mail weeks later. When the electrician fixed my outdoor outlet, I again received the invoice weeks later and paid him almost a month later.  But, when I signed up online for a mid-day dog walking service, I was prompted to input my credit card for recurring payment before anyone came to my house to walk my dog.  Unheard of?  Nope.  I thought it was quite convenient.

For whatever reason, when signing up to receive products or services online, payment at the point of purchase is, in many cases, expected. The online world seems to have not only expedited, but actually evolved the payment process so that even in the case of providing services, it’s deemed okay to ask for payment upfront.

That got me thinking about what aspects of various businesses can be moved online to take advantage of this change that has such a dramatic impact on cash flow.

Take Bruce and Judy Parks, owners of, for example. I read their story about how after 20 years of owning and managing a walk-in bakery, they still continuously struggled with balancing staffing and inventory. There was no telling what cakes would sell out one day and need to be thrown away the next. Every time the Parks had to dispose of unsold cakes, they were literally throwing away money and labor, which hurt their cash flow.

So, in 2006, they decided to launch Now, they take orders on their website, customers pay online at the time of the order, and the Parks bake and overnight ship the cakes nationwide. Not only have they expanded their market to outside their local radius, but they find running their business much easier, and managing inventory more cost efficient.

If you provide a service, or service combined with a product (as in the Parks’ case), try to imagine moving aspects of your business online and getting full or partial payment upfront.  Now imagine how that can improve your cash flow.

Here are a few examples where a point-of-purchase online payment form or mobile app can be used in replacement of invoicing for services:

  • Fitness classes or merchandise — Customers can sign up and pay for classes online, or pay for a t-shirt at point of purchase using a mobile app
  • Tax return services — Provide an online appointment form and request 50% payment upfront
  • Electrician and locksmith services — Ask customers to pay once services are rendered on-location using a mobile app

Getting paid sooner for services provided, even by a few days, can dramatically improve your cash flow when applied across your client base.  The new process can even improve fulfillment and decrease canceled appointments.

Get creative.  What aspects of your business can you move online?