Illumine is the most powerful solution to automate processes at childcare centres and preschool programs, removing every operational burden for schools.
In this article, I want to deep dive into billing — one of the most challenging areas to manage at a childcare centre and how Illumine abstracts the problem and solves it in an intuitive way. With our system, staff and administrators no longer have to stress about generating the invoices manually or collecting and recording payments.
What do the School, Staff and Admins get?
Time and energy back in your day, with less ink and paperwork.
No more stressing during billing cycles, and less bookkeeping.
You don’t have to do the math — let Illumine do it for you.
Keep your parents happy by letting them pay online via Bank NEFT or Credit Card (and even set up autopay).
To get these above benefits, we first needed to understand a childcare centre’s minimum requirements and how it feels to run your childcare centre without online billing.
Minimum needs for Childcare in Online Billing
First, we need to understand what an average childcare needs. Our team at Illumine has spent significant time and effort in determining what billing system would be best suited for education centres.
After spending months talking to customers from small (10) to large centres (~100) and going through the most commonly used software applications that are out in the market, we found out that either the software was too complex to use or it was not at all serving the purpose quickly.
Billing comprises of three major components: Invoicing, Payments & Refunds.
A childcare centre needs a billing platform which:
allows easy calculation of attendance-based or fixed charges,
provides the option to generate recurring invoices for weekly/bi-weekly/monthly cycles,
handles various charges being run by the centre and effectively translate them to separate invoice items,
provides a highly secure way of recording online payments by bank transfer, debit and credit cards
allows for easy processing of refunds or management of credits,
generates monthly statements and reports to track all payments and transactions.
These are the very basic requirements of a billing system for a childcare centre.
How do childcare centres process invoices without online billing?
To understand this, we need to analyze some of the billing requirements of a childcare center and how they are addressed in the absence of an online billing platform.
Let us consider a real case of a childcare center which offers different types of enrollment programs. Invoices can vary from monthly, weekly, biweekly, daily or hourly based on the attendance and time spent by the student. Also, some of the students can be enrolled in more than one program. The invoice for each student has to be generated carefully by observing the program the student is enrolled in and how many hours/days/weeks the student attends.
Doing this exercise manually takes an enormous amount of time and is excessively tedious for the staff doing it for each child. And then this process has to be repeated every month or week. Finally, these invoices need to be given to the parent. They can either be handed over to the parent directly or mailed to their address.
Once the invoice is generated, the parent is required to make the payment.Without an online billing platform, this is another problematic task for the parents to go through every month or every week. They need to physically come to the center to pay via check, cash or point of sale. In the world of mobile banking, millennial parents hate it.
When a parent needs to be refunded, the childcare center has to either hand over a check or return the funds in cash. Then they must generate a manual receipt, with a copy for the parent as well. If not done correctly, refunds can lead to many confusions and accounts data discrepancy. As you can see there is tons of manual paper work and time spent on billing. Shouldn’t staff be spending on quality time with children instead? Absolutely yes, and it’s our mission to help
How does Illumine’s Billing System save you tons of hours?
Illumine’s billing system handles every aspect of online billing. Lets break it down.
Billing Plans & Recurring Invoices
Using Illumine Billing system it’s extremely easy to setup the recurring invoices which get automatically generated on a provided date. The recurring invoice generation can be achieved by setting up a Billing Plan on a per student basis, and configuring billing cycle (weekly/bi-weekly/monthly). There are two types of billing plans that we can create: (1) Tuition Plan (2) Attendance Plan
Both plans work towards a common goal of generating the invoices on a given date. However, there is a difference in how they function on the calculation of the Invoice Amount.
The functioning of the Tuition Billing Plan is simpler as compared to the attendance one, and is most suitable for the monthly tuition charges. A Tuition Plan can be created and assigned to one or more students of the centre. The plan runs separately for each child and so it can have separate components depending on the programs the child is enrolled into.
A tuition plan will automatically be processed on a preset date and will generate the invoice for the student based on the invoice line item templates provided during the creation of the plan. A plan can anytime be edited for adding/updating/removing the invoice line items.
An Attendance Plan is a much more extensive way of controlling the automatic generation of the invoice to a very detailed level. Attendance Plan is specially designed to generate invoices where the calculation is required to be done on the exact number of hours/days attended by the student in one or more programs or activities. In this plan, we can create various charges inside plan and each charge will initiate an invoice line item in the target invoice.
These charges in the attendance plans provide the following flexible operations:
A charge can be created to calculate for per hour or per day basis It also allows us to provide the start and end time during which the Invoice Item should be charged for the attended number of hours by a student
We can also select for which specific days a particular charge should be picked up and contribute towards invoice.
We can also select for which specific rooms a charge should work. i.e. if the student has spent time in another room he will not be charged with the charge belonging to the given room.
Late fee setup — we can set up the late fee based on the number of days the student has stayed after the end time of an activity or a program
Some common functionalities for both plans
Any Billing Plan can be paused and resumed anytime as per the requirements. One can also provide an end date and after that, the plan will automatically get ended and will no longer generate invoices. Every Billing plan comes with due-date and timely auto-reminders to parents so they can make the payment.
Templates: Any of the billing plans you create in Illumine can be easily reused as templates, so you build just once! Each student can also have multiple plans.
Think of scenario -> where a student is attending Before-Care, Day ChildCare and After-Care with different rates and timings, Illumine seamlessly calculates the charges and generates the invoice.
Auto Pay through Mobile
Analogous to the Billing Plans which works for auto-generating the invoices, the Auto Payments feature provides the ability to auto debit parent payment accounts based on a consent given by the parent. If a parent enables the auto payment on their activated payment method, the Illumine Auto Payment system debits that payment method on the due date of the invoice.
Parents can pay through mobile or website. We notify when the invoice is due on app and with simple tap parents can view the balance and make payment.
With Illumine Billing System the online processing of refunds is just a matter of a couple of clicks. The staff doesn’t even need to remember the original payment method from which the parent made the payment. Upon successful processing of the refund, the full payment will get reverted to the original payment method as opted by the parent.
One can also record the offline refunds which include Check / Cash /Other types of payments. As soon as the refund transaction is successfully recorded, the parent is rightly notified over the email and their current balance gets adjusted to reflect the same
Integrations & Reporting
A lot of business owners use QuickBooks for accounting purposes and Illumine offers quick integration so that you can sync all your transactions easily. Bookkeepers love to Illumine simply because of our reporting capabilities. At any time you can pull in your transactions, account or ageing report and understand your receivables better.
Illumine works with multiple gateways. Its architected to scale and seamlessly handle multiple gateways. We work with Razorpay & Paytm as the payment gateway options today. Once the school sign-up for either of the gateway accounts through Illumine, they will never require to visit their portal pages again.
Illumine provides every transaction with details within the Illumine Billing section. We sync every transaction recorded with the gateway and consolidate multiple times to keep them accurate.
Scalable, Highly Available & Secure System
Illumine Platform is built as service-oriented architecture driven through API’s. All clients communicate securely through API. The billing system is built as independent micros-service serving various needs. We generate hundreds of thousands of invoices amounting to millions of dollars each cycle across our schools, and its paramount to us to make sure schools are operating efficiently without a glitch.
Billing is split into different microservices to handle invoicing, payments & refunds. Each component scales automatically in our Google Cloud infrastructure
Our platform operates behind VPC (Virtual private cloud) and so does billing so it’s never talking to the internet gateway.
We do not store any CC/NEFT info of parents or schools and solely rely on the gateway for processing.
We are excited and proud of building a comprehensive billing system for the childcare market. We @Myillumine keep our goals very high and there’s lot more we want to continue doing and serving our customers, completely automating and removing complexities with beautiful design, engineering and product. We are excited about what’s coming
Schools being able to run your entire billing on mobile
Providing forecasts to understand your receivables
And, providing more capabilities to plans and payments options.