7 Best Practices for Sending Invoices

Invoicing Best Practices for FreelancersSending invoices is one of my favorite freelancing activities, second only to actually receiving payments.

What few freelancers may realize, however, is that invoices are not simply instruments for getting paid. They’re part of your business communication, branding, and marketing.

Imagine if you were a designer and you send generic invoices from PayPal. Or a writer and your invoices have typos. That may cause your clients to doubt your abilities.

In contrast, one of the graphic designers I work with uses PayPal to invoice me, and she has the loveliest headers on her invoices and receipts. Even though I’m in the PayPal interface, I see these cool headers, and they remind me of why I hired her. In fact, they make me excited to work with her.

In this post, I’ll share seven techniques to make your invoicing practices really stand out.


Before You Send Your Next Invoice

To make sure your invoices reinforce rather than ruin your reputation and chances of getting paid, here are some of the best practices for making and sending invoices:

  1. Include details of what your client is paying for. Make an itemized list of what you’re billing your client for. This should match the contract or terms of agreement you have with your client.
    Use exactly the same language you used in the contract. In fact, why not copy and paste from the contract? This will reduce any possibility of misunderstanding and miscommunication about what you were hired to do, and what you actually delivered.
  2. Make sure everything is accurate and error-free. Double-check your invoice for typographical and computational errors. If you work with clients in other countries, make sure you’ve included what currency you want to be paid in. Nothing’s worse than getting paid the wrong amount — or in the wrong currency — because you were careless with your invoice. So double- and triple-check everything before you send it out.
  3. Make it easy for your client to pay you. Indicate how you want to be paid. If you’re going to be paid by check, say clearly what the payee’s name should be. Otherwise, clients might make the check payable to your personal name, for example, when it should have been paid to your company name. If you’re sending a digital invoice by email, add a link your client can click on to pay you immediately. PayPal, FreshBooks and LessAccounting, for example, allow you to do this. It’s also important to tell your client when payment is due. Be as specific as possible. For example, a particular due date is better than saying “due in 30 days.”
  4. Make it trackable. Aside from the date, give each invoice a tracking number. If you’re creating invoices from an invoicing or accounting software, it will generate invoice numbers  for you automatically. Otherwise, the invoice number can be any number of your choice. For example,  you can include the year as well as a project or client code. The invoice number makes it much easier to record, monitor, and  follow-up on payments. This is especially important if you work with a lot of clients, or have plenty of projects.
  5. Keep marketing. Your invoice is a marketing tool. Include your logo, tagline, and contact information. The look and language of your invoices should be consistent with the rest of your marketing materials. In addition, you can use the invoice to ask for feedback on your services. You can even include a short testimonial on each invoice.
  6. Send it on time. Don’t be bashful about sending invoices. Send them as soon as you complete each milestone of a project. Sending invoices promptly increase your chances of getting paid on time as well. On the other hand, late invoices will definitely mean late payments.
  7. Send it to the right person. If you’re invoicing a company or multi-person office, make sure to address the invoice to the correct person. This may not be the person you’ve been coordinating with throughout the project. Ask to be sure you know who needs to get your invoice in order to get paid.

Share Your Invoicing Tips

Invoices can be a business-building tool. They reflect your professionalism, reinforce your branding, and help keep your clients happy.

How do you make and send your invoices? What other invoicing tips do you have? What changes did this post inspire you to make?

Share them in the comments below.

Image by cybrgrl

Comments

  1. says

    I think #5 Keep Marketing is critical, and a place where many freelancers fail to take advantage. Outside of invoicing another place to market is in your deliverables, specifically documentation.

    Producing quality documentation, which most clients would want, is an excellent way to include marketing material, such as logo, testimonial, and a link back to your website.

  2. says

    Agreed on the marketing idea, but keep in mind that larger (even mid-sized) companies are going to have an accounting department that will process your invoice, so the marketing message isn’t likely to get to the right set of eyes.

    That said, if you can find out how your bills are paid by a client (offshoot of #7) you could tailor your invoice to the type of client. If it’s just going to an A/P department, don’t waste your time with the marketing (or even extensive branding). If your contact person has to sign off on all your invoices, and they’re a decision-maker, then a promotional message *would* be a good thing to place on the invoice — just as they’re shaking their head about how much it cost for that latest project, they see an opportunity to save some money on their next one.

  3. says

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

    @Stephan – Good point about who actually sees your invoices. Still, it doesn’t hurt to somehow win the heart of the accounting or finance person who could delay or facilitate payment :-)

  4. says

    FreshBooks! It is easy, digital, customizable, and always accurate if you track your timesheet and expenses religiously. In addition, customers can pay online if they choose. I can’t say enough good things about how much it has helped me organize my invoices as well as make them highly professional.

  5. says

    Great points, and very important ones, too. I fully agree that giving a hard due date is important. If it just has a time frame, it requires them to do work to see when it’s actually due, which can lead to it accidentally becoming overdue. I used to have a service provider whose invoices always came saying “due immediately”, which basically implies that they’re going to send me to collections if I don’t pay the bill the very second I receive it. It was such a ludicrous demand that it actually deceased my motivation to pay them quickly!

  6. says

    When I send an invoice to my client contact, I always copy the accounts person in the email, as it’s amazing how many times the invoice gets lost on my client’s desk/forgotten about etc.

    Also, chase up as soon as an invoice becomes overdue.

  7. says

    And bear in mind it’s not always the case that you are free to choose the invoice reference. Here in Italy, for example, invoices need to be progressively numbered (1,2,3,…) and in date order, by law, so creating an additional reference of your own may be superfluous.

  8. says

    I needed this article today. Invoicing is one of my least favorite freelancing tasks–all my friends tell me I need to fall in love with a level-headed bookkeeper. But if I have to invoice, at least now I know some creative ways to do it.

  9. says

    I do my invoices in Pages in iWords, then print out and mail them or convert them to PDF and email them. They are on my letterhead and follow my style guides.

    I would add: Put on a note thanking the client for their business. Let them know how much you appreciate it.

  10. Alex says

    I did give Freshbooks a try, this is one of the finest invoicing application; however, the price is too much for a small businesses and freelancers considering the limitations of basic plans.

    I would really recommend you to give Invoicera a try, its basic plan starts from $9.95 and you can send unlimited invoices to 25 clients. It supports 20 popular payment gateways so you have more options to get paid on time. It also supports multiple currency and languages so you do not need to worry while sending invoices to your global clients. the most appealing feature of Invoicera is its customize invoice template feature where you can customize the look and feel of your invoice template and design it in the sync with your business look. Some other features that might be helpful to you are invoice scheduling, late fee option, time tracking and expense management. Invoicera is the complete invoicing app that is helpful for every business. You may check the application at http://www.invoicera.com

  11. says

    I think the top 2 most important aspects of any invoice are payment details (so your clients know how they can pay you) and a brand message that is consistent with your website, contracts, business cards brochures etc.

    I have a lot of clients that love to go online and pay their invoice only to receive two weeks later an envelope in their mail that looks the same as my website and payment app, with an invoice having the same feel.

    They’ll do this once, twice and then they’ll remember you and spot your brand in an instant.

  12. says

    Other advice: Be sure you’ve changed the address on the head of invoice (don’t send 2 different invoices to the same company).

  13. says

    It is important to make sure that the important details such as the brand, amount and currency are easily spotted.

    I had a client from UK, that used USD as currency both in proforma and commercial invoices. The currency was stuffed somewhere on the bottom of the invoice and was really hard to notice. As it makes a huge difference whether you pay the same amount in British pounds or in US dollars, I bet they missed quite a few sales due to this simple negligence.

    For invoicing we’ve developed a bunch of invoice templates, all made from scratch by our team. Give them a try, they are free to download and use.

  14. says

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