All freelancers have been there. Your client, who was so great at communicating with you throughout your content syndication project for them, seems to have spontaneously forgotten how to use their emails now that the project is finished and you've sent your invoice for your work.
Do you need to go full Liam Neeson and rescue them from some nondescript bad guys in Paris? Surely they've been taken. Maybe your AI meeting assistant will develop sentience and take care of it for you.
Maybe you got a response saying that you need to send your invoice on a different date, to a different email address, in a different format, and that you won't get your money until 90 days from the end of next month, or until the crescent moon touches the tip of Andromeda when the North winds begin.
Maybe your client suddenly realizes they're out of funds and can't pay you at all - they want to have their fish and eat it too! Or maybe they're asking you for something that feels a bit unreasonable to you, like a photocopy of your passport.
This can all be really discouraging, whether you're a freelancer, a small business, or even if you're part of a larger organization with a hybrid working model. The smaller your business, however, the bigger the impact of a missed or late payment, and the more work you need to do personally to chase your clients. It shouldn't be this difficult.
General tips for getting paid
Before we delve into your super awesome professional invoice, here are some basic tips that any freelancer or small business should take on board.
Learn the law for your profession: the first thing you want to do when starting any kind of business is learn the law surrounding your work. Get familiar with your rights, learn about any unions you can join, as well as any cooperatives you can join. Rights vary from country to country, and even between states, so make sure you're up to speed with the laws in your area.
Join a support group: whether it's on social media or through paid membership to a more established support group for your conference room solutions business, learn to lean on others when you have a problem concerning your work, including non-payment. There's no point trying to learn everything from scratch when there are loads of other people who have overcome the same problems as you and can give you some advice. Don't recreate the wheel. Take smart shortcuts. Register your business: one thing you will need to do early on is register your business to pay taxes. Having a tax number and a registered business address is also essential for invoicing and contracts. This is one of the many essential reminders every entrepreneur needs.
Set up contracts with clients: you can create simple and straightforward contracts for your clients which clearly state the work you will be doing, any relevant terms and conditions, and a date or period for payment. Check the law for this - in some countries, people have up to 90 days to pay you. In others, it's 30. If you're working with clients outside of your country, make sure that you're happy with the terms of the arrangement before commencing work.
Check over client contracts carefully: don't sign up for anything you're not happy with. Maybe ask a friend or fellow freelancer to check the contract over for you if you're unsure.
Keep a professional invoicing system: your invoices should look very professional, and your invoicing system should be organized. Every small business needs a good bookkeeping system. Have a dedicated folder for invoicing on your computer, use a spreadsheet to monitor who has and hasn't paid you, what you're owed, and in which currency. You can find invoice templates online - don't shy away from using and personalizing these.
What information should my invoice include?
Let's start with what should go into your invoice. A good invoice will get you paid quickly, partly because if you have all the information your client needs in one place, they don't have to get back to you to ask for more information. Going back and forth over missed details is a major time sink and can lead to missed payment periods (which means having to wait until the next payment period to get paid).
Invoice number and date
Each invoice should have its own unique reference number and include the date that it was sent. Don't get sloppy with dotting your i's and crossing your t's. Tedious details now means seamless payments later.
The details about yourself that you should put on your invoice include your name, your company's name, your registered business address, your VAT registration number, and your payment details.
Your payment details could include more than one way to pay you - e.g. your necessary bank account details, and a pay now button so your clients don't have to do any Additional work to pay you.
The client's details
You should include your client's name or business name, their registered personal or business address, and their VAT number if they're a business. This also acts as a subtle reminder that YOU KNOW WHERE THEY LIVE (just kidding sort of).
The project details
For your project details, make sure to include the PO (purchase order) number. You can also include a brief description of the project - a few words would suffice. You should also include the date of completion for the project, the agreed cost of the project, and any agreed-upon incurred fees (if you agreed with the client that certain things would cost extra.)
If there are multiple lines of costs, make sure to total them at the bottom. Also specify currency.
Reiteration of payment due date
Finally, make sure to include when the payment is due on your invoice. This should have been agreed when you took the project, but it can also be declared at this point of the interaction with your client. Many people request payment within 30 days of the invoice. You might have a different requirement for your business needs.
What should my invoice look like?
When it comes to aesthetics, less is definitely more. You want your invoice to look clean, easy-to-read, and aesthetically pleasing.
It's nice to have a little bit of color on your invoice to help direct the eyes of the reader. Putting the border of your cost breakdown table in a nice neutral color like beige or and/or pale warm pink is a good way to make your invoice look not only professional but nice as well.
Your layout should be very clear and logical. You'll want your details and your client's details at the top, your cost breakdown table below, and then your payment methods and stipulations at the bottom. You should think of it a bit like formulating a letter.
You want a beginning which introduces the subject - invoice for client X, from Freelancer X. Below that, the details of the project and costs. Below that, your bank or other payment methods and when payment is due.
If you can keep your invoice to one page maximum, that would be ideal since it makes it easier to scan the document visually and avoid missing any important information. Your invoice definitely shouldn't be longer than one page if you only have a single project to invoice with only a handful of lines of fees.
However, if you have multiple items on your invoice, it will be as long as it needs to be.
Most important details in bold
Your most important details should be put in bold. Things like the total price and payment due date could be in bold.
If you have a logo for your company, you could include this in the top left or right-hand corner of your invoice in the header section. This looks professional and also further clarifies who the invoice is from. If there are several pages to your invoice, having the header, as well as numbering the pages, will make it easier for your client to stay organized if they decide to print out the invoice. Paid in full, not paid in fall
Paid in full, not paid in fall
So, just to reiterate, our most important tips for your professional invoice:
- Having a contract makes invoicing easier because you've already agreed on the payment details ahead of time.
- Readability is key: the easier it is for the client to read your invoice the better.
- An invoice complete with all necessary details will save time on unnecessary back-and-forth conversations about missing information.
P.S invoicing software for small businesses can help you nail that professional invoice every time
If, after all of this, you're still struggling to get paid in time, or indeed at all, it might be time to consider Ccing your lawyer friend into your emails, and/or dropping that client like a too-spicy chicken wing you thought you could handle for some reason. Running an RFM analysis might help you figure out whether your client is worth the hassle or not.
A project is only as good as the certainty that you will get paid, in full, within a reasonable window of time. What counts as a reasonable timeframe depends on you and your business requirements. For some people it's the time it takes to grow shiitake mushrooms, for others it's the length of time it takes kombucha to brew.
We hope these tips will help you get paid swiftly and in full, and decrease your client bounce rate. Godspeed.
About the author
Jenna Bunnell - Senior Manager, Content Marketing, Dialpad
Jenna Bunnell is the Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Dialpad, an AI-incorporated cloud-hosted unified communications system that provides valuable call details for business owners and sales representatives. She is driven and passionate about communicating a brand's design sensibility and visualizing how content can be presented in creative and comprehensive ways. She has written for sites like Corporatevision-News and NtaskManager. Check out her LinkedIn profile.