How to Write Your First Freelance Invoice, Plus an Invoice Example

How to Write Your First Freelance Invoice, Plus an Invoice Example

For any type of business to succeed, you have to get paid. Whether you do one freelance gig a month or run a full-time writing business, you need to calculate the time you’ve worked and bill your clients.

That means you need to know how to write an invoice.

But where do you start? How do you create a professional-looking bill? How and when do you send it to your client?

If you plan to invoice clients regularly, it’s smart to invest in an invoice generator…so we’ll talk more about those in a bit.

For now, let’s review the basic elements of an invoice. We’ll also share an invoice example so you know exactly what to include.

How to make an invoice: Here’s what it should include

There’s no need to be intimidated by invoicing. You’ve done the work for your client — that’s the hardest part! Plus, your invoice doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be professional-looking and do the job.

Here’s how to write an invoice.

1. A professional header

The first item on your freelance invoice should be your business name or your full name, in professional and easy-to-read font.

If you have a logo for your business, include that as part of the header. But don’t worry, you don’t need a logo; you can also just write your name in text. Whether you use a logo or text, the font size of your name or business should be a little bigger than the rest of the text on the invoice, and bolded for emphasis.

2. Your contact information

Next you’ll want to include your contact information. At the very least, this includes your mailing address, phone number, email address and website, right underneath your business name. To make it easier to read, consider typing the info on several lines like this:

The Write Life
P.O. Box 12345
Anywhere, US 12345
team@thewritelife.com
123-456-7890
thewritelife.com

You can include your contact information on the top left or right of the invoice. We’ve seen it done both ways.

3. The client’s contact information

Next in creating your invoice, you’ll want to specify the recipient, or who the invoice is for. Include the recipient’s name, address, phone number, email address, website and any other information. You might look back at this section later if you need to track down payment, so it helps you to include all the client’s contact information there.

Some freelancers put their contact information on the opposite side from the client’s contact information, and some freelancers left-align it all. Do what feels right to you!

4. Invoice number

Then, on the left of your invoice under all the contact information, add your invoice number.

What’s an invoice number? It’s simply an identifier that helps you keep track of your invoices. It doesn’t matter what kind of numbering system you use, just make sure it’s in sequential order so you don’t get confused.

For example, if this is your first invoice, you might start with #1001. Then your next invoice would be #1002, even if it’s for a different client. Each invoice gets a number, so you can easily track who has and hasn’t paid.

This placement makes it easy to keep track of vital information — for both you and the recipient.

5. Date prepared

Add a date that shows when you submitted the invoice to the client. The “date prepared” line is important because you’ll need to refer to it if a client takes a long time to pay you. We’ll go into that shortly, under payment terms.

6. Due date

Specify when, exactly, the payment is due. The due date is entirely up to you, but most freelancers — and invoicing systems — use a 30-day, 45-day or 60-day timeline. You can also make the invoice “Due upon receipt,” so the recipient is required to pay the invoice promptly.

This shouldn’t be the first time your client has heard about the due date. When you agreed to do the work — and hopefully signed a contract, or at least agreed to terms via email — you should have set expectations with the client for payment terms.

If the client doesn’t pay on time, you can refer back to this due date, as well as the prepared date if necessary.

7. Payment options

It’s typically helpful to the client if you specify your payment options — whether you prefer to be paid with cash, a check, a credit card or a service like PayPal. (If PayPal is your preferred payment method, it’s smart to add your PayPal email address to the invoice, so they send the payment to the right place.)

Some companies offer direct deposit if you work for them on a regular basis, but more than likely you’ll have to send an invoice to request payment every time you complete a project.

8. Payment terms

Along with the required timeline for payment, you might want to specify whether you charge a late fee for invoices that are paid past their due date. Some freelancers use this strategy to enforce getting paid on time. A typical late fee is 20 percent of the invoice fee.

If you decide to utilize a late fee, we recommend reminding the client at least once or twice that the invoice is overdue, and giving them a chance to pay it without a fee. While it’s obviously important that you get paid, you also want to maintain the client relationship, with the goal of being invited to work with the client again in the future.

9. Breakdown of services

Finally, add a breakdown of the services rendered so the client knows exactly what they’re paying for. If the client hired you for a number of services, add each one to a new line so it’s easy to digest.

10. Amount due

Of course, don’t forget to add how much the client owes you!

If your breakdown of services includes a number of items, show what each of those items cost. This could be a cost per service, or it might be the number of hours you worked at your agreed-upon rate.

Finally, tally up all all those line items to show the full amount due. Bold this amount for emphasis, so it’s easy to see on the invoice when the client needs to figure out how much to pay.

11. Thank you

Why not add a personal touch to help maintain the client relationship? Below the total, add a thank you note. Or, if you need to include any additional information or reminders, this is a good place to add that as well.

An invoice example

Here’s a sample invoice that includes all of the elements we described above. For a downloadable PDF to use as an example, just click on the image.

We purposefully made this very simple. You don’t need a fancy invoice, you just need to include all the right information!

Shows what an invoice should look like

How to send an invoice

If you write your invoice by hand, export it as a PDF so the recipient can’t alter it. Then send the invoice PDF to your client as an attachment via email.

One tip if you invoice by email is to write the invoice number and amount in the subject line of the email. That way it will be easy for you and your client to find…which increases the chances that you’ll get paid on time.

When to send the invoice

When you agree with the client on the terms of your work and sign a contract, you should list out how often you plan to invoice and when you should get paid. For instance, for recurring work, you might agree to bill on the first of each month, or biweekly so you get paid every other Friday.

For one-off assignments, the most common practice is to invoice after the work is complete. However, if you’re unsure, you might simply ask your client, “Is our work complete? Shall I send an invoice your way?”

For big freelance jobs, such as assignments where you and your client have agreed upon a fee of $1,000 or more, you might invoice several times throughout the project. For example, you might invoice for half the fee at the beginning, then half when the project is complete. Or you and your client might agree to milestones that warrant payment, such as finishing an outline for a long project, or completing a draft of the work.

When to invoice is really up to you — just make sure you and your client agree on this before you start the work.

Whatever the case, make sure to invoice your clients consistently. You’re more likely to get paid on time when your client receives invoices regularly, than getting them sporadically.

Use an invoicing system to simplify this process

While you can create an invoice on your own or use a free Google Docs invoice template, it’s often easier to use an invoice generator. Often these systems include other features as well that are useful to freelancers, such as time-tracking.

Invoicing software creates the invoice for you. You add the information, and it lays it out in a way that looks professional. It also stores that information, so if you send another invoice to the same client, you don’t have to enter it again. Having all your invoices in one place can also be helpful, and most invoicing software will show you which ones have already been paid and which ones are awaiting payment or overdue.

There are lots of tools to choose from, and we’ve outlined some of our favorites, including Harvest, Freshbooks and ZoHo, in this post on invoice generator options. Many of them offer a free option or at least a free trial.

We updated this post in July 2019 so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers! It was originally written by Carrie Smith and updated by The Write Life team. 

Photo via  Andrey_Popov/ Shutterstock 

Filed Under: Freelancing
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58 comments

  • Thanks for sharing these great tips! I recently created my very first freelancing invoice using a template in Word. I must say getting the invoice to look the way I wanted was harder than I thought it would be and in the end wasn’t entirely pleased with the template options in Word.

    I have been contemplating purchasing QuickBooks to keep track of clients, invoicing, and financial reporting and I’m thankful you’ve offered some alternatives, I think I’ll give FreshBooks a try first.

    Chrysta

    • Carrie Smith says:

      You should definitely test out FreshBooks, Chrysta. I used to work with clients who used Quickbooks and it’s a little too clunky for running an online business (although it’s very detailed). So you can try FB for free, then upgrade if you need the added features. Good luck!

      ~ Carrie S.
      Social Media Artist
      @thewritelife

      • When I had my photography business I used Quick Books and I cried the first time I had to debit and credit my accounts. It was so frustrating. Never again! The only thing I liked about Quick books was the invoice template which I still use when needed.

    • Hi there!
      It’s my first time as well .
      Could you please tell me how to make an invoice on word ?

  • Good stuff Carrie.

    A lot of people now do freelance work for overseas clients. So I’m just wondering whether this might make a good follow-up post.

    What are the best payment methods for overseas transactions?
    What currency should I invoice in?
    What taxes should or shouldn’t I levy?

    I’m sure loads of freelance writers have questions such as these.

    • I agree–great post, Carrie. 🙂

      You brought up some interesting questions, Kevin. I’d actually love to read a follow-up post about billing international clients.

      Most of my clients overseas prefer wire transfers (instead of my usual PayPal). I send them my invoice as I’d normally would, but I would include my account number as well as my bank’s info (bank name, address, SWIFT code etc.) in the “note to recipient” box at the bottom.

    • Carrie Smith says:

      That’s a good idea for a follow up post Kevin — and I know a few overseas freelancers so maybe I could even interview them for their best tips/tricks! 🙂

      ~ Carrie S.
      Social Media Artist
      @thewritelife

  • I have used many different invoicing tools. Freshbooks fits my needs the best but I was also very happy with Harvest and Paydirt. When I started my business I used Paypal’s built in invoice system and that works well if Paypal is your chosen method for payment.

  • Aleksandr says:

    Hi! Thank you for great tips but in my opinion it is much easier to use invoicing software. It really helps to organize your invoices and saves your time. For example I’m using http://inv24.com/

  • Allen Screen says:

    If you use a service like PayPanther –> http://www.paypanther.com/ (which I currently use for my business), it does all those things for you, and it’s free. Does anyone here use PayPanther?

    • Erica says:

      Allen, so funny you mentioned them because I was just about to reply to see if Carrie could do a follow-up mentioning other more inclusive invoice-apps (i.e., CRM programs) for us freelancers. I myself am a personal trainer so I need functional time tracking, invoicing and mobile integration in a simple package. I just started using Pay Panther and have enjoyed it, especially the mobile part. Carrie can you do a follow-up reviewing it and possibly Nimble and Zoho? I would love to read your opinion.

      • Thanks for the feedback, Allen and Erica! Invoicing systems make everything easier, don’t they?

        I’ll add those ones to our list for future posts — thanks!

        Heather
        TWL Assistant Editor

        • Tom says:

          Hey Heather,

          It would great to hear some of your future posts on different invoicing systems as they sound like they could make life SO much easier for a business owner or freelancer.
          The few invoicing tools that would be good to learn more about are a few tools I saw mentioned in the comments like Nimble, Zoho, and Paypanther since they all look really promising. I really like the idea of a CRM to be easy to use but also really useful to a freelance business so I really like the fact that Paypanther and some of the other tools looks pretty easy to use but also have all the features I would want.

  • Thanks so much for this! Writing my first invoice for my first big client this week and this really breaks it down into easy steps. I think I’ll create my own invoice rather than going through PayPal invoice creator. This article helped me out a lot!

  • Ronaki says:

    THank you for a helpful article. I appreciate your insights.

  • Great blog post, you’ve really helped me out as just done my first sets of freelancing work so just setting up my first freelancing invoice now.

    Out of curiosity to US/ Canadian and UK invoicing systems differ to your knowledge or is the basis the same?

  • Helge Sverre says:

    I have been using FusionInvoice to bill my web development clients, it’s a really great tool that I install on my own website, although that might not be a viable solution for non-technical people, for freelance web developers I think it works very nicely.

  • Brian Smith says:

    We used to do everything ourselves, but quickly found that using an invoicing and billing system saved us so much time. I definitely would recommend checking out a few different programs to see what you like. My personal favorite is PayPanther.com. It has other helpful business management features, like CRM and time tracking, to go along with the super convenient invoicing system. Check it out

  • zsiswick says:

    If you like to invoice on the go, and want a convenient way to accept credit cards, check out http://www.rubyinvoice.com. Unlimited invoices and quotes are completely free, and there’s a bounty of time-saving features to help you get paid faster.

  • James Brown says:

    Good article, Carrie! We use Quaderno (http://getquaderno.com) to manage our invoicing. We love its beautiful invoice templates and we can connect it with our Stripe or Paypal accounts to take payments online.

  • Jim says:

    Some freelancers don’t need online invoicing software to send invoices. I think online invoicing software is very useful but those who don’t need I recommend to use invoice template. A bunch of free invoice templates can be download here: http://www.invoiceberry.com/free-invoice-templates

  • Alex says:

    I started my freelance business at the beginning of the year and have been very happy using SideShark for my invoicing, as well as for keeping track of my clients and projects. By the reviews on their website, it appears to be popular with freelance writers. I like that it downloads onto my MacBook and is free.

  • Ariel says:

    Great Article Carrie,

    Love the detail you put into the article. I have been hearing a lot of great things about an invoicing CRM called Paypanther(http://paypanther.com) and wanted to hear your opinion. Please review soon and keep up the great work.

  • Delores Lyon says:

    I agree that it is super important to have a well organized invoice. If you don’t then you are hurting your chances of getting paid on time. It is best to also make sure to talk to your client about the layout of your invoice. That way, they know exactly what they are being charged for.

  • Tom Bryan says:

    Hi Heather,

    Your step by step guide is SPOT ON! One way of creating an invoice is through any online invoicing software.

    My company has developed one specifically for bloggers, freelancers and small businesses.

    Please do give it a try! Here’s the url –> https://quickinvoiceonline.com

    Thanks!

  • Josh Habdas says:

    As a freelancer, there’s no need to create and manage your own invoicing process in 2016. Instead, use a service like AND CO and they’ll do it all for you:

    http://hackcabin.com/post/freelance-invoicing-smart-way/