For any type of business to succeed, you have to get paid. So 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 for it.
That means you need to know how to write an invoice.
But where do you start? How do you create a professional-looking bill? What’s the best way to keep track of the time you’ve worked?
Here’s your guide to creating an invoice and understanding the best options to help get you paid.
What should your invoice include?
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. The font size should be a little bigger than the rest of the text on the invoice, and possibly even bolded for emphasis.
Next you’ll want to include your contact information: your mailing address, phone number, email address, website, etc., right underneath your business name. To make it easier to read, consider typing the info on several lines like this:
The Write Life
PO Box 55775
Anywhere, US 55200
If you’d like to up the professionalism, create and include your own logo on the right – or left-hand side of the header.
2. The client’s contact information
Now you’ll want to specify who the invoice is being made out to. Include the recipient’s name, address, phone number and any other info below the invoice header.
Generally, your contact info should be on the opposite side of the recipient’s info. So if your business name and logo are on the right side of the invoice at the top, the client’s name and info should be below this on the left side.
3. Invoice details
Across from where you put the recipient’s name and contact info, include the details of your invoice. This placement makes it easy to keep track of vital information — for both you and the recipient. You’ll want to include:
- Invoice Number
- Date prepared
- Payment due date
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.
The due date for the invoice is totally up to you, however, most invoicing systems are set up on a 30 day, 45 day or 60 day timeframe. You can also make the invoice “Due upon receipt,” where the recipient is required to pay the invoice promptly.
Next, you need to specify your payment options — whether you prefer to be paid with cash, a check, a credit card or a service like PayPal. Some companies will offer direct deposit, if you do regular work for them, but more than likely you’ll have to send an invoice to request payment every time you complete a project.
Along with the payment terms, you can specify whether you charge a late fee for invoices paid past their due dates. Some freelancers like this option, to enforce getting paid on time. You may also want to include your tax ID number in this area for tax purposes.
4. A breakdown of services
If you’re manually creating the invoice using Microsoft Word or Google Drive Templates for invoices, you’ll need to include a breakdown of the services rendered and any additional charges associated with your work.
Make sure to include a column for each of the following: description of work or services, date worked, quantity, rate, hours worked and subtotal. This makes it easy to tally up the total when you list out multiple projects or tasks you’ve completed for the client.
Below the total you can include any additional information, such as a thank you or a reminder.
When should you send the invoice?
When you work out the contract with each client (and yes, you should have a contract in place!), you’ll list out the terms of how often you plan to invoice and when you should be paid. For instance, you can agree to bill on the first of each month, or biweekly so you get paid every other Friday.
Keep in mind whether your industry is one where you invoice upfront before any work has been completed. In this case you’ll be detailing the progress of the project as opposed to doing a monthly invoice.
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 on the first day of each month, than getting them sporadically. (Click to tweet this idea).
Using invoicing systems to make it simple
While you can make up your own invoice or use a free template, it’s often easier to use an invoicing system that offers more in depth features.
Some invoice systems, like Harvest, offer the option to create estimates for big projects, keep track of multiple clients and send reminder emails when payments are late. Another option is Freshbooks, which offers similar features but includes profit and loss sheets, as well as trackers to help you manage your time.
Both of these services can be used for free or upgraded for a small fee, and include lots of other cool features, like scanning receipts for work completed in the field.
The best thing about using an invoice system is that you can track your time against the amount you’re getting paid for each task. In order to run a successful business, you want your hourly rate to be profitable so you’re not losing time and money.
Another benefit of using an invoicing system is that you’ll never save over an invoice and lose the work you’ve calculated for another client. (Sadly, I’m speaking from experience!)
Getting paid on time
Creating a professional freelance invoice is vital to the success of your business. If you sent your client paper receipts and scribbled notes, they would not be as likely to pay you on time and would probably question the you run your business.
Take the stress out of getting paid by using a free template or an invoicing system to track your work and start getting paid on time.
What tools do you use to manage invoicing for your writing business? What other tips might you offer on how to write an invoice?
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This post originally ran in October 2013. We updated it in May 2017.