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
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!
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.
The original version of this story was written by Carrie Smith. We updated the post so it’s more useful for our readers.
Photo via Andrey_Popov/ Shutterstock