How Do You Invoice Your Clients? — Recent articles on invoicing at FWJ (which I linked to yesterday) and The Golden Pencil have gotten me thinking about general freelance invoicing practices. And the thing is, there are no general practices. We all seem to have a vastly different way of doing things. Some I’ve seen over the last few days (paraphrased, with my comments) include:

  • I invoice using PayPal. But what if the client doesn’t use PayPal?
  • I use the client’s template for every client. Oh my GOD, that is insane.
  • I use my own template for some clients and the client’s template for others. How do you keep it straight?
  • My clients have never requested an invoice. I’m sorry, WHAT?

My feeling on invoicing is (a) that it needs to happen and (b) that it needs to be consistent. The actual method you use for invoicing doesn’t really matter as long as your invoices are professional and include all of the necessary info, but you need to be invoicing and keeping records of your income no matter what. There must be a paper trail (or pixel trail, if you do everything electronically like I do) of your income, if for no other reason than to have a record to turn to if someone fails to pay.

I started out with MS Word for invoicing, but that got old fast because I hated having to go to a million different files to update payments and never having everything in a central location. I switched to QuickBooks Simple Start, and then upgraded to QuickBooks Pro when my client base expanded. I love QB because it lets me get to everything in one place and the invoices are highly customizable.

One theme I’ve been hearing lately is that each client has a custom invoice template they want their vendors to use. Are they kidding? Do they think the business world revolves around them? I have neither the time nor inclination to do some company’s accounting department’s job. If I give you the information you need, there is no good reason for you to requiring that I submit it in your template. That’s just an unreasonable request. You’re mandating how my business conducts its accounting. You can’t do that. And besides, I have to create a QuickBooks invoice for you anyway to keep my recordkeeping straight, so you’re making me do twice the work and not paying me for it. That doesn’t work for me.

But I’m willing to “compromise,” by which I mean making you think I’m giving in when I’m actually making my own life easier. One of my favorte things about QB is that I can create a custom invoice with fields and layout that I designate. Two of my clients have their own QB templates, simply beacuse the data they need to process my payment is different from the rest of the work I do.

  • One requires an article number along with page numbers and hours, plus a cost code on every invoice.
  • One gives me multiple daily assignments with an assignment number, different assignment types, and due dates they need to cross-reference their overall monthly report.

I don’t have a problem with providing the info my clients need. In fact, I’m happy to do it. But I’m not going to make double the work for myself just because their people can’t handle a slightly different piece of paper that still has my address and the amount they own me on it. Rather than just using the invoice template they gave me and resenting them several times each month, I said, “Look, my accounting program requires me to enter the data whether you use the invoice or not. I’m willing to customize a template that looks like this and lets me use my regular program, but I can’t send you MS Word invoices.”

Additionally, my clients have different preferred invoice timing, and that I do attempt to follow. The multiple-daily-assignments people get an invoice at the end of each month and mail me a nice, fat check before the middle of the following month. The other custom-invoice client gets an invoice every week or two — but each batch of weekly assignments gets its own invoice even if I send the invoices for multiple weeks on the same day, because that’s how they like it. Another client gives me anywhere from one to three article assignments each week and gets an invoice for every 10 articles. No problem. Because THAT doesn’t make my life more difficult.

For one-off projects, like editing a book or something like that, payment is 50% up front and 50% on completion unless it’s a whole huge heap of money and we agree to divvy it into thirds or quarters instead. Large or ongoing projects are billed at milestones depending on what makes the most sense for the individual project.

So, how do YOU handle invoicing? What programs and techniques do you use? How frequently do you invoice? And when do you count payments as late?

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9 comments… add one
  • Amy Lillard Mar 12, 2008

    I’m still a friend of the old MS Word. But here’s how I make it easy – I use standardized templates for all invoices, for all estimates, for discovery questionnaires, and everything else I can get away with. My template has my logo and name, payment information, date and due date along with a customizable spots for the client, the project, and the fee.
    I invoice every Friday, going over my client list to see who’s due. When it comes to due dates, I almost always have a two week turnaround; for larger companies, I ask for 30 days. At one week past the due date, it’s follow-up time. Probably not the best or most efficient method, but it works for me, and it works well. And I think that’s what’s most important.

    Amy Lillard’s last blog post..Self-Publishing: On the Wrong Side of the Revolution

  • Hazel Becker Mar 13, 2008

    I also use a Word template that I created when I had one major client and it was easy to use. Now that I have many clients, I’m probably going to customize QuickBooks to make it easier, but I haven’t had time yet.
    For some one-off and spec assignments, I bill on completion. For bigger editing jobs and new clients I haven’t learned to trust yet, I require 50% up front and 50% before final delivery. Lots of magazines and other print-first clients have their own policies about paying and I don’t have any control over it once I accept those jobs. For my major client, I bill at the end of each month on net-30 terms.
    Seems to confusing, eh? But it’s how the business goes, and one thing I’ve learned about freelancing is that you have to be flexible!

  • Kristen King Mar 13, 2008

    @Amy – like you said, the most important thing is that it works well. I cringe thinking about all those Word files because I hated it when I used that system, but it sounds like you totally OWN it! Glad you have something that’s a good fit. Thanks for sharing. :)

    @Hazel – It’s always helpful to see how other freelancers handle the invoice timing thing. It sounds like both you and Amy have a clear structure and are good at sticking with it. That is so key! And, as you said, flexibility is a must. Great comment.

  • Cory Mar 13, 2008

    Can you make a PDF of a QB invoice, or does the client have to have QB-compatible software?

  • Kristen King Mar 13, 2008

    Saving and sending as a PDF are functions within the program. It’s AWESOME and so, so easy.

  • Devon Ellington Mar 23, 2008

    I created my own invoices, which I use for all but one major client who has its own online invoicing system.

    Often, the invoice is in addition to the contract/letter of agreement.

    All relevant information is on it.

    A few months ago, I sent a detailed invoice to a client and heard nothing, nothing, nothing. Emailed, emailed, emailed. Finally, the client claimed “not to understand” the invoice. Um, let’s see, it had contract information, bill to, send to, detailed listing of article, byline, issue for which contracted, contracted amount, and total. What’s not to understand? And why not ask if you don’t understand, or at least reply to my emails?

    As soon as the (late) check cleared, I moved on!

    Devon Ellington’s last blog post..Sunday, March 23, 2008

  • John May 28, 2009

    I use Google Docs. So free. So versatile. I especially like that I can save the invoice as a PDF and send it that way.

    I really enjoyed your article and all the comments that followed. Thanks!

  • ria simpson Sep 20, 2009

    Sage Software has recently launched a free online invoicng tool for freelancers and small businesses at Billing Boss is focused of keeping invoicing simple – so simple that you can get set up and send your first invoice in just a couple minutes.

    Please note: With the goal of full disclosure, I work at Sage. Feel free to contact me if you have any feedback about Billing Boss.

  • tomlarkets Apr 20, 2014

    Invoice solves the ambiguities or any queries a customer might have before he asks the seller. Invoices are helpful for both the customer and the organization or the seller. Electronic invoicing is another very beneficial type of invoice and it is getting great popularity among the business giants

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