When I first started my own small business as a freelance writer, I remember having discussions with clients about my rates before beginning projects.
I also remember being shocked at what was expected of me when it came to the administrative work.
I knew that keeping track of financials would be important, but I was somewhat blindsided to the time and organization that went into the details, particularly when it came to billing clients. I had to learn all of the best practices for invoicing for freelancers on my own.
I don't want other freelance business owners to go through the learning curve I did, so I'm sharing my experience here. I'll go over my personal best practices for freelancer invoicing, what I would consider when comparing and choosing a freelance invoice software, and also tell you about several options that make invoicing for freelancers easier.
And speaking of easier, we also have a FREE invoice template you can download to get started!
The first invoice I sent was quite simple and it worked just fine. After all, the client did pay me for my work.
But as I've become a more seasoned business owner, I've learned that knowing more about invoicing for freelancers could've made things easier for me, and ensured my less experienced self an easier time managing administrative details.
Here are some of my best practices when it comes to invoicing for freelancers:
Once a project wraps up, invoice your client.
In fact, you can even choose to invoice your client after you sign with them, if you're working with a set of terms that you don't think will change throughout the project.
If you do, just be sure to specify the payment terms (e.g., "Payment due 30 days after project completion").
Sending an invoice immediately helps to demonstrate to your client that you're on top of your administrative game and take your business seriously.
It's not always the case, but if we're lucky, sometimes a client will decide to work with us on a continual basis.
If you get clients who want to work with you on a regular basis, invite them to set up a regular payment plan with you, in response to regular invoices that you'll send. This may seem like an arduous process, but many online invoicing tools have features that help make this easy.
Being consistent with your freelancer invoicing will help you stay organized throughout the project and help uphold your authority to your client.
It's a best practice to make sure you specify your terms of payment on your invoices, or rather how and in what time period you'd like to be paid.
But just because it's written, doesn't mean your client will take it to heart. There's a chance that they may not pay you when the invoice is due.
As a result, we suggest getting in the habit of setting up payment reminders for your invoices. This way, your client is less likely to forget an invoice is upcoming and you can avoid sending late payment letters.
Surely you can relate to this. Have you ever called a company to pay a bill, only to be referred to yet a different number to process your payment? It's such a hassle!
Don't allow your clients to have the same unpleasant experience. Instead, make it easy for them to pay you for your work.
This looks like putting instructions for how to pay you on the invoice. These days, this typically means paying in some way online, whether it's by setting up an ACH transfer, the ability to use a credit card, paying through a portal, or whatever you choose.
Regardless of the method, make it simple for the client to understand, so that it's easy for them to pay you.
A lot of the projects you do for a client may seem pretty straightforward to you, but it's important to be as descriptive as you can on the invoice.
For example, if I'm copy editing a cookbook for a client, I could simply write "Copy edit of one cookbook for publisher" on the invoice. But that hardly says much about the project.
Think of it this way: If someone else on your client’s team or in accounting looks at the invoice, they should be able to understand the project.
Instead, I might write: "One copy-edited cookbook for publisher; 216 pages total; 100 recipes; alt titles for 100 images for digital version; edited using Chicago Style."
See? Now if the client’s accountant were to see this invoice, they have a better idea of the overall scope of the project. If you're working with materials (like specific equipment or materials you purchased for the project), you also can include these as line items on the invoice.
You may need to reference an invoice at a later date when bookkeeping, or your client may have questions about what goes into the cost. Whatever the reason, providing detailed line items can help both you and your client.
We mentioned before that it's a good idea to do all you can to avoid dealing with late payments.
Just like you should make it easy to pay, be upfront with your due dates and terms as well. For example, instead of saying "Due the second week of October," say "Due by 12 p.m., October 10."
It's standard to have a 30- or 45-day term for payments. If you decide to do this, consider saying something along the lines of "Due 30 days from invoice date."
Some invoice software tools allow you to add these kinds of notes automatically, but you also can choose to specify further by saying, "Due 30 days from date of invoice, on October 30."
These best practices can be difficult to remember. Especially when you're in the thick of work and need to be moving swiftly to be efficient, it's easy to forget things.
When sending an invoice, you obviously want to make sure you have the client’s necessary information saved in their account.
We find creating a checklist with the steps of creating a client’s account to be helpful. What information do you always need to have on hand? Things such as phone, mailing address, alternate contact person, client’s communication preference (phone vs. email).
Depending on the invoice software you choose, you may have access to other features you can use when setting up an account; be sure to include those steps in your checklist as well.
It’s always good to include information on your invoice that assures your clients of your professionalism and authority.
There are so many invoicing softwares for freelancers out there! On one hand, it's fantastic that we have so many apps to choose from.
On other other hand, it can be overwhelming. We have a few questions you can ask yourself before deciding which invoicing software you'll use with your clients.
Some of your clients may want to pay online with a credit card, while others may prefer to send a check.
Keep their preferred method of payment in mind, because different invoice software tools have the ability to process different types of payments. For example, if your client prefers to pay by linking their bank account with yours, while another prefers to pay with a credit card, you may want to look for a software that works with both.
Not all clients require you to track your time, but some like knowing how much time you allocated toward each aspect of a project, especially if you charge on an hourly basis.
For example, if I were to track my time on the copy-editing example project, my client may find it interesting that I spent an extra half-hour on a few of the chapters in the middle of the book, which had more complex instructions.
Since I spent more time on these sections, of course I would be paid more.
Not all invoicing for freelancers tools include a feature allowing you to track time, but if you anticipate this will be something your clients will request, consider a tool that has it.
If you're a business owner working solo, this may not apply to you. If you have a co-founder, partner, or employees who may need to access the invoice (e.g., maybe you have an employee who handles the vendor relationships), then you'll need to consider access availability to your invoices.
If others in your small business will need access to your invoices, then we suggest keeping that in mind when considering which features you need.
Invoicing Software for Freelancers to Consider:
Most small business owners can easily access Microsoft Word or Google Docs and simply create invoices there.
They don't need to be fancy! They just need to have all the crucial information included. I started out creating my invoices in Microsoft Word, but once my business grew a bit, I started using an invoicing software.
In fact, we have a great FREE freelancer invoice template to download here!
Ready to start invoicing your clients? Download our FREE freelancer invoice template & start using it ASAP!
Remember--this is just a general overview of products that are out there. We absolutely recommend that you demo and see which product is right for you before deciding which to go with.
When you're a freelancer, invoicing your clients doesn't have to be complicated or frustrating. We recommend saving the work for your actual work (though, hopefully, it's enjoyable and not too tedious!).
If you're starting out freelancing, it's OK to use a basic template then switch to a more advanced software tool.
In fact, it's OK to use basic invoice layouts for as long as you'd like, especially if the system works well for you. Feel free to keep this article on hand for reference when it comes to billing — and don't forget your trusty checklist!
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I’ve told stories since I learned to talk and written since I could hold a pen. As a small business owner myself - I'm a freelance writer and yoga teacher - I love contributing to the entrepreneurship community in different ways (including writing for Simply Business!). When I’m not drafting articles for SB, I can be found on my yoga mat, perusing an indie bookstore, and writing (with my cat nearby of course).
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
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