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How to invoice clients professionally (7 steps)
If you’ve left a 9-5 job to pursue freelancing, you are probably a bit concerned about how the finance side of being your own boss will work. Let’s be honest; it can be downright worrisome to wonder how you’ll get paid and if you’ll get money on time each month! Fortunately, working as an independent contractor is not new, and there are hundreds of freelancing tips out there to help you get your most troubling questions answered – including the big unknown regarding how to invoice clients.
Here are the basics on the best ways to request (and get) money for your work:
1. Use professional solutions
Even solopreneurs don’t need to go it alone these days. With so many freelance tools available, it’s probably wise to check them out and commit to using one in your business. Not only does using a professional billing tool make you look good with customization options for your company logo and branding, but you can be sure that every invoice that goes out for a client is as good as the first. A consistent method of asking for money is the best way to get money consistently.
2. Plan for the worst
No one wants to think negatively, but money isn’t something to be unrealistic about. In fact, with 29% of invoices being paid late, it’s naïve to think you’ll never have a deadbeat client. That’s why smart business owners expect there to be a little pushback with payments and settle on the terms of what will happen to late payers before they become a problem. Whether you tighten your payment language in the invoice, include a late fee that reflects your contract, or you require a portion of the project fee upfront, you’ll want to work through all the possibilities in your mind before you start. Collections shouldn’t be something you make up as you go.
3. Leave nothing to interpretation
Any person at your client’s company should be able to read your invoice and know exactly what services were provided, how much they cost, and how payment should be made. If all three of these aren’t clear, you haven’t demonstrated that you know how to invoice clients. This rule should be followed even if you’ve worked with a client for a long, long time. Staff changes may require someone new paying the bills, and they need to be just as informed from looking at your invoice as your old contact.
- contact details
- everything relevant about the project (such as the name, services provided, creation or publishing dates)
- the cost
- any discounts
- when the payment is due
- and how payment should be made
If you are billing for a partial project (such as in the case of requiring a deposit or payment for milestones), indicate this clearly and also show how much of the project is left to be paid and when that remaining amount may be due. If it isn’t due until project completion, state this clearly.
4. Send invoices promptly
Clients have bills to pay, and they are often paid in the order they are received. For this reason, you should always send the invoice as soon as the work is finished. (Who doesn’t want money faster?) There is another reason to make sure your invoices are sent promptly, however, and that is because some companies have strict rules as to how long they have to pay for services. If you forget to invoice for a project done a year ago, you may be out of luck. While you should always get paid for work you do, if you have an agreement in place with a client to bill them within so many days, it is wise to follow through. You also don’t want to lose money if a company goes out of business or no longer has the funds to pay you while you waited to send that invoice.
5. Offer multiple payment options
Most clients have a favorite way of paying. Most freelancers have a favorite way of getting paid. In a perfect world, these preferences will align, but in most cases, they will not. That’s why it’s advisable to offer two to three ways for clients to pay that you prefer. Whether it be Paypal, Stripe, EFT, or check, you should offer more than one method to ensure prompt payment. Remember that some of these options charge fees, so opt for the choice that’s cheapest in the long run or gives you the fastest cash (whichever you value most.) Some clients may choose one option one month and another option the next, so make sure you communicate with them so that you can be on the lookout for their payment in whatever manner it arrives.
6. Track invoices
This should go without saying, but know what invoices you have sent and which ones are yet to be paid - numbering invoices appropriately should make tracking this a breeze. If the terms of your contract state that you should be paid within 30 days of invoicing, set a reminder on your calendar to check that you get paid by that date. (A better, easier way is to enlist the help of a bookkeeping tool that can track late invoices automatically, as well as send out reminders when something is late). Once an invoice is paid, mark it as such in your files. You don’t want to embarrass yourself by trying to collect on a paid invoice!
7. Send thanks
Perhaps as important as knowing how to invoice clients is showing your appreciation. If your invoicing tool allows it, set up a “thank you” message that lets clients know you’ve received their payment and that you appreciate them. If invoicing is still a manual process, a quick email to your contact letting them know that the check was received can go a long way toward establishing goodwill and professionalism for your freelance business.
When you work for free
What if you aren’t charging for a project? While it’s not advisable to do too much work “pro bono” or as a free service to a current or potential client, sometimes it’s necessary to gain experience with a particular skill, add to your portfolio, or build a reputation. In the case that you do a project for free, don’t forget to follow what you’ve learned about how to invoice clients.
You can still go through the process of creating and sending an invoice, just add in a line item for “discount” and make this number 100%. You want to show the recipient of your generosity that you have provided a valuable service (including what the value would be), even if you didn’t require payment. There’s something impressive about billing for a $3,000 project that you give a discount of 100%. Simply putting the service cost as $0 doesn’t have the same effect.
Invoice early, invoice often
If you take away anything from this guide, it’s to invoice early and invoice often. These two rules are the most important to remember. Never leave your accounting duties to the last minute, and don’t let unsent or unpaid invoices pile up. If possible, invoice multiple times within a month (for each project, if you can) and keep that cash flow coming positively. You will have bills to pay and investments to make. Invoices are key to helping you meet your most important business obligations.
Your freelance business is worth nothing if you don’t get paid – no matter how talented or in-demand you are. Take a proactive approach to set up a system that works and gives you more time to pursue your talents and serve your clients. You won’t regret investing a little extra in an invoicing process that gets you paid and takes the stress of collections out of your daily workflow. Make all that easy by signing up for a free Bonsai trial.