So you’ve successfully launched your freelance business, landed your flagship client and completed your first contract project. Congratulations! Now it’s time to invoice your customer.
Believe it or not, there’s a right and wrong way to craft this fundamental business document. When I first started freelancing, I made every invoicing mistake in the proverbial book, from forgetting to include payment terms to leaving out a clear due date. Thankfully, though, I’ve since learned how to create an invoice my freelance clients understand and respect.
Here’s an overview of the most important elements to include in your own invoice — and some visual examples of standout documents from fellow freelancers.
Their Information and Yours
Of course, the first essential element of an invoice is contact information. Make sure to include your name, address, phone number and email address — right alongside your client’s own information.
Perhaps most important here is the name of the project’s main point of contact and, if applicable, the purchase order number. That way, if there’s a question about the charges, your client can review this document and be able to contact you as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Need a little inspiration? Check out indy researcher and writer Rachel Russell’s sample invoice below to see how you can provide these important details in a clear and concise way.
List of Services Rendered
It’s also valuable to include a detailed description of the creative work you completed for this particular project. If you’re a freelance animator or illustrator, you’ll appreciate Robert Dress’s invoice example, which gives plenty of room for this very purpose.
Not sure whether you’ve included enough information in this section? Ask yourself whether the client would know exactly what work was performed if they found this document again in five years. When in doubt, increase the level of detail you include here.
Terms of Payment
For the sake of your business’s cash flow, it’s essential to specify to clients when each payment is due. Make sure everyone’s on the same page by using your invoice to state the potential penalties of bounced checks, missed payments and any other financial holdups.
Personally, I also use this section to remind clients that they’ve promised me constructive criticism in the contract phase of our relationship. That’s right, I work into every statement of work a clause that requires clients to give feedback and thoughts on how I can improve my process. This means I have an ongoing stream of feedback — which helps me avoid separate polls or surveys with clients after a day full of on-site workshops.
When developing this section of your invoice, keep your client’s specific payment schedule in mind. For instance, freelance designer Chrystal Simmons, the creative mastermind behind Modern Chrystal, uses the payment section as an opportunity to remind her clients of past payments already made toward the total owed. This type of setup can be perfect for a retainer or half-up-front arrangement.
Ways to Settle Up
Are you having trouble getting your clients to pay you on time — and in the desired way? Freelance editor Josh Johnson recommends incorporating a digital PayPal button into your invoice communications whenever possible. Doing so makes it even easier for clients to settle up right away.
You can also include some other specific instructions for this section, like a “make checks payable” demarcation and a list of credit cards you accept. While you’re at it, this is the perfect space to encourage ongoing assignments. The customary thank-you note is nice, but don’t be afraid to remind your client that you’re already working toward earning more of their business. Here are a few quick ways to do exactly that:
Explain how enjoyable this particular project was, and describe what you learned about their business that you’d like to use in future assignments.
Thank your client for the privilege of such a fulfilling gig, and ask them to send your name and email address to a colleague who may also benefit from your services.
Express gratitude for the opportunity, and have your point of contact refer to your most recent round of project pitches to determine what’s next.
List the other complementary services you offer. Often, clients who hire you for one gig don’t realize you’re capable of completing other types of projects.
An invoice can also be an opportunity to express who you are and what you represent. Go beyond the typical logo placement and infuse your invoice with visual personality. Depending on your brand, you may want to toss minimalism out the window. If you’re a freelance designer, for example, your invoice can be a simple place to show off what you can do and get your clients thinking about the next project they can offer you.
Invoicing clients may be your least favorite part of running a freelance business. But once you learn how to create an invoice, you’ll see the transaction as another opportunity to express your mastery, convince clients you’re the perfect fit and — most importantly — collect your payment on time. Before you know it, you’ll be back on your way to completing the creative work you love.