Working for oneself can be tremendously liberating, but there’s one chore almost every independent contractor hates, and that’s invoicing. It’s the most tedious part of the inevitable paperwork, coming at the stage when the work itself is done. As a result, people often don’t pay it as much attention as it deserves, but getting it right is an important part of making a professional impression.
Making the right impression
The invoice is often the last thing a client sees in relation to any particular job, so the impression it makes is important. It can be the deciding factor in whether or not the client decides to hire that contractor again. What’s more, a professional looking invoice increases the chances of timely payment, because nobody expects a contractor who can’t prepare an invoice well to be capable of taking effective action if a payment is late.
In order to increase the chances that payment will be made promptly, invoices should be as easy as possible for clients to process. This means they need to very clearly list the contractor’s name, address, contact details and preferred payment details, along with the information required for actually making payments. In the case of international invoices, extra bank information will normally be needed, and it may be possible to register with the tax office in the client’s country (even if the payment is under the tax threshold there).
Some contractors offer a discount for clients who pay quickly. This can pay for itself by saving time otherwise spent on chasing late payers.
Creating a professional invoice
The increasing availability of invoicing software has made many people think that they need this in order to do a professional job. In fact, while software can be helpful if sending out large numbers of invoices and can make it easier to streamline bookkeeping processes, the job can be done just as effectively without. Templates are a big help, and Invoice Home is a good place to start, as there are lots of free materials there to work with. Visit their website to choose your own customised template. A good template makes it easy to add a logo as part of that all-important branding process, as well as the details described above.
Dos and don’ts
- Do brand invoices and make them distinctive.
- Do make sure they contain all the necessary information.
- Do provide a deadline for payment.
- Do send invoices promptly.
- Don’t include invoice and covering letter on one page.
- Don’t make demands – keep it neutral.
- Don’t rely on generic invoices with no personalization.
By following these simple guidelines, anyone can create an invoice that makes the right impression. The important thing then is to make sure it’s sent to the right person in the right department with a covering letter addressing that person by name. If payment has not been made a week after the deadline, it’s reasonable to follow it up – politely, of course, as often it’s just a matter of something having gone astray.
Invoicing may sometimes feel overwhelming, but once it’s done regularly and in a streamlined fashion, it’s much easier to manage – and to keep it looking professional.