Your invoice should be prim and proper, so that you can get paid by your clients efficiently. While invoicing is not a fun task, it's a necessary one: by keeping clients informed of your expectations, you will get paid punctually and reinforce your professionalism. After going over some best practices for creating invoices, we'll review some great (and not so great) online invoicing tools, so that you can spend less time creating invoices and more time doing the things you love!
So here are some general guidelines, best practices and examples that will help you make sure your invoices are up to spec.
1. Their Details and Yours
This is Mickey Mouse stuff, but you can't afford to forget it. In addition to the client's address, make sure to include the name of the client's contact person who handles your account! A company with three employees can figure out what you're doing; but in big companies, invoices get misplaced, especially if there's confusion over who belongs to which project.
You'll also need your company name, your name, address, telephone number and email address. If they have any questions about the charges, contacting you should be as easy as possible.
2. Itemized List of Services
People want to know what they've paid for. Most people will not pay for something described merely as "Design." Tell them exactly what they have received: e.g. "Design of three-page static website for Sporting Goods Department." Be as specific as possible. In five years, would both you and the client know what you meant by your description? Also, specify whether the charge is project-based or hourly.
3. Include Your Terms
When do you expect the client to pay you? What happens if they miss the deadline? To be able to send follow-up or overdue notices or to charge interest, you need a rock-solid paper trail that no one can argue with.
4. Let Them Know How to Pay You
Do you want a cheque mailed to you, a money transfer, flowers? Be explicitly clear about what you expect and in what form. It is usually best to discuss with the client beforehand their preferred method or to come to an agreement about a method you both like.
If you want a money transfer, provide all the necessary information. Foreign transfers need more than your account number: in some countries, you need your International Bank Account Number (IBAN) or a Bank Identifier Code (BIC). International transfers also double-charge you: the client's bank might charge you $20, and your own bank might charge you another $15 to accept the payment. Make it clear which of you will absorb these charges, and talk it it out with them. PayPal is another option, but you still get charged a percentage of the transaction.
5. Numbers and Numbers and Records and Books
Referring to "invoice #9048," rather than "That invoice I sent you last month, I think on a Tuesday," is much easier to track for both you and your client.
Assign numbers to your invoices systematically, consistently and chronologically. Some people number their invoices by year (for example, 2009043 would be the 43rd invoice of 2009). You could also specify a code for the project. For example, BRAINEOS06 would be the 6th invoice for the braineos project that you're currently working on. Having an invoice and project numbering system keeps everything in line.
6. Thank Them, and Ask Them to Thank You
Money is often a touchy subject, so politeness about it is a good idea. Your clients are paying you money that they've earned with blood, sweat and tears, so let them know you appreciate it. You should also invite them to contact you if they have any questions and, more importantly, make it clear that you appreciate their present (and future) business.
Some people also welcome testimonials; for example, by adding, "Let us know how we did. Write a testimonial: firstname.lastname@example.org." If you're building your website's testimonials page or want to complete the feedback loop, this is a great way to get clients to give feedback on your work. If they have suggestions for making the process smoother, it's also a great opportunity for you to improve.
7. Don't Forget: You're a Designer
Imagine this, you're at an expensive restaurant. Every detail is perfect: the food was fantastic, the service excellent and the atmosphere rich and plush. Then, you receive the bill, which is printed on cheap paper with low-quality ink. What would you remember about this experience?
Most people spend hours on their website design, business cards and resumes but then use a template for their invoice.The invoice is your last contact with your client, and it should share the attention to detail, branding and style of your other elements. By creating a beautiful, clear invoice, you are saying that you care about the little details.
Most importantly, make sure you have all the necessary information. Make sure there are no spelling mistakes and that your spacing is consistent. Customize your invoice as much as you can. Your logo is a must, but colors and a style that match your other branding items will make it a joy to pay (well, as much as is possible).
A vintage UK design from the year 1936. In some situations it may be worth considering sending a nice vintage design to your customer. Source.
The invoice is a boring document, and one often neglected. Andy Clarke from Stuff and Nonsense has had "fix up my invoice" on his to-do list for 10 years. This was a fairly typical response from many I had asked!
Jon Hicks lamented that, "The problem is that a lot of tools for invoicing make it quite hard to customize the template. I use Billings, which is a great app, but doing basic things like getting elements to line up require a pound of flesh!"
[Offtopic: by the way, did you know that Smashing Magazine has one of the most influential and popular Twitter accounts? Join our discussions and get updates about useful tools and resources — follow us on Twitter!]
Further Invoice Design Examples
Whether you're using invoice software or designing your invoice from scratch, creating a beautiful invoice is possible. Here are a few examples.
Design by Thomas Maxson | Full view
Design by Julie Fitzgerald | Full view