When I was a beginning freelancer, a late invoice often meant the difference between making rent and begging my (very nice, I must say) landlord to waive the late fee. We’ve all been there – some clients pay you within the hour, some clients send a check right around the 30-day mark, and some clients conveniently forget to pay at all. But sometimes, late payments (and begging at landlord’s doorsteps) can be prevented with some simple invoicing tips:

1.  Be Clear and Concise

Spelling out exactly what you did for your client on each invoice accomplishes a couple of things. It prevents the client from coming back and questioning you about it (or worse, putting a questionable invoice aside for later scrutiny then forgetting about it). And it helps both of you, should a payment question ever pop up in the future. If you have a regular client, it can be easy to forget whether you billed for that blog post last month or not. Being specific with your invoices eliminates that confusion.

2.  Include Your Late Fees on Every Invoice

One of the best ways to get paid fast is to include a due date and consequences for slow payers. But while the client’s VP of Marketing may have agreed to your “pay within 21 days or suffer a 5% late fee” terms, chances are they didn’t pass that on to Accounts Payable. Include your terms right there on your invoice, because you never know who will be cutting your check.

3  Ask How Your Clients Wants to be Invoiced

When I first started out as a freelancer, my invoices were crafted from the first free Microsoft Word “invoice” template I could get my hands on. Why do I remember this? Because to this day one of my clients prefers to be invoiced with that ugly template. Oof. But when I tried to change him over to electronic invoicing with WePay, he resisted, citing his “system.” So now I ask my clients how they want to get paid. Sure, I could have pushed the issue, but do I really want my invoice to be the afterthought in my client’s system? Of course not.

4. Be Consistent

If you bill a client monthly, be sure to bill them the same day every month. If this is a one-off project, invoice right after the work has been approved. Remember, this is all about making it easy and convenient for your client to pay you, so you don’t want to be the freelancer who’s always surprising them with random invoices out of left field.

5.  Use an Online Invoicing Service

Have you ever clicked through pages of email messages, frantically trying to stop the little attachment icon to make sure that an invoice was actually sent? I have, and it isn’t fun. It’s more like, “Crap! I just sent this client an email asking (politely) where the money is. Don’t tell me I didn’t send the invoice in the first place.” An online invoicing system will keep you on track by listing exactly who owes you how much and on what date each invoice was sent. It’s helpful for your cash flow projections, and to let you know who you need to nudge before it’s time to assess a late fee.

6.  Accept Payments Online

For Pete’s sake, if you aren’t accepting online payments, start right now. Nobody likes waiting for a check then driving to the bank and filling out a deposit slip. The same goes for your client – writing or printing out a check is work. Entering their credit card or bank account number into a website isn’t. Make yourself easy to pay, and you’ll get paid faster.

These are my tips for a fail proof invoice. How’s your current invoicing system working for you?

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