Freelancers need to know all the ins-and-outs of getting paid on time for their work — Dear Debt blogger Melanie Lockert shares how she manages the monies.
A few years ago, I secured my very first writing client. It felt like a huge victory, as I was working full-time in the nonprofit sector and looking to supplement my income to help me pay off debt. Once I went over what the client wanted, we discussed rates and payment and they let me know to send an invoice when the work was completed.
An invoice? Sure, I’d heard of invoices before, but had never sent one. After a quick search online, I ended up using a Microsoft Word template. It didn’t look great, and it wasn’t super professional, but it worked.
As my career started to grow—and I eventually quit my full-time job to go out on my own—I had a convoluted system, based on clients’ payment preferences. For anyone sending checks, I sent my ugly Word template and then just waited for the payment to arrive. For any clients paying by credit card or PayPal, I’d send bills via PayPal.
Having two types of invoices simply complicated the matter.
It was hard to keep track of exactly who paid me and when—my system wasn’t actually working. On the recommendation of a friend, I upgraded and got Freshbooks as my invoicing software.
To this day, I still love and use Freshbooks. I can send all my invoices through there, and people can pay however they want. I can see when they are viewed and send reminders. I also love that I can easily track who has paid and who has not.
The point of having a billing system is to have all of your billable work in one place to send to the client. Your system, whatever it may be, should help you stay organized and help you keep track of your income from each client.
What Should Be Included?
Just getting started with freelancing? You may be wondering what even goes on an invoice. First off, it’s key to have all of your necessary information.
- Your full name or your business name (if you’re a sole proprietor like me, you can simply use your full name)
- Your address—so they know where to send your checks and your 1099
- Date—the date that you created and sent the invoice
- Bill Number—if you’re manually creating one, be sure your bill numbers are sequential. Having a number can often help you keep track of invoices if you need to go back to one and can help business owners know they’ve paid that specific bill.
- Description of work—what tasks or services did you complete?
- Date work was completed
- Quantity and/or hours worked
- Pay rate
All of your important details should be on your billing statement so that you can easily get paid.
How to Create Your Own
Ideally, your invoices will be professional and reflect the quality of work you do. This was the main reason I didn’t like my Microsoft Word template. As I mentioned, I’m a fan of Freshbooks, but there are other options as well.
Here are other places where you can create your own:
Of course, you can use Word or Google Doc templates if you want to do it on the cheap and DIY. However, I found it harder to keep track of them and marking when I was actually paid.
When you’re just starting out, you may want to experiment with a few different options in order to find what works for you.
When Should You Send Them?
As a freelancer, I’ve learned how important it is to be upfront with communication and expectations before any work is even performed. That is particularly the case when it comes to payment, payment terms, and the timing of it all. You want to be on the same page as your client, so there are no surprises.
For nearly all of my clients, I send invoices on the last day of the month for work performed within that month. I only invoice for completed work. That is what has worked best for me and is the standard expectation between my clients and me.
In some cases, you may bill for a portion of your work before you start working on a project, such as in the case of requesting a deposit. I’ve also worked as an event planner and for that, I request a 50 percent deposit and then request the other 50 percent after the event. If you’re working on a big design project or something similar, this may be what works best for you.
I know many freelancers who send theirs once a month, at the end of the month, or on the first of the month following completion of a given project. Any of these options are functional, but ultimately you should discuss the terms of invoicing with your client.
If you’ve never sent one before, it can seem overwhelming while you’re getting accustomed to it. As with many things, invoicing will become just another part of your business practice and will eventually become as common for you as brushing your teeth.
It’s important to have a professional-looking invoice that is easy to read and is clear about services rendered, the quantity of work, and the cost of completion.
Remember, the key is to make it easy for you to get paid.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.