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How to set up and send your first freelance invoice

Creating and sending a freelance invoice shouldn’t be hard. In fact, you don’t even have to write it.

That’s right, you’ll just need to choose a free service that will do it for you. There are a lot of outdated articles out here on the internet that talk about “how to write” a freelance invoice but, come on, we’re in the 3rd decade of the ’00s… no one should be writing up and sending out a PDF invoice. That’s sooooo outdated.

Still, we’ll talk about what should be in every freelance invoice so you can make sure that the tool you choose can do the job for you.

In no time, you’ll be clear on what your invoice should contain, how to send the invoice online, and how to receive payment!

What Should a Freelance Invoice Include?

There are 10 basic things that every invoice should include to make sure that both you and your client have all the necessary information. Let’s jump right in!

1. A header that’s clear and professional

A header makes it easy to identify who the invoice is from. In this part, you can use your business logo if you have one, or just use your name, nice and big.

2. Your contact information

This should include your business address, email, phone number, website (if you have one), and any other important information for how the client would get ahold of you.

While we’re in the digital age and it’s unlikely (for the most part) that a client will want to pay your freelance invoice with a check, having your address there is still important.

Clients may need your address for tax paperwork and even if they’ve misplaced your W9, they may recall that they’ve seen your address on your invoice so it saves an email to ask you about it.

I’ve even had clients that want to send birthday or holiday gifts (I tell you guys … I love my clients!).

As a side note, in case of this, you’ll want to be sure to mention in the footer or somewhere on the invoice if it is a business address only and you cannot receive mail there.

The contact information for yourself can go at the top of the freelance invoice, or in the footer. It depends on the style you’ve got set up for your invoice. As long as your invoice is well laid out, clear, and easy to read, it shouldn’t matter because all of the information will be quite visible.

I live a location independent lifestyle moving from one country to the next and so my clients will never be mailing me anything at my business address. For this reason, it’s a bit smaller and in the footer on all of my invoices.

3. The client’s contact information

You’ll also want to include the client’s contact information on the freelance invoice. This will be their name, address, phone number, email, website, etc. In my opinion, this is a bit more optional as we move more and more to doing everything digitally but it’s the way things have been done forever and it doesn’t hurt.

4. The freelance invoice number

Every freelance invoice should have an invoice number. This is often put somewhere at the top right. Again, I want to stress that it doesn’t matter where so much as that you have an organized invoice that uses a professional layout and things go where they make sense. (So go top left if you want… whatever!)

You wouldn’t want the invoice number at the bottom though. It’s an important part of the invoice so should go where it will be seen.

The invoice number is important because it helps both you and the client record payments. If there is ever a mismatch in pay, you can both go back through your records looking for Invoice 1176 (for example), instead of trying to find out where a $1500 is missing. If they’ve been paying you $1500 steadily each invoice for a good chunk of time, it’s harder to trace which payment wasn’t made.

It’s commonly said that it doesn’t matter how you number your invoices but I beg to differ. I have worked with hundreds of freelancers over the years and some come off more professional than others.

If I receive an invoice that just says 1, for example, it makes me feel like they’re pretty amateur, rather than running a solid freelance business. It’s just not that professional. Even if you’re getting up to 35, 36, 37 etc., it just screams “manual” or “just starting out, “as I haven’t found a professional invoicing service yet that only uses two digits.

In my experience, professional invoices will have at least 3 to 4 numbers in them. So 001 for example, or 0001.

These still aren’t that great because you’re starting from 1. It makes me wonder … “How long has this person been in business? Am I their first client?”

The same goes if I receive 003. “Am I their 3rd client? Does this person know what they’re doing?”

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with just starting out. But pick numbers that give you more authority. I decided to start with 1001 as my first invoice BUT I also customize it to the client.

Let’s say my client’s business is called Customized Data Solutions, Inc. I’m going to send them an invoice with their initials before the number to add even more oomph from a perception standpoint. They’ll start with CDS1001. Their next invoice will be CDS1002 and so forth. (My freelance invoice software will automatically start the next invoice at the correct place in line).

Not only does this give my invoice a more professional look, it easily helps me keep track of clients. Instead of not knowing who invoice 1176 was for, adding the initials in front means that at one glance I know who the invoice was created for.

5. The date the invoice was prepared

This is the date that you create the freelance invoice and send it to the client. Make sure that if, for some reason, you’ve created the invoice in advance but you don’t submit it to them for a few days, that you remember to change the date.

This date should be the date it was sent to them so that you both have that for a reference in case they take a long time to pay.

If you want you can certainly change it on yours to say Date Sent instead of Date Prepared, just make sure the date is accurate to when you send it.

My invoices don’t say either of these, they simply say Invoice Date. I send all my invoices via (free!) invoicing software, however, and the service will automatically track the date the invoice was sent for my records.

6. The date the invoice is due

Pretty self-explanatory. The date that the client needs to pay the freelance invoice by or it becomes late.

While big businesses often operate on 30, 45, 60 or even 90-day timelines for invoices to get paid, I recommend that you try to get paid as fast as possible. You’re not a big business so you don’t have to play by those rules.

I also don’t recommend using the due upon receipt option if you can help it. For some reason, those don’t seem to work as well. I feel like the clients may open it, see that, and decide, “Meh, I’m busy, I’ll just get to that invoice when I get to it.”

I know that I’ve been guilty of that when an invoice comes across my desk. Despite the urgent-sounding title, it actually gives off an air of “due whenever you get around to it.”

When my students have had trouble with this, I recommend they switch up their invoices to give firm due dates and that usually works.

The client should already know about the due dates and how payment works with you because you specified all of that in your freelance contract. So if you put in the contract that the freelance invoice was due within 5 days of completion of Phase 1, you wrap up Phase one on June 22nd, you should send the invoice on June 22nd and set the due date to June 27th.

7. Payment options for the client

You MUST make it easy for the client to pay you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a beginner invoice from someone who set up their template correctly and even left notes to pay via PayPal but then didn’t leave their PayPal email address.

This makes clients fume! They’re busy, they finally get around to checking this freelance invoice off their todo list, only to find it’s got incomplete information.

I’ve said this in other posts and I’ll say it again. If you don’t value yourself enough to get paid on time and invoice properly, the client won’t value you either.

If you do credit card, PayPal, ACH transfer, etc., whatever your preferred method of payment, spell it out in your invoice.

NOTE: I highly recommend letting clients pay by credit card and NOT using PayPal as it looks pretty, “this is my side hobby” vs. “this is a real business that I take seriously.” Give them a one-click to pay option. I also recommend, that unless you have firm reasons for why you need to be paid a certain way, you stay open to as many payment methods as possible. Money is money.

8. Payment terms

In this section, you’ll add things like a late fee if you charge clients for paying late. I highly recommend that you do. It’s important that clients respect the terms laid out in the contract.

Again, this shouldn’t be the first time the client is hearing about this. They should have read over your payment terms in the contract and signed in agreement.

If you do use a late fee, don’t make it outrageous. I’ve seen some people try to charge 20% for a payment that’s 5 days late. This is ridiculous and more likely to make the client balk at paying it.

I’ve seen it be most helpful to create a sliding scale of late fees, e.g. 5% after 5 days, 10% after 10 days etc.

Most importantly, stop working on new stuff until you get paid for the last stuff. Additionally, try to understand why the client is making a late payment. Ideally, you want to get paid and continue the working relationships so resorting to exorbitant late fees outright, and/or threatening the client isn’t great.

9. A breakdown of services provided during the term of this freelance invoice

What did you do for the client? This should be spelled out. Make it as specific as you can without going overboard.

Ideally, it’ll be a shortened version of the scope of work you provided in the initial contract. Keep in mind that while the short description may make sense right now, you want to be able to look at this much further down the line (in case of any disputes) and understand what this work was about.

A lot of freelancers don’t do this when they send a freelance invoice. It might say Google Ads or Instagram work. That’s not really helpful nor professional.

You don’t need to include all tasks you’ve done, but rather summarize them. A better description would be “Initial set up of Google Ads account and start of campaign 1 and 2.” Or “Creation of thematic calendar for Instagram for Q2 (Feed & stories).”

You’ll want to break the work you did for clients down — either by hourly rates or by the package.

If you’re invoicing by hours you’ll have 4 columns.

Fig 1. Freelance invoice example of hourly charges.

Services Hours Rate Amount
Initial set up of Google Ads account and start of campaign 1 and 2. 2.7 $150 $405

If it’s by a packaged rate you’ll likely have just two columns.

Fig 1.2 Freelance invoice example of packaged service charges.

Services Amount
Creation of thematic calendar for Instagram for Q2 (Feed & stories) $500

10. The amount due

And now we reach the end of your freelance invoice with the most crucial element of all, “What does the client owe you?” The amount due quite simply sums up the total of the work you’ve done on this invoicing period. If they’re paying by the project it will look quite different than if they’re paying bi-weekly on some sort of set hourly rate.

But either way, you sum up all the line items above (for whatever length of time the invoice covers) and that goes in the total due section. Then, all that’s left is to send the invoice online to the client and receive payment!

Here’s a freelance invoice template

Here’s a freelance invoice example direct from my own account. This is what I send to clients and it includes all of the items listed above. What’s better, I didn’t have to do much work to create it. (We’ll talk about that in the next section)

freelance-invoice-example-1

Use an invoicing service

OK, now maybe you’re thinking, “C’mon I can get away with a simple PDF + PayPal for a bit at least right?! I’m just starting out…”

Wrong. Just starting out, it’s even more important to put yourself forward as a legitimate professional. And using your PayPal email address screams amateur. It tells the client immediately that you are just dabbling in this and haven’t made a real freelance business out of it.

Real professionals use a dedicated service for e-invoices, they don’t go around handing out their personal PayPal asking for payment there.

There are tons of services you can use to send your freelance invoice. In a recent study, 79% of businesses using PayPal Invoicing reported that they received payment within a week. 2 That’s much faster than traditional offline invoicing. (paypal.com) (Although, I’ll include the statistic, I still don’t recommend PayPal.)

Also, you want to give your client a way to pay you via ACH or credit card. Ideally, they pay with just one click. This is MUCH faster and much more convenient than using personal PayPal.

The good news is, there are tons of services out there that let you do e-invoices and many of them have a free tier. To pick the one that’s right for you, I’ll have another post coming shortly where I go over 5 free options in more depth than I have room for here! For now, just Google “free invoice software for freelancers” or “free freelance invoice software”

How to send an invoice

We’re not going to talk about the dated ways like downloading a PDF and sending it since I hope you’ve taken my advice and aren’t creating your invoice in Word or Excel or something like that.

Most invoicing services will let you email the client the invoice directly from their site.

In some, there is also an option to copy the link and share it with the client if you want to put it in your own email and personalize it that way.

When do you send the invoice?

Whenever the project is completed, or the phase is completed, or if the client is paying you bi-weekly, at the end of that period of time. Basically, whatever you’ve already specified in your contract.

Whatever you do, remember to invoice on time! There’s hardly anything that shouts amateur louder than forgetting to request payment for the work you’ve done. Seems crazy right? Yet you’d be surprised how many freelancers don’t invoice on time.

How do you receive payment on the invoice?

When you set up your freelance invoice tool you’ll connect it to your bank account on the backend. There is usually a day or two needed for processing between when they pay you and when the money arrives in your account. All services also charge a small fee, usually around 2.9%. This is standard among every payment processing service (even if you’re using your personal PayPal). You can deduct this on your taxes so make sure that you track payment processing fees throughout the year.

Again, a huge way  to  show yourself as an amateur is by reaching out to a client going, “Um, hey Tom I noticed I invoiced you for $800 but only received $776.80… do you know what’s up with that?” The fees are commonplace and everyone should know about them.

Ready to set up your first freelance invoice?

See … invoicing really isn’t that hard! You can literally sit down and spend about 30 minutes checking out the right invoice software for you. After that, you’ll choose one, set up your invoice template to include all of the above and you’re off to the races.

A software service will also save your invoice template so you can apply it to all new invoices that you send out in the future! Piece of cake right?

 

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